DSS News
                  D. J. Power, Editor
          June 17, 2007 -- Vol. 8, No. 12

     A Free Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM
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    Check Bill Inmon's Reflections at DSSResources.COM



* Ask Dan: What are "best practices" guidelines for designing 
business intelligence reports from data-driven DSS?
* Report from Second Life IBM Rational Software Development 
Conference 2007
* Upcoming DSS-related Conferences
* DSS News Headlines


Ask Dan!

What are "best practices" guidelines for designing business 
intelligence reports from data-driven DSS?

by Dan Power

Structured reports remain at the center of data-driven decision
support for managerial decision making. The reports may be in portable
document format (PDF) and the reports are probably web accessible, but
we still have reports. In the "good" old days, one would see piles of
computer printouts in manager's offices. The printouts today may be a
bit smaller and might include graphs in color with professional
looking tables, but we still have reports.

Managers can quickly scan a paper report while multi-tasking and many
managers are reluctant to read reports online. Reading emails is
already a burden, so we still have paper reports.

Most reports are hurriedly constructed, repetitive and have
information overload. Managers think they know what they want in
reports and that and more is what they get from an accommodating IS/T
staffer. After all, the IS/T staffer doesn't know exactly what
information a manager needs, and when, to help manage the business.
Also, most IS/T staffers have not been taught how to design decision
relevant reports.

IS/T keeps hoping reports will "go away" with web-based and end user
access. What's happening is that some managers and staff are creating
reports, but we still have reports.

Report training is focused on technical capabilities in report
writers and report wizards step a manager or staffer "through creating
simple reports without writing any code". So most reports are page
after page of data. Too many fields are often displayed, table
headings are cryptic or field names from the data store, basic context
information like date of the report, who prepared it, and a title that
suggests the purpose of the report are forgotten, and gratuitous
charts and cross tabulations are included because it is easy to do so
not because of user needs. Many reports slow decision making rather
than increase decision effectiveness.

Both periodic and ad hoc business intelligence reports may be
primarily informational, analytical or comparative. The informational
reports summarize what has happened for a time period and may focus on
key performance indicators and critical success factors. Analytical
reports do more than summarize, such reports emphasize averages,
deviations, trends and cross tabulations. Comparative reports usually
focus on internal comparisons like actual versus budgeted or sales by
category compared to a prior quarter or year. Some comparison reports
include external data.

Some periodic reports are generated in the operational data-driven
DSS automatically. These reports often answer the "what is
happening right now?" question. Other periodic and ad hoc reports are
intended to answer specific decision related questions. Pre-defined
reports are usually still developed by the IS/T department in response
to a user request. With easier to use report generator tools, many
users generate their own reports. Neither IS/T nor most users do much
report planning. The tools make it so fast to get the data into a
report that the objectives, purpose and best design for the specific
report are often forgotten.

The message is clear that we need to teach people who create reports
how to do it better. Reports will not go away!

Microsoft Technet notes "Report design is usually a two-part process
that consists of defining data and arranging items on a page. ... A
report consists of three main areas: a page header, a page footer, and
the body. ...The placement of report items in a report is completely
freeform." In reality, report design is a three-part process, and the
first step is defining the objective of the report, then one can move
on to "defining data and arranging items on a page".

So what are some "best practices" guidelines for designing reports
used to support decision making? We have more guidelines for email and
website usability than we do for business intelligence reports. But we
don't want guideline overload, "Website Usability -- 144 guidelines for
improving the design" or "Email Newsletter Usability -- 165 Design
Guidelines for Content". The following is my short list.

1. Keep it simple and short! Shorter is better and for performance
monitoring a one page report is ideal. Don't create complex, hard to
understand reports.

2. Charts and graphs should add value and convey a single message.
Just because it is easy to create charts doesn't mean you need them.
It is true that a chart often conveys a lot of of information in a
decision compelling way, but a chart needs annotation, descriptive
title and labels. 

3. Don't overload the user with too many numbers. Pages of detailed
data is not a report. Some managers want all of the detail in a
report. That's usually because they don't trust the accuracy of the
summarized data. After some period of time, the manager may gain trust
in the data and request more summarization. Then a real report can be

4. When possible use color, shading or graphics like arrows to
highlight key findings, discrepancies or major indicators. In a paper
or web-based report you cannot rely on color alone to convey
differences in charts or tables.

5. Create and follow report design guidelines. Educate people who
create reports about effective reporting.

6. Talk to managers/users. Discuss report design with the person who
requests the report and be willing to help end users who are creating
ad hoc reports.

7. Make the context of the report obvious to anyone who sees the
report. Use a text box at the beginning of the report to quickly state
reporting objectives, authorization, important background facts, and
limitations of the data. Always include in the header the date and
title of the report. Use page numbers and specify restrictions on
distribution and confidentiality.

8. Make a plan. Sketch tables and charts and plan the order of
information that is included. Decide what data to put in each report
section and decide how to arrange the detail data. Make decisions
about titles, headings, and data formats.

IS/T need to work with the managers who will read and use the
reports, the problem of bad or ineffective reports is usually
"people-related" not "technology-related". Great reports lead to better
and faster data-driven decisions.

As always, your comments, questions and suggestions are welcome.


Guide to designing Microsoft Access reports at

Welcker, B., C. Hayes and D. Steinmetz, "Report Design: Best
Practices and Guidelines," June 1, 2005, Updated: November 15, 2005,
at URL .


       Check the interview with Tom Davenport 
    "Competing on Analytics" at DSSResources.COM


Trip Report
Report from Second Life IBM Rational Software Development 
Conference 2007

by Dan Power

In May, I was invited to attend the IBM Rational Software Development
Conference 2007 in Orlando, Florida June 10-14, 2007. That didn't fit
with my plans, but Rational was hosting a parallel conference in
Linden Lab's Second Life ( virtual
environment. So I decided to attend virtually.

I went through the Help Island tutorials prior to the conference. I 
learned to walk and fly. My walking is still a bit jerky! I even learned 
some scripting so I could talk to the rational geeks.

The virtual conference schedule started with replays of the videos
from the real conference. With a little help I got my IBM RSDC Welcome
kit with an agenda and I picked up the IBM codestation labyrinth kit.
There was never a conference registration booth with an avatar helping
people like me. 

The first event was scheduled for Tuesday, June 12, 2007 from 10 am
- 1:00 pm Pacific Time. It was the keynote address replay "What
Keeps Business Rational?" with speakers Scott Hebner, IBM
Rational Vice President, Marketing; Danny Sabbah, IBM Rational,
General Manager; and Jamie Thomas - IBM Rational, Vice President
Development. The scheduled location was the IBM Theater in Second

I got to the theater early and read the seat instructions. Very nice
facility. But you could tell this is all in Alpha testing. Yossarian
Seattle, IBM architect, and Jay Clarke, codestation maintenance, were
running the show. Those are avatar names not real names. In all at
10am PDT, seven avatars were in the 300 seat theater. The poor turnout
again suggested this idea needs some more work. The chat session

[10:00] Jay Clarke: Thanks for coming in to attend the replay portion
of the RSDC 2007 keynote addressses in Second Life
[10:00] Jay Clarke: We are still sort of getting setup for
thanks for your patience
[10:02] Jay Clarke: Our first presentation will be yesterday's
keynote from Jamie Thomas - 
IBM Rational, Vice President Development
[10:02] Jay Clarke: this presentation lasts roughly 20mins
[10:02] Rhuelse Homewood: Hello
[10:03] Jay Clarke: as ppl are joining in.....we will probably let 
ppl play them as they wish for about an hour or so
[10:04] Jay Clarke: the last presentation will be the keynote from 
Danny Sabbah, IBM Rational, General Manager
[10:04] Jay Clarke: be back here for that presentation in about an
[10:06] Jay Clarke: Ok so, sorry about the wait....we will be ready
in just a few mins
[10:06] Jay Clarke: Thanks.
[10:07] Jay Clarke: I will be back shortly everyone.....thank you!
[10:13] Jay Clarke: Hi
[10:13] Jay Clarke: try viewing the videos from IBM CODESTATION
[10:13] Jay Clarke: this may work better.
[10:13] Remo Tone: ok Jay
[10:14] You: can you set up a tp?
[10:14] You have offered friendship to Jay Clarke
[10:14] Jay Clarke is Online
[10:14] Remo Tone: can you say the slurl to the chat?
[10:14] Jay Clarke: yes
[10:14] Jay Clarke:
[10:15] Remo Tone: thanks!!
[10:15] You: thanks
[10:16] You: Please send me a tp

The videos weren't working at the code station either. On Wednesday,
June 13, 2007, the SL grid was closed from 6 am PDT - 12 pm PDT for
scheduled maintenance.

So what are my initial conclusions. Second Life is open source
software so businesses need to pressure Linden Labs to create a
Business Life virtual venue where people register their avatars with
their real names. Identities in Business Life need to be verified. In
my opinion, the powerful Linden Labs simulators can really benefit
business and education, but Second Life is not the right environment.
I'm thinking about offering my decision support course using Second
Life (SL) in the Fall, but I am concerned about some of the mature
content and the anonymity. Business and credible education occurs in a
trusted environment and SL is not and never will be that! SL is

We can organize great conferences, conduct decision support special
studies, do virtual consulting and teach people in Business Life. We
need to make this happen.


Link to Dan Power:


DSS Conferences

1. AMCIS 2007, Americas Conference on Information Systems,
Keystone, CO USA, August 9-12, 2007. SIG DSS mini-tracks.
Check .

2. DaWaK 2007, 9th International Conference on Data
Warehousing and Knowledge Discovery, Regensburg, Germany,
September 3-7, 2007. Check .

3. Pre-ICIS SIG DSS Workshop, Sunday, December 9, 2007, 
Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Check 


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