One of the biggest reasons clients come to Regpack is because they are overwhelmed with their current data management process. I hear the following all the time: “We need to get organized, automate our processes and cut down on the amount of time we spend on administration”. And, “We need really good reporting to make sure everyone knows what they need to know”.
In this post I want to talk about reporting and the idea behind ensuring everyone has the information they need to work smarter. It might be presented as an afterthought, but it is one of the most important parts of information communication within an organization. When done right, it saves a lot of time. When done wrong, it is overwhelming, time consuming and just confusing.
I will start with the obvious. In order to do reporting well, you first need to gather data and your data needs to be centralized. Generally this is achieved by using a registration software that gathers and stores your data in one place as it’s collected. You can then generate reports from the data at any time. Gathering and entering data manually into an Excel spreadsheet is not going to allow the type of effective and meaningful reporting I discuss in this post. Cleaning up your document management issues is the first step to managing your organization effectively. Specifically, investing time and money in a system that will house all of your data in one space. This will allow you to create and publish reporting for your organization in an easy and efficient way.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
The first basic step to improve your reporting is employing a good data gathering system. There is a known saying in computer programming: “Garbage in, garbage out”. It means that if you do not have the information you are looking for in the first place, you won’t get it by manipulating the data you do have. Put another way, if you don’t ask someone for their email address, you won’t magically find their email by gathering their first and last name. If it’s not there, it won’t ever be. So, if you don’t structure your application process in a way that you know which group subset each applicant belongs to, you won’t understand these relationships by manipulating the data.
So the next step is to make sure you are thinking about the big picture when you are building your application process. Think about what information you need for reporting and other core business functions as you build your application. You want to ensure you are getting the information you need the first time around. If you aren’t doing an application on paper, think not about a linear application but how you can put together an intuitive process. With an online database, you can put together data from different forms and connect dots that might not make sense logically for the applicant, but do for you.
What I am trying to say is make sure the registration process is intuitive and at the same time make sure that you are gathering the data you need for the reports you will eventually want. It might seem a little overwhelming at first, but if the registration software you selected offers you to work with a project manager, they will do all this for you!
So now we have the basics covered, we can move to examining what is needed for effective reporting. This list outlines what you should be looking for:
- Make sure you can filter for the right people to be in the report.
- The ability to filter for the right information in the report.
- Can you filter and generate aggregated data (fancy word for statistics) about the report?
- Can you download the reports in multiple formats?
Notice that the word “filter” showed up in 3 out of 4 of the requirements. Why is “filtering” so important? Filtering is the foundation to effective reporting. A report should include only the people you need and only the information you need about those people. If it includes unnecessary information, it will overwhelm you or the person you are sending it to. Think a huge excel spreadsheet with tons of rows and columns. Not fun!
We are all constantly under information overload. Adding to that is not going to make the report efficient or effective. Presenting “just the right information” and “just the right time” is what made Google the leader in search, and the same applies to your reporting. You need to show the right people, with only the information you really want to know about them.
Filtering for the right people before creating the report.
As I said above, filtering is the most important part of creating a report. Let’s say you need to order meals for people attending week #4 of your course, camp, or event. You want to send the catering company only the list of people for that specific week and not people that ordered week #1. You need to filter for the people that are in week #4! Then let’s say you need to send a report regarding people that are vegetarian so you would need people that ordered week #4 and that indicated they are vegetarian. You will filter for the people and then generate the report. When doing so you will want to have the correct fields in each report.
Here you can see the importance of “garbage in, garbage out”. If you did not structure your application process to have people ordering according to weeks and also asking them about dietary needs or preferences, you will have no way to get the report you want. Here’s a great video about how filtering works with Regpack’s system. This can give you an idea of how effective filtering works.
It is important to have a strong and powerful filtering system in your online registration software. Without that, you will find yourself downloading endless lists and trying to figure out who to delete and who to keep in the report. Not really a good and efficient reporting process!
Filtering for the right information in the report.
Finding the right people to be in the report is the first and most important step, but it is not the end of the process. The second part is to make sure that when the report is generated you are presenting only the relevant information for the task at hand. This will save you time, but it also important for security since you do not want people that do not need to see specific information, to see it.
Below is a video of setting up reports with Regpack’s system. It gives you a good idea of how reporting tools should look in online registration software, and why filtering is so important.
Let’s go back to the catering example. You need to send your catering company a list of all the people that will be in week #4 along with any dietary needs. When sending this over you will most likely need to give their name, meal preference and nothing more. There is no need for you to give their email address or any other information you gathered. Sending unnecessary information might confuse the catering company and since it might be personal information you might not want it to leave your organization. The solution to this is to have the ability to decide which fields are included in the report and which are not included. This ensures you get exactly what you need every time.
While it might take time to reorganize your application to flow better, it will save you time in the long run. Effective reporting means the difference between great customer service and a disorganized, unprofessional mess! Automating your registration process and streamlining your reporting will save you tons of admin hours! Which translates to more time spent improving your offering and growing your organization. It also means less money spent on admin, and more you can redirect to marketing or other needs. The ability to get the information everyone needs without the wasted time of searching for it is priceless.
Think about all the times you need to check on a certain data point or draw a conclusion from your data: emails from a client, emails from heads of other departments, emails from your CEO, team and staff meetings, etc. When you think about it, the amount of time we’re spending just FINDING the information we need, before we even sit down to make sense of it, think on it or make it into a format that is required or presentable, is a lot. Why do this to ourselves!?
Seriously, spend the next week noting down all the time you ‘search’ for information and then think of things you could have done with that chunk of time had you not lost it to the hunt. The pro to an improved data management process and easier reporting functionality is more time spent on what is really important: your job and not on a task that is just begging to be made more efficient through automation and the latest technology.