How to Build Automated Reports
A Guide to Self-Delivering, Self-Updating Reports and Dashboards
There’s no denying humans have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be. The question is why we continue to do so in an age when there is usually a way to make any task easier—or nonexistent. I think we’ve all felt the regret and embarrassment of finding out that we’ve been doing something manually for years for no reason—like driving to the bank to cash checks only to discover they have an app for remote deposits. On the other side of the coin is the liberation of relegating joyless tasks to tech—like finally investing in a Roomba and not having to drag out of the heavy, clunky vacuum and mess around with the cord anymore.
One of our resolutions for 2019 is to rid ourselves, our clients, and end users of any monotonous tasks that can be automated through our software so we can all spend our time on more enticing, creative ventures. In pursuit of that goal, I’d like to shine a spotlight on a couple of Exago BI’s most useful features for ridding you and your users of redundant report maintenance.
Where automation is concerned, Custom Filter Functions and the Report Scheduler are two of the most useful tools in your belt. Even when used separately on Live Data, they are great for taking over the tasks of updating reports and dashboards and sending those items out to members of the team through email. Used together, these two features make self-updating, self-delivering reports and dashboards a reality.
Custom Filter Functions use Session Info to dynamically calculate values for datetime filters. For example, the “Today” function dynamically generates—you guessed it—today’s date, whatever today might be. Used in a filter, the “Today” function will ensure only data corresponding to the current day will show up on the report. There are infinite options for Custom Filter Functions. You can find them in the filter window under the fx icon when using any datetime value such as OrderDate or CheckInTime as filter criteria. First Day of Current Month, Last Day of Last Quarter, Friday of Next Week, Yesterday, and First Day of Last Year are just a few of the available functions to choose from.
When I said there are infinite options for Filter Functions, I wasn’t exaggerating: you can add your own when business use cases change or new ones arise. This is why we call them Custom Filter Functions—you can add, remove, and change them to suit your and your users’ particular requirements. So if you want to add an “Any Given Sunday” function, you are welcome to do so, though not all your users will catch the reference.
“But how do Custom Filter Functions make reports ‘self-updating’?” you ask. Let’s run through a scenario: Take, for example, a report that warehouse managers need to review every Monday so they know how much stock of each product is outgoing and needs to be reordered. Let’s call it the Monday Product Stock Report (creative, I know). The report includes order date, product name, units in stock, and units on order. (If you really want to get crazy, you can throw in some conditional formatting so that when more units of a product are on order than in stock the product displays in red or in larger font, or both!)
You can use Custom Filter Functions to set up a filter that only displays orders that came in since last Monday. Use an “Is Between” filter operator with the Filter Functions “Today” and “Today Minus 7 Days.” Now the filter will automatically update the report so that no one needs to spend time Monday mornings (which are hard enough as it is) manually updating it to reflect the past week’s orders and product stock quantities.
The second element needed to fully automate this report is the Report Scheduler. The Scheduler can be switched on in the Administration Console and enables users to email or schedule reports and dashboards for recurring automated delivery to an email address or a list of addresses. Once configured, anyone with access to the Scheduler can set up a recurrence pattern so the Monday Product Stock Report is delivered to the warehouse managers at 9 AM every Monday morning.
With both your Custom Filter Functions and Scheduler recurrence pattern in place, you have an ideal “set it and forget it” scenario. You can use this dream team of features on all of your operational reports and dashboards to make them self-updating and self-delivering for any duration you choose—weekly, daily, quarterly, semi-monthly, and more—for the entirety of 2019.
As always, there are many changing trends in the BI space as we start a new year, but automation is still a game changer when it comes to boosting productivity. So think of Exago BI as your Roomba and breathe in that sigh of relief as reports take care of themselves while you and your users tackle more pressing business.