The Case Against Report Builders

InsightSquared is an analytics and reporting company. Broadly, we are classified in the “Business Intelligence” space.

We don’t provide a report builder. This surprises many folks so we wanted to take a few moments to explain our philosophy.

What is a report builder?

Broadly, a report builder is a generic tool for defining the data you would like to present in a sales report. For delivering just the exact right report built with just the right data, it is a powerful approach for delivering analytics to an organization. It is the foundational approach taken by the major software vendors in the Business Intelligence space. Not only do standard Business Intelligence vendors take this approach, but’s own approach to delivering salesforce reporting takes this approach as well.

Report builders have a couple of strengths.

First, they provide a high level of flexibility. They can adapt easily to different data models. In the reporting world, the report builder can easily switch from building sales cloud reports to support. Opportunities, leads, contacts, accounts; they can all be chosen for inclusion in reports. There’s a great deal of flexibility. Want an extra column in your report? You can add it. Want to break the report down further by yet another variable? Don’t worry, you can do it.

Second, report builders can adapt to a variety of different data sources: data from your CRM, data from your General Ledger, data from your marketing system, data from your support system. Report builders can typically adapt (with implementation costs) to heterogenous data sources. Have data from a legacy SQL application? Don’t worry! Your report builder can adapt!

The downside of report builders

“So that sounds great! I can get every report I would ever want with a report builder! Let’s get one!” you might say.

But there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always?)

This flexibility comes at a cost.

With such flexibility, it becomes very difficult to actually build a report. There are hundreds of options, hundreds of potential columns, hundreds of potential filters.The user interfaces for these report builders become intimidating and difficult to understand to the uninitiated. Suddenly, to build a report, you need training. I myself sat in a room for hours at Dreamforce this year with hundreds of people getting trained on how to use the latest features in’s reporting suite. And this was just for understanding the newest options in their report builder. At other analytics sessions, they handed out a 20+ page booklet to help you learn how to build reports withs’s analytics engine.

The report builder becomes an obstacle for accessing insight on your company. You need to be trained and experienced. You need to invest a lot of time to be able to generate reports. What is the impact?

The impact of flexibility

First and foremost, building a report becomes a scarce skill in your organization. The folks capable of building a report become a bottleneck in your use of accessing data. The analysts become a scarce commodity and generating a new report becomes “a process”. I’ve spoken to many friends and colleagues whose access to new reports is delayed because the turnaround time for a new report is days, if not weeks long.

Business moves too fast to wait that long.

Second, even if you get a report. So often rather than generating a clear and concise insight, you generate new questions that need to be answered. You might identify a trend or an anomaly. This is a normal part of analysis. You need to dig further and try to determine the deeper cause through exploration of the data. If building a report is a bottleneck and a scarce skill, empowering your organization to explore and maximize your insight from the data — going beyond reporting to analysis — is even harder.

Third, with report builders you have a tendency to have to reinvent the wheel each time. You don’t immediately benefit from common business practices and common subtleties required of your analysis. You’re falling into the same traps with your data that everyone else is.

The alternative to report builders

InsightSquared takes a different approach. We want to remove the analysis bottleneck from your organization and make it easy for anyone in your organization, not just the chosen few, to access and explore data about your company. We want to distribute the data to help your company create a data-driven organization, from top-to-bottom.

We want to remove the middle-man and make it so any sales rep, any marketer, any support rep, any VP and of course any analyst can access and explore your data. Create an entire company of analysts by removing the friction associated to report builders.

This means that when we build our software, we take our cues from successful software that is used by millions and even billions of users (like Facebook, Twitter and others). This philosophy of building business software more similar to consumer software has lead us away from basing InsightSquared on a report builder, ad hoc approach.

Give it a try. We think you’ll find that the benefits of prescriptive, ready to use reports will change the way you run your business.