What is a Report?
I am often asked “How do I create a report?” My first question is what do you mean by a report? In my experience people have 3 different ideas in mind when they ask for a report.
- To provide a data set, for them to examine.
- To expand the functionality of a piece of software, where they see a lack of clarity or missing functionality.
- To provide summary information about a data set. I’ll take each of these in turn.
To provide a data set to analyse
Often a member of staff has data manipulation skills. Provide them with a spreadsheet and they can produce management reports in a very sophisticated manner. However, they may not have the skills to break down the data held in databases, such as CELCAT Timetabler.
When providing access to staff to data, several things should be taken into consideration.
How up to date is the data? Some records are kept up to date within minutes of the data manager’s receiving data updates. Other records may never be updated after a certain date. Is the data in one database structured the same as the data in another? For example, HR may have a payroll number, and CELCAT use Surname, Forename, any of which could change independently.
Another important data issue: do different people call the same thing by different names? One University I can think of had a department called the Accountancy and Law department or the Law and Accountancy department or the Law department and Accountancy department.
Accessing data from the database bypasses any security within IT systems. It is important to make sure your security around reporting reflects any security rules. An institutional data security policy would make great sense.
To expand the functionality
Often, we want to look at our data. Our system allows us to print out, let us say, a room timetable, but perhaps we also want a list of events on a day, and the equipment booked into that room. This can be done using a report, for instance using CELCAT Live. By enabling Live Links, we can create a hyperlink; with the right parameters we could open a web page or SSRS report for a specific room and estates management can see the bookings required. I have also enabled a college to manage members of subgroups from reports, simplifying student management.
To Provide Summary Information
The classic use of a report is to summarise institutional data. Fixed reports can be distributed, showing absence rates, room usage, staff/student ratios or cost analysis. Once upon a time the IT department would drop thick reams of fanfold paper on managers’ desks. Some people like to replicate this with 50-100 page PDF documents. Web based reporting tools allow a more sophisticated approach: a high-level report can drill down to the data that makes up a value, rather than having to look up where Department X is on the printout.