This article was originally published as part of the Forbes Business Council. I recently found my way out of an escape room for the first time and underestimated how powerful an experience it would be. If you’re not familiar, an escape room is an interactive event where you pay to be locked in a room. To escape, you must solve a series of puzzles and challenges within an allotted time. These rooms have gained popularity in recent years, with over 2,000 in the U.S. alone, and it’s easy to see why. The experience forces you to think in new ways, be creative and work as a team to quickly get a result: a key to unlock the room. As my team solved the final clue, it dawned on me that many companies spend their entire day in an “enterprise escape room,” searching for information (making sense of reports), wasting precious time going down the wrong path (accessing inaccurate, incomplete or outdated data), and suffering from a lack of coordination. Not only is this frustrating, but also it’s morale-busting for teams across the enterprise. Instead of using the power of analytics to boost business impact, employees often stop using business intelligence platforms and analytics tools altogether. In fact, 97% of data leaders report that ignoring data has had significant consequences for their business—from missed revenue opportunities and bad investments to subpar performance forecasting. However, spending on data and analytics solutions is expected to reach $274 billion this year as enterprises seek ways to make better, faster decisions. This investment, coupled with a chaotic reporting environment, is like being trapped without an escape in sight—you have the best minds in the room and all the tools at your disposal, but your teams just can’t break through the complexity to drive results. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. By applying the same strategies used in an escape room to the consumption of analytics, enterprises can find a logical way to reduce report clutter and turn complexity into collaboration.

Lessons Learned From A Great Escape

Think Simple

If you can’t find a simple answer in an escape room, it’s likely because all of the information you need hasn’t been revealed. With the average employee spending 3.6 hours per day searching for information, employees can struggle to find what they need to move forward. You can help your employees quickly discover various reports, dashboards, spreadsheets and PDFs to expedite productivity by consolidating information and simplifying access to insights. One way to do this is with an analytics catalog. (Full disclosure: My company has created an analytics catalog, but there are a number of other options on the market.) An analytics catalog helps enterprises simplify how tools and assets are accessed and used. This approach simplifies the user interface, giving more employees the analytics access they need. When implementing an analytics catalog, I recommend starting small by focusing on a specific team or function. Understand the tools and reports they use most frequently and optimize that experience. Just by going through this exercise, you’ll learn who needs access and how they use the tools and assets. An alternative to having an analytics catalog is taking a systematic, centralized approach to how all analytics assets are stored, tagged with relevant metadata, shared and accessed. This is often referred to as a data inventory or data map. Taking this approach allows a company to establish oversight authority, define the categorization, catalog the assets, run quality checks and manage access. One of the main objectives is removing duplicate or outdated assets and making it quick and simple for employees to find what they’re looking for. This requires clear ownership of the various assets, governance and a consistent approach to how assets are organized. To fully use the BI tools, you need tight integration and a seamless user experience. While this manual approach takes the right resources and focus, it can be done.

Divide And Conquer

When you enter an escape room, it seems like everything is a clue. The trick is to divide and conquer by assigning each team member a section so they can analyze what’s in front of them and share details as they arise. This approach applies to enterprises as well, and when you streamline your analytics consumption, you can empower employees to share assets across teams easily. By zeroing in on a valuable source of truth, users from marketing and sales to product development and beyond can easily find relevant reports to simplify analytics work and decision making.

Organize Your Assets To Make Quick Decisions

To escape, you need to think ahead to plan your next move wisely. The same is true at the enterprise level, so make sure you arm your employees with the right insights to empower them to quickly and confidently make decisions that can significantly impact operations. When you house all of your BI and analytics assets in one place, employees gain visibility across the entire ecosystem. The result? The ability to personalize an experience that is not constrained by the tool generating reports but rather in the context of work that needs to be done.

Communicate And Collaborate

Communication is crucial for moving forward, and collaboration between players makes an escape obtainable. Encourage your team members to share information, focus on what’s preventing you from moving forward, and call out flags or newly discovered insights. This is invaluable for both succeeding in escape rooms and propelling business outcomes. At the end of the day, agile businesses enable their employees to focus on problem solving, using their skillsets and accomplishing tasks. To gain a competitive advantage and foster a positive employee experience, it’s time for businesses to break free from cumbersome reporting processes in favor of efficiency, consistency and transparency. And while the odds of solving an escape room are only around 41%, overcoming analytics complexity is a sure-fire solution. Read the article on Forbes.com
Key Takeaways

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com as part of the Forbes Business Council.

Have you ever stopped to think about how much time your organization spends on reporting? Financials, sales, marketing—you name it, we report it. This isn’t to suggest that these reports aren’t critical in running a successful business; they most certainly are.

But it’s become unwieldy for many companies with massive amounts of data, dozens of tools and reporting applications, even spreadsheets—and with so many parts of the organization accessing reports. This is the challenge my team and I face with our clients every day and why we’ve introduced an analytics catalog to bring analytics to the masses.

When it comes down to it, many individuals or teams need regular access to a specific set of reports and insights, not every report the company produces. So, by simply removing the unnecessary reports, you can significantly reduce the amount of time spent searching for and verifying analytics assets.

That’s a simple example, but the challenges are much more profound—rooted in decades of the status quo with little innovation or cultural change in reporting. As businesses embrace a self-service model for employees, the key is to make it quick and straightforward to access the data and insights needed to perform their job. Many businesses have turned to using analytics catalogs to organize their data.

Here are some of the benefits of using an analytics catalog:

1. Speed: Businesses need to move faster, and having employees spend time searching for reports is a waste. Employees will often resort to (re)creating reports they need because it’s too difficult to find what they need. In 2020, teams spent 13% of their time on work that’s already been completed, up from 10% the previous year. As a result, employees are losing 236 hours to duplication of efforts a year. Having an analytics catalog can eliminate this wasted time.

2. Trust: Even when employees have access to the reports they need, there’s a lingering concern about the accuracy of the data, whether it’s the most recent report and if the numbers have been validated. Without a way of managing and verifying reports, you can’t be sure of the accuracy, which significantly impacts trust. With proper reporting and an analytics catalog, employees can be confident in their daily decisions.

3. Growth: Businesses depend on analytics, insights and accurate data to make critical business decisions. Without the ability to consistently make data-driven decisions, businesses will be challenged to grow at the pace of the industry. Business leaders are starting to realize that the ability to analyze data and extract insights significantly influences the company’s ability to grow.

Best Practices

Once you’ve found the right analytics catalog that meets your business needs, as the CEO of an intelligent analytics catalog company, I suggest to get to work controlling report sprawl by keeping these best practices in mind.

Encourage company-wide usage.

Decentralized data can cause an array of issues, including exposure to breaches, compliance challenges and lagging performance. Rather than limiting users, increasing usage with a single, unified view ensures that your teams are accessing the most reliable data easily and that any compliance issues, like personally identifiable information (PII), can be quickly identified. Provide regular demos and training to accelerate adoption and teamwide buy-in.

Champion better organization.

To foster agility, organize your analytics assets with tags and companywide naming conventions to increase consumability. Consider looking for a catalog that features built-in recommendations, as this can make it easy for your employees to find the most recent reports relevant to their department that have been verified for quality. Identify redundancies by relying on algorithms to flag similar or duplicate reports based on metadata.

Take discoverability to the next level.

Leverage the power of intelligence and automation to drive consumption. Take advantage of keyword search capabilities and metadata to streamline access to reports and ensure that your teams are using the tools your organization is paying for—and accessing reports that will expedite decision making.

Make use of all that data.

Use the data at your fingertips to understand who is viewing each report, discover the types of reports being generated and whether they are certified, and identify any potential gaps in your analytics program to drive performance improvements. Understand how data is being used by your teams—from IT and finance to marketing, sales and beyond—to make use of what’s relevant and stop wasting time on what isn’t.

Prepare for the road ahead.

Rather than becoming yet another tool in your company’s toolbox, it’s critical to anticipate any adoption challenges and validate the inherent value of an analytics catalog across your organization. Having the right people and roles in place to maintain your analytics assets is a critical component of effective usage.

Consider developing a role (a great opportunity to upskill existing staff) to streamline both the adoption and continued use of the analytics catalog—both from a technical and business point of view. Along with regular management of the platform, this analytics-focused role can be responsible for bridging the gap between business outcomes and increasing consumption across all business units.

An analytics catalog is a business-friendly way to increase access to reports and drive performance. By getting report sprawl under control, businesses across all industries can be poised to move faster, build greater trust and grow exponentially. Along with increased visibility, reduced noise and complexity, and streamlined access, analytics catalogs bring context and cohesion to disparate tools and resources.

With a catalog, analytics consumers can gain access to cross-platform assets with inherited security permissions and the assurance that the assets are governed and organized to flow through prescribed paths for usability. And, that’s reporting done right.

See the full article.

Eliminates time wasted searching for reports with intuitive employee experience

SAN JOSE, Calif., April 05, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — ZenOptics, the analytics catalog industry pioneer, gives employees a personalized experience to simplify the discovery of analytics assets used across the enterprise. ZenOptics has seen rapid growth fuelled by businesses needing to utilize analytics investments as a competitive advantage.

Analytics consumers, anyone within an enterprise that needs access to an analytics asset such as a report, dashboard, key performance indicator (KPI), and even spreadsheets, word processing, and presentation documents, are often overwhelmed by the volume and diversity of analytics tools and assets. When employees access an asset, there is little confidence in ungoverned insights and if the information is correct and up to date.

These challenges present significant barriers causing analytics investments to underperform and go underutilized. In fact, just over 14% of employees use the Business Intelligence (BI) software the organization has invested in [BARC, 2022], creating financial pressures, poor reporting, and a challenging work environment. The average company uses more than 360 applications, and unless the employee experience is simplified, these issues will only worsen over time.

“Every part of an organization uses multiple tools and apps to collect and analyze important data, so this isn’t isolated to the finance or sales teams, said Saurbh Khera, Founder, and CEO, ZenOptics. “By using advanced integration and machine learning (ML) technologies, we’ve addressed these challenges by simplifying what is critical to this new analytics consumer, reducing the clutter they typically sort through. By presenting reports and dashboards in a consumable employee experience, report users significantly reduce the time spent searching for these assets.”

Businesses need more of their workers to use more of the analytics investments if they want to move quickly and adapt to changing conditions. ZenOptics helps organizations address several emerging challenges:

Drain on resources: Teams are constantly wrestling with tool complexity and access across most organizations, causing a severe drain on time and resources. The average knowledge worker spends about 2.5 hours per day, or roughly 30 percent of the workday, searching for information [IDC]. ZenOptics provides each employee with a personalized view of the assets they use most frequently.

Inaccurate reporting: 44% of users occasionally or frequently made a wrong decision because they did not have the information they needed. In addition, 43% of users reported occasionally or frequently overlooking important information because of too many applications or the volume of information [Gartner]. ZenOptics ensures that analytics assets are verified and accurate.

Lack of speed and agility: Every business function today needs access to analytics assets, so a centralized model doesn’t work. In that environment, for teams requesting access to internal data beyond their departmental remit, the response time could be measured in months in 53% of cases [McKinsey]. ZenOptics puts the right assets in the hands of the analytics consumer.

Distributed operations: Businesses are embracing a growing remote workforce and have highly distributed operations – geographically, location-operations centers, warehouses, stores and client locations. ZenOptics ensures the analytics consumer has the right level of access depending on their role, location, responsibilities and other factors.

Turn complexity into collaboration.

These challenges are fuelling ZenOptics’ continued growth and momentum. The company grew 150% year-over-year in 2021 and nearly doubled the number of customers which include Brown-Forman, Janney Montgomery Scott, and Benjamin Moore.

ZenOptics has also been growing globally, with a 300 percent increase in customers across Europe. To better support this growth, ZenOptics recently announced the opening of a new European office in London.

“ZenOptics fills a major gap in the current analytics landscape as companies grapple with shifting from producing more and more to making better use of what they already have,” said Donald Farmer, Principal, TreeHive Strategy. “With ZenOptics, organizations can maximize the value of their analytics investments by increasing usage and improving consumability for a broader population of analytics consumers.”

ZenOptics, recognized in Gartner’s Cool Vendors in Analytics, enables analytics producers and consumers to align around the business objective to better assess, optimize and scale the impact of analytics across the organization. By providing employees with a high-quality experience, they’re at least 1.5 times more likely to have high levels of work effectiveness, productivity, discretionary effort, and intent to stay at their current employer [Gartner].

In addition to providing a better employee experience, ZenOptics analytics workspace empowers leaders to compose and share analytic flows using fit-for-purpose tools, interlocked with policies for governance, quality, and compliance to better integrate into the business context.

About ZenOptics

ZenOptics helps organizations maximize the value of their analytics investments by increasing usage and improving consumability for a broader population of analytics consumers. ZenOptics’ analytics catalog provides a personalized experience to simplify the discovery of analytics assets generated within the entire ecosystem of tools and applications already in use at organizations today. An intuitive analytics workspace empowers consumers to compose and share analytics flows using fit-for-purpose tools interlocked with policies for governance, quality, and compliance to better integrate into the business context. Personalized dashboards enable analytics producers and consumers to mine intelligence from connections between teams and assets to align analytics work with business objectives and better assess, optimize, and scale the impact of analytics.

ZenOptics was recognized in Gartner’s Cool Vendors in Analytics.

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