Many BI and reporting tools now allow users to collaborate directly with a report. This avoids the cumbersome backwards and forwards of email chains or the need to meet in person.
As useful as this is, some organisations have concerns about the ability to monitor comments made. We will discuss this aspect in more depth after a brief introduction to comments and collaboration.
The Benefit of Commentary in Reporting Solutions
Available at the point of consumption
As a user is viewing and digesting the report, the relevant discussion thread is immediately available. This may provide extra information relevant to the content read. It also eliminates the need to search through various emails chains to gain the supplementary detail.
Useful for explaining anomalies
Commentary is particularly useful for anomalies, where a value may differ significantly from what users expect it to be.
If the reason for such a value is already understood, this can be shared in the report, providing the insight users need instantly. It avoids duplicate follow up discussions and questions addressing the abnormality.
Provides user analysis and the ability to raise questions
Anyone can use commentary to provide a general analysis of the report content for the current period. It creates a space for users to raise questions in context and receive in-thread replies.
Data-Connected Commentary with XLCubed
As with most things, some BI products handle commentary well. Others consider it as something of a tickbox to be completed to appease customers.
XLCubed provides data-connected commentary, both in Excel and on the Web. Users with the appropriate permission can comment on data at any level. Comments are connected to the data rather than a cell, so will always appear in their correct context. For example, a comment for January doesn’t appear when a different month is then selected. This also means that any report will show an individual comment if it is connected to the relevant data slice.
Comments can be highly formatted, and can include images, screen grabs and file attachments. Other users can be @tagged in the comment to gain their attention. They can then add a comment as a reply in grouped discussion threads.
We had many corporate customers who were keen to use commentary but had some concerns around visibility and their ability to monitor comments. They wanted to avoid incorrect analyses or explanations, or the sharing of anything inappropriate. While it is possible to restrict user sets’ ability to make comments, they still felt the need for increased visibility and alerting. We have addressed this in two main ways:
Our ‘Comment Frame’ allows users to build reports solely on comments. This can be for comments made on any slice of data, e.g. the selected product / area. It can also be filtered by when someone added a comment, e.g. all comments in the last 24 hours. This approach gives much better visibility and capacity for monitoring. It also avoids the need to go to individual reports and select the appropriate filters.
Users can configure alerts so they will be notified by email or RSS feed when a new comment is made. Again, these can be targeted on specific areas of the data. Product managers could set alerts for any comment made pertaining to their new product line, or Area managers to their region.
Together these have helped provide the visibility and awareness our customers needed to broaden the use of commentary within their organisations, and to enjoy the associated benefits in terms of improved business understanding and decisions.
As with many areas in XLCubed, the collaboration capabilities have been inspired by customer feedback and we worked closely with a number of customers during the design phase.
If there are further enhancements you would like to see we’d love to discuss.