Business Analytics: How to Create Automated, Custom Reports

Learn how to create and automate custom reports. This article discusses the methods, tools, and best practices for automated custom reporting.

How to automate and customize reports


Large business data is not utilized to its full potential for effective planning and decision-making unless it is in an understandable form. This is made possible by leveraging the reporting/analytics tools in the market today.

But, manual reporting can be a cumbersome job, where you have to do the heavy lifting and then get your reports available to be reviewed by your team. It causes data inconsistency, and constantly exporting and forwarding reports to your team is a tedious and inefficient process.

That’s where automated reports make your life easier. While the upfront effort to create automated reports can be greater, it's often worthwhile. Luckily, creating custom reports is not a complex task. There are many tools out there to generate well-designed, easily digestible reports.

Overview of report automation

Why Automate Your Custom Reporting?

An automated reporting system can automatically generate useful information from the raw dataset. These reports can be auto-refreshed and synced with data sources at regular intervals. They can then be shared across teams and viewed on a variety of devices at any time.

Benefits of Automated Reporting Systems

An automated reporting system provides many benefits to both internal and external stakeholders:

Time Savings
There are many different tools that can be used to generate reports that eliminate repetitive, manual tasks. This limits user involvement to editing the report when changes need to be made to what is being presented in the report.

Money Savings
Eliminating manual processes means that reports can be generated and distributed with fewer resources. This means employees can allocate more time to value-added activities.

Data Accuracy
Automated reporting systems ensure better data integrity, with improved accuracy coming from reductions in human error and faster report generation (i.e. the data is fresher). With data being an essential part of success, accuracy is critical.

Custom reports can be easily disseminated across the entire business in an automated fashion. Reports that are sent out on a regular basis can help democratize data by giving teams consistent access to important information.

Why is it important to automate custom reports?

How Can You Automate Your Reports?

When it comes to automation tools, there are many solutions available. We will discuss different tools that can be used to generate accurate automated reports.

The difficulty of using these tools varies depending on the business’ internal skillsets and your required solution requirements. We must first consider which automated report types are beneficial and which might have an impact on our task.

There are several ways that you can automated reporting:

  • Using the built-in capabilities of the solutions you already use
  • Using various business analytics tools
  • Coding your own solution
How to automate your reporting

Create Automated Reporting Using Built-in Capabilities of the Products You're Already Using

A number of the software solutions that you're using may have some automated reporting capabilities built into them. These will only provide basic reporting capabilities and work with a limited data set (you can't report on data from different sources), but you're already paying for the capabilities and it's usually easy to set up.

For example, Google Analytics has some automated reporting capabilities built in to it that will allow you to schedule the delivery of website stats. Google Analytics offers a wide collection of pre-prepared reports and dashboards. You may, for instance, create a dashboard that provides easy access to SEO or website KPIs.

How to automate Google Analytics reports

Create Automated Reporting by Building a Custom System

You can have developers build a custom automating report set-up. This method can help your organization meet specific/unique needs, but it is not something we recommend.

The Benefits of Building a Custom Reporting System

The main benefit is the unlimited flexibility and customization that this option provides. Whatever business requirements you have, 99% of the time a developer can build what you need.

The Cons of Building a Custom Reporting System

  • Custom, proprietary set-ups require a great deal of manpower to create and then maintain. This includes construction, testing, documentation, and updating. Plus, fixing any bugs that arise over time.
  • You don't have existing support and documentation that you can rely on. You're essentially creating a product that has one customer, and your organization is both the vendor and the customer wrapped into one.
  • You don't have a technical support team to go to when you have a problem. When you're paying for software, you can contact customer support when you're having a problem. But when you go the custom route, you'll have to pay for development support when you hit a wall within your organization.

For these reasons, before going this route we recommend consulting with the data analytic experts at Zuar, who are well-versed in designing, implementing, and maintaining data analytics systems. In the long run, this will save you vast amounts of time and money.

How to automate custome reports with BI tools

Create Automated Reporting Using Off-The-Shelf Solutions

Business analytics solutions provide tools to generate custom reports. They perform required tasks such as data processing (to a limited degree), analyzing, and visualizing data. Examples of such solutions are Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and Qlik.

These business intelligence platforms include essential features such as interactive dashboards, drill-down functionality, and data visualization. They also give consumers access to automated reporting and self-service predictive analytics features within a single solution, which streamlines and improves the generation an accessibility of the analysis process.

But the automation and dissemination features that come with these solutions out of the box can be very basic and limited. That's where 3rd party tools come in. You can quickly expand out what's capable using purpose-built add-on solutions.

One such purpose-built tool is Zuar Portal, which makes it easy to create analytics hubs for every audience that you might need to provide reporting to: executive management, staff, partners, vendors, customers, etc. The insights Zuar Portal disseminates can be real-time, interactive and customized for each audience. Visit here to learn more about Zuar Portal.

Let’s look at the benefits of using business analytics solutions:

  • Implementations are much quicker than building custom solutions, and tend to cost much less.
  • Data from various sources such as APIs, databases and business apps is retrieved and fed into the analytics solution. 'Data connectors' are utilized that help to connect data from all sources and get a unified picture of all business activities. Often an ELT tool is utilized to handle the process of feeding clean data into the analytics solution. Each time source data is updated, the automated report also updates (depending on the specific set-up chosen, there may be a one hour, one day, or other specific delay in updates being reflected in the reporting). In this approach, finding problems and trends, performing cross-analysis, and taking action are all intimately related and purely data-based.
  • Self-service options are provided to employees. Self-service BI gives businesses a competitive edge because employees are empowered to obtain the insights they need. This will ultimately save time and money for the business while freeing up the IT department to concentrate on other important tasks.
  • Off-the-shelf analytics solutions are often much more polished and user-friendly than custom-made solutions. The companies that make these products have motivation to make sure their products provide customer satisfaction. Features like drag & drop report creation and interactive dashboards make the systems worth paying for.

Disadvantages of business intelligence tools include:

  • Business intelligence software can be relatively expensive, especially when compared to free alternatives, though still more affordable than creating a custom-coded solution. This is especially true when you consider how many use licenses will be required for your staff (consider utilizing this tool to share insights more cost-effectively from your BI platform).
  • If you're not pulling in clean data from all the sources your company utilizes, then you'll have only a partial solution and user adoption will suffer. But that's easily solved by utilizing a modern ELT solution.
  • There is sometimes a steep learning curve when it comes to mastering complex BI tools. In the previous section we mentioned how user-friendly these solutions can be, but with any advanced solution there can be advanced learning required to fully take advantage of everything the solutions offer.
How to automate reports through custom code

Report Automation Tips and Best Practices

To make eye-catching and useful reports, consider these tips for creating custom reports:

  • Define the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want to include in your reporting.
  • Determine how often you will generate/distribute your reporting. Consider how often is most helpful to users, and how often the underlying data is being updated.
  • Confirm the report results, verifying what's being reported is accurate.
  • Ensure all reports being generated are uniform, clear, and complete. Show the reports to potential recipients to collect feedback and make changes as necessary.

The biggest recommendation we can give is to consult with the experts. Creating custom automated reports at scale is a complicated process, and even small errors can lead to big consequences. Our team at Zuar is standing by to help guide you through the process. Learn more by scheduling a free consultation with one of our data experts to talk about your data strategy:

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