What if we told you the most powerful tool you need to unlock value from your data is a one-page document? While slick presentations, ERPs and massive data migrations may be part of the picture, one of your most competitive tools is a humble, bare-bones report known as the flash report.

Data Isn’t About Numbers—It’s About Leadership

We know that real-time reporting drives competitive advantage. The faster you assess and make decisions, the better your ability to navigate disruption and opportunity. So what’s the difference between companies that successfully gain value from their data investments and those that don’t?

Strategic leadership.

According to a survey by Google Cloud, 84 percent of data-and-AI leaders—that is, organizations that achieved higher scores across all key KPIs, such as profitability, market share and customer satisfaction—say their organization has a clear enterprise strategy for managing and extracting value from data, compared to just half of other respondents. 

That’s where flash reports come in. Uniquely designed for a C-suite audience, flash reports are key to getting the high-level alignment, investments and cultural change you need to truly use your data as a competitive advantage.

What Is a Flash Report? 

Similar to an executive summary of a white paper or presentation, a flash report is a one-page snapshot of business performance over a brief time period. It outlines key metrics to help busy executives see if the business is on track and make real-time decisions. 

Flash reports are always:

  • Spartan-simple: Typically numbers only to speed up discussion, it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to create.
  • Customizable: It may contain marketing, sales, operational and financial data along with trends, comparisons, or variances.
  • Timely: It can be published daily, weekly or whenever an unexpected situation calls for real-time attention from leadership. 

The real value in a flash report is comparing it to previous ones to identify impacts and changes early so you can tweak and course-correct.

A regular practice of flash reporting can have substantial effects in both the short and long term. The University School of Nashville grew endowment 35x over 20 years of flash reporting, for example. And we’ve seen how flash reporting can be an important component in the improvement of overall business value and the successful sale of a company.

But before you begin, there are a number of steps leaders must take around strategic priorities, data architecture, tools and culture.

Start with High-level Strategy

Look at your strategic goals and identify three to five KPIs that best reflect them. Considering metrics across business functions as well as those describing external conditions, which ones give you the best idea of how company performance aligns to your goals?

You’ll may include KPIs like working capital, profit margin and debt-to-equity ratio, plus a comparison point, such as a budget or forecast. But your KPIs will vary depending on your situation. Manufacturers may prioritize different KPIs than a SaaS company, for example.

Dive Into Your Data Model

Because flash reports are only as good as the data that informs them, cleaning up your data model is table stakes for effective real-time dashboards and reporting.

Years of manually reconciling, copying and moving data between database management systems and business functions has left most company data practices riddled with human error, redundancies and wasted effort. Generating reports in this environment is tedious and time-consuming. If you or your employees dread the idea of hunting for, importing, validating and compiling key metrics on a regular basis for flash reporting, chances are your data model is the problem.

Today, data automation and streaming vendors have changed the game, allowing businesses to create centralized data architectures that continuously collect data from disparate sources, process it and surface it to the tools and APIs your business uses. This type of data model is the foundation for several success drivers:

  • Collaboration: All kinds of people in varying roles and functions across your ecosystem can share and collaborate on the same source of reliable, real-time data, cherry picking the right information for various stakeholders and conversations.
  • Automation: In addition to reducing manual effort by automatically generating and sending flash reports via email, beefing up data automation sets the stage for more advanced reporting techniques that leverage AI and predictive analytics.
  • Business intelligence (BI) software: These visualization tools present your data in a user-friendly manner, allowing even non-technical users across departments to interpret, share and analyze data more effectively.

Tie It All Together With the Right BI Tools and Processes

BI software is the connective tissue between your data foundation and strategic priorities. A real-time dashboard visualizes enterprise data and serves as a jumping-off point for reporting. But you may not need all the bells and whistles that quickly drive up costs. When assessing BI tools, consider the following:

  • Costs: Carefully examine implementation costs and pricing models, which range from per user, per usage, one-time fee, annual subscriptions, etc.  
  • Tech stack: Make sure the software is compatible with your existing tech stack or ERP system. For instance, if you use AWS cloud services, a Microsoft tool like Power BI might not be ideal. Also, your ERP may already have some real-time dashboard features built into it.
  • Usability: Designing a BI solution that’s easy to institutionalize is key, making sure it’s digestible, accessible on mobile and built to be as self-service as possible.
  • Processes: Who will use your tools? How often will you use flash reports? Who will create and review them, and how should the system facilitate the escalation of issues?

Coach Up Your Culture So That Data Is Everyone’s Asset

Flash reporting is just a stepping stone on the roadmap to reaping full value from your analytics investments. Getting there requires more than the tools and tech: you also need an organizational shift to a more data-driven culture.

Start small with proof of concept. Use flash reports to bring more transparency and visibility across your organization. Disseminating them beyond executive eyes is a great way to build data-driven thinking into your culture, giving lower-level teams regular opportunities to:

  • See how their work concretely ladders up to business priorities.
  • Discuss what they do in terms of metrics and results.
  • Use data to drive insights and actions over gut instincts and best practices.

Additionally, tech and data leaders should make an effort to communicate in simple terms, inviting others into the fold instead of alienating them. Over time, you’ll bring more users into your BI tools while expanding integrations and metrics to add more dimension to your insights.

Start Building Your Flash Reports

With flash reports in hand, leaders can make great strides in extracting value from their data stores, boosting transparency, communication and agility to position their organizations ahead of the competition.

Take a step toward harnessing your data for better performance. Learn more about Paro’s flexible data visualization solutions, powered by vetted finance experts.