Reader Question #2

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What we can do about all this report-generating capacity?! Every solution we have can generate a myriad number of reports, which vendors always use as a sales point. Is there any way to compile all this information to make it more digestible and actionable?

Gary Daniel, SVP & General Manager, Credit Union Group, Open Solutions, Glastonbury, Conn.

There are typically two types of reporting needs in every credit union, complex and ad hoc. Because these needs are so different and your credit union's staff report writing ability levels are so diverse, you may need to choose two different solutions.

First is the need for complex reports that require data manipulation for your credit union's base reporting needs. These types of reports are generally created by reporting focused IT or Operations employees within the credit union who are familiar with report writing technologies and database definitions. In this case, you will need highly flexible and powerful tools with the availability for code level manipulation.

In order to lessen the report writing load from these operational employees, you may also need an easy-to-use, ad hoc query/reporting tool that will allow department managers to create their own reports. These tools can be used to gain access to the data within your system(s) for fast and easy access by employees that are not database or querying experts. For these "keep it simple" tools, there are clear features to seek:

* Access to multiple databases. Fortunately most of the best database products these days utilize open database structures (consider ODBC compliant MS SQL Server or Oracle databases). Choosing a product that provides you access to these types of databases can enable your credit union to use fewer reporting tools and typically allow you to combine info from several sources.

* Provide simplified views of databases. Databases are designed by developers for flexibility of coding and functionality. To a report writer, they can be very confusing. Choose tools that allow you to hide tables, columns or data elements to limit the user to "report writing" data. You should also be able to show users simplified names for tables and columns, pre-define common "joins" and provide access to write reports between actual tables and database views.

* Wizards to simplify building and distributing of reports. These users are not technology experts but branch managers, lenders and other department managers. Remind them: Keep it simple.

Either way, you want to ensure that advanced or ad hoc tools have several things in common:

1) Reports should have flexible publishing and distribution options. Publishing should be able to be processed real-time or in batch environments. Options should include on-screen, printing and downloading to common tools such as PDF, Excel or others. Distribution is also key.

2) Steer away from tools that require you to move information to another database (data store or data set) just to enable reporting. By being able to access data at its source you ensure everyone is using the same version of the truth.

3) Pay attention to security. We hear more and more clients being criticized by auditors for their reporting solutions. To stay away from security issues, make sure your solution allows centralized management of users, permissions and database access. (When tools are installed on each individual desktop you can't easily show auditors who has report writing capabilities and what databases they have access to. Not good.)

A good first source for reporting tools may be your core software vendor. If they offer reporting products, they may be pre-integrated into the core data set, offer sample reports, offer report writing training (with the tool and the core database) and offer other shortcuts when writing reports against your member data.

Russ Bernthal, President, Tangent Analytics

The ever increasing myriad of reports is a growing problem-an information overload problem. Hard copy reports tend to crop up everywhere, require large amounts of human capital to develop and are next to impossible to support; yet vendors keep pushing their effectiveness and ease of creation. Well-developed analytic applications offer a solution to this problem. With the use of multidimensional database technology (i.e., OLAP cubes) within analytic applications, users have the ability to select and view data online with simple drag and drop capabilities. We call this self-service information delivery mechanism, "speed of thought analysis." Users quickly and easily see the output online; they can drill down, manipulate and answer the next question that comes to mind-without writing queries or requesting more reports.

Well-developed analytic applications will allow key metrics to be viewed in dashboards or scorecards showing trends and patterns via graphics and spreadsheet-type formats. Best-of-breed products easily allow for multiple sources of data to be consolidated creating one view of the truth. Imagine being able to easily pull customer data from multiple systems, consolidate it and then view performance by product or by officer across geographies or member segments; even quickly ascertain which members are the most profitable. And then being able to simply drag and drop data to answer the next question "on the fly" to help your organization become more profitable.

Jim Berthelsen, Harland Financial Solutions

The way to compile the myriad of report-generating capabilities is to facilitate their creation and access in a way that suits the individual needs of each user, whether that is an end-user, manager or board member.

Some business intelligence and warehouse solutions, for instance, pull data from multiple sources into a variety of "views" based on the user's preference. Then, a highly detailed report user can pull together information into a very detailed spreadsheet, whereas the highly summarized report user can pull data into a high-level graphical view. The ability to pull information into a variety of display formats or views means the user does not need to search for data elements, tables or table joins to create a meaningful report. The ability to pull data from various applications into one, coherent warehouse is the key to actually understanding the information and making it actionable using marketing tools.

John San Filippo, Bluepoint Solutions

The simple answer here is an effective, enterprise-wide electronic document management (EDM) system that includes a robust automated report management (ARM) component. The question becomes: What makes for a robust ARM system? First, the system needs to recognize ASCII text as easily as EBCDIC. The system needs to handle all MIME types (e.g., PDF, MDF, XLS). Also, the ideal system allows for the annotation of reports, report routing and the extract of data from reports into standard data-management software such as Excel or SQL Server.

Where known upfront, the ARM system should capture prescribed report content for easy retrieval and manipulation. Where not known, full text search must be available to find content on specified reports. Reports need to be viewable by designated individuals and have retention schedules based on report types. In very special cases- e.g., statements, 1099/1098 forms, certain delinquent notices-the report needs to be referenced by member, but the vast bulk of reports are not managed in this manner.

The system should also anticipate whether reports will be viewed internally over a local area network or remotely using the web, on fat-client workstations, or via a browser.

Finally, the ARM system needs to have an intuitive interface that allows the user to set up new reports or change existing ones. Unknown reports need to be routed to a queue- not dropped-and an alert sent that an unknown report has been received in the event a report provider makes changes without notifying you.

Theresa Benavidez, USERS, Inc.

Each credit union will surely vary in terms of the kind of data it needs or wants for the purpose of decision making. It's the software provider's responsibility to enable easy access to that data; it's the credit union's responsibility to decide how to best use this functionality. If you use a core system that employs an open database and standards such as SQL, you're in a good position to access the full range of data your credit union specifically requires.

An open environment will also give you the flexibility to pull data from third-party sources (not just the core system), and to compile that data into a single view for the purpose of creating comprehensive, yet manageable reports. To avoid information overload, each functional group in the credit union should decide what information it needs specifically, and develop reports that hone in on that data only. The bottom line: Easy data access is a very powerful functionality, but it's up to your credit union to decide how to use it effectively.

John Edwards,

President, XP Systems

Start with a system that utilizes tools you are comfortable with. With an industry standard, relational database, reporting can be accomplished using off-the-shelf tools such as Crystal, Paradox, FoxPro, etc.

This means there is a widely available talent pool to compile data for you, as well as greater training opportunities for staff.

More employee and training options make it easier for the CU to make sense of the data. If you're using a proprietary report generator, you must hire someone proficient with that custom program, and usually the only place you'll find someone like that is at another proprietary credit union.

Also, off-the-shelf reporting packages are generally easier to use and more robust than the proprietary reporting software accompanying a proprietary database.

We're finding that reporting is becoming a tool used by many different credit union staff, so it needs to be simple, flexible, and comprehensive. In our new data warehouse, we've given credit union employees an easy-to-use toolset that will accomplish many of the reporting and analytical requirements without having to learn the intricacies of a reporting package.

You have access to all data required to do extensive measurements, metrics, analytics, etc.

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