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Tips for maximizing business intelligence reporting tools

Learn how reporting end-users, even newbies, can get the most out of their business intelligence reporting tools with these tips, including how to work with an entity-relationship diagram and where to find online resources and reporting training sessions.

Our organization just purchased a new reporting tool and I am eager to start. Any tips for a reporting newbie?

Congratulations! Reporting tools such as Crystal Reports, Business Objects and Cognos Impromptu are extremely powerful. Functional end-users can extract and interpret organizational data without always relying on IT. The ease and user-friendliness of business intelligence reporting tools have increased exponentially in the thirteen years since I first started writing reports from enterprise systems.

First, try to find an entity-relationship model (ERM) or diagram (ERD) of the tables in your application. From the definition of ERD on Wikipedia:


An ERD is an abstract and conceptual representation of data. Entity-relationship modeling is a relational schema database modeling method, used to produce a type of conceptual schema or semantic data model of a system, often a relational database and its requirements, in a top-down fashion.

These are sometimes available from your software vendor's support site (Note that you will not be able to find PeopleSoft ERDs from a Cognos support site; you will have to go to a PeopleSoft support site). ERDs are essential in determining which table(s) and fields are necessary to build accurate and efficient reports. It is very important that you understand the data, tables and relationships among them. Failure to join tables properly on a custom report will slow down your production environment for everyone, return unexpected and inaccurate data and cause you many headaches. If you cannot find ERDs, then I would suggest locating the vendor's data dictionary. Second, make sure to play with your new reporting tool! Powerful reporting applications can do many, many things. Start small and aim for "little victories." Once you have mastered simple listings, you'll be able to move to more complex reports, including those with outer joins, parameters and the like.

Third, use the Web! Support sites, online forums and newsletters are all wonderful resources for garnering expertise in different reporting tools.

Finally, while the economy is tight, try and attend a reporting training class. It is very difficult to learn a robust reporting tool by only using it during occasional half-hour windows of time. After your class, make sure that your management understands your need to noodle with reports. You'll become more adroit at reports over time and with practice.

Good luck!

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