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The Difference between Reporting and Analysis and Why it Matters
Many people were certain that Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidential election, but their assumptions were based on polling data reports, not data analysis.
Understanding the distinction between data reporting and analysis will help you avoid making similar data mistakes with your business. Data reporting, like the poll data used in elections, can tell you what is happening with your business, but without context or knowing why something is happening, your interpretation won’t be based on all the facts.
Simply put, reporting uses data to track the performance of your business, while an analysis uses data to answer strategic questions about your business. Though they are distinct, reporting and analysis rely on each other. Reporting sheds light on what questions to ask, and an analysis attempts to answer those questions.
How Data Reporting Reveals The Right Questions
In the same way your car dashboard monitors important metrics like gas consumption, mileage and speed, your business needs a dashboard of data reports to ensure everything is running smoothly.
Data reporting is the process of organizing data into charts and tables in order to track performance of your business. This raw data keeps you aware of what is happening with your business. When your business is not reaching one of its goals, your reporting charts should alert you of the issue, prompting you to respond.
While reports are the first line of defense for your business health, it is often impossible to extract insights that can help you fix an issue or seize an opportunity. For example, this Sales Win/Loss report gives you an indication of individual sales performance, but the data doesn’t explain why each rep has different results.
How Data Analysis Helps You Find Answers
Data analysis is the process of examining data with the goal of answering a business question that supports decision-making. An analysis can reveal powerful insights if you are able to uncover why something is happening and what you can do about it.
Here are three key steps to building an analysis that helps uncover insights:-
1. Start With Specific Questions. Before you dig into your data, write down what questions need to be answered to achieve your goal. The more pointed the question, the more valuable and actionable the answer will be.
For example, instead of asking, “How can my sales reps improve performance?”, you need to ask something like this: “Where in the sales pipeline are my higher performers spending their time vs. lower performers?”
2. Identify Data Sources. When you start with a detailed question, you are able to pinpoint the data needed to formulate an answer from that question. Using the example above, you can determine that you’ll need sales pipeline data, specifically time allocation by each rep within each stage of the pipeline.
3. Interpret Results. Data analysis still requires you to make a conclusion about your findings. As you find interesting facts or patterns and put them in context to your business question, you’ll want to test your conclusion by asking yourself, “Does the data answer my question and defend against any objections? How?”
In every data analysis, putting the analysis and the results into a comprehensible report is the final, and for some, the biggest hurdle. The goal of a technical report is to communicate information. However, the technical information is difficult to understand because it is complicated and not readily known. Add math anxiety and the all too prevalent notion that anything can be proven with statistics and you can understand why reporting on a data analysis is a challenge.
The ability to write effective reports on a data analysis shouldn’t be assumed. It’s not the same as writing a report for a class project that only the instructor will read. It’s not uncommon for data analysts to receive little or no training in this style of technical writing. Some data analysts have never done it, and they fear the process. Some haven’t done it much, and they think every report is pretty much the same. Some learned under different conditions, like writing company newsletters, and figure they know everything there is to know about it. And worst of all, some have done it without guidance and have developed bad habits, but don’t know it.
It’s a pretty safe bet that if you haven’t taken college classes or professional development courses, haven’t been mentored on the job, and haven’t done some independent reading, you have a bit to learn about writing technical reports. Report writing is like any other skill, you get better by learning more about the process and by practicing.
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