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Industrial reporting

Graphical tables make standard reports suitable for industrial-style production. They are robust enough to cope with changing data and don’t require any additional follow-up work. This helps streamline the production of reports.

In financial controlling there are recurring and ad hoc demands for information. We know that from textbook decision-making theory. Revenues, costs and prices, for example, interest us regularly. But only rarely do we debate if it is a good idea to build a factory in China. I like to refer to these two different scenarios as industrial and consultant reporting.

Consultant reporting stands out with headlines that make a clear statement, such as “X % of German companies with factories in China are confronted with imitations of equal quality within Y years”. Most times, they only address top management. The business analyst becomes a consultant who could just as easily work for McKinsey, Boston Consulting or Roland Berger.

Industrial reporting, however, has the same characteristics as industrial production. Reports are produced for large groups of consumers in mass production. Although everyone does not receive the same reports, the content is basically the same. The whole cycle, which repeats itself in frequent intervals, screams for more efficiency because the past production process was anything but.

This lack of efficiency is caused by the means of production: tables and charts.

Tables present many numbers in little space. We all know them from the business and sports pages of the daily papers. Since they deliver a high level of information density, they remain the top choice for banking and stock market professionals. Considering the weaknesses of charts, it is hard to make any objections about tables. In fact, their only weak point is: they lack giving the human eye orientation on what is big and what is not so big.

Charts, however, are very popular. Unfortunately, many people use and abuse them as Bella reports week for week. Charts are a difficult business. They require a lot of space to present just a few numbers. They also seem to magically attract people who want to trick, manipulate or divert us. Where do you place the headline? How can you add the numbers to the bars so that they are legible? How do you create a good legend that doesn’t entail endless decoding? If you can tackle these issues, a chart can be attractive to the eye and transport size relationships or abnormalities faster than a table.

Nevertheless, typical business charts are just not suitable for industrial reporting. They are simply too expensive. Legends or headlines can only work if the underlying data allows it. This means they require labor-intensive follow-up work for each reporting cycle – or they are so simple that they offend the intelligence of the report consumers.

Graphic tables are the solution for this dilemma. They combine the advantages of tables and charts without the disadvantages. They are also robust in production because they require zero maintenance. Stay tuned to learn more.