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So you think you don't use reporting. After all, you're not responsible for inventory lists, financial statements, distribution tallies or other typical reports. Then again...

Have you ever generated a letter? Created a business card? Produced a certificate?

If so, you've probably used reporting at some point. When you generate documents by extracting data and inserting it into a template, that's a form of reporting. 

For medium-sized and larger companies, reporting software typically is used to generate reports. The software takes data stored somewhere (database, data file, etc.) formats it in such a way that we can easily grasp it. When you get down to it, a report is simply a representation of data.

Until now, most businesses have stuck to a traditional way of thinking about reporting. But we could expand this definition to encompass a much broader category of reports. Doing so gives a company more freedom. You can now represent your data—more kinds of data—with greater ease -- as well as see major cost and time savings.

For example, consider this letter:

At first glance, you might not think of this letter as a report. But let's look a little closer.

  • The letter template mirrors a typical report template. It carries a standard format with default text and places for holding data (the date, employee's name, salary, terms, etc.) Create 200 offer letters, and they will all look the same with the exception of the individual personal data and offer details.
  • Since the data is stored in the company's database, all the manager needs to do is run the "report" for the appropriate individuals, and the data is automatically inserted into the "report template" (the letter).

Smart HR departments are realizing that they can simply:

  1. Create one letter template in Microsoft Word
  2. Insert placeholders for data and,
  3. Watch as hundreds or thousands of offer letters are generated accurately and efficiently.

No more typing individual “Offer of Employment” letters. No more relying on cut and paste.

Okay, now consider the following sample certificate:


A state licensing agency (which could not be named because of governmental policy) currently is using reporting software to create certificates similar to the one above. The agency is one of the largest reporting agencies in its state, with more than 280 locations and 3,000 employees. Its Records Management division uses reporting sofware to generate liquor licenses statewide. 

For a government or educational agency, keeping track of facts and stats is as important as generating proof of those facts. Using a reporting tool can automate everything from applications to sell liquor to license expiration reports to certificates.

Even though certificates and letters are two different types of "reports," the similarities are clear. Each example involves creating a template, calling upon data to insert in the template, and displaying the final output.

But wait, there's more!

Let's see how far we can extend our definition of reporting. A third example hints at greater possibilities:

Yes, these business cards are reports too. How? They have a template, they are populated with data from a large database, and they're generated with reporting software. But what may be less obvious is why a company might use reporting software in this way.

In this case, the company in question found it was much more affordable to create business cards via reporting software than to contract it out or create cards internally in another way. They purchased some serrated paper, designed the layout they wanted, ran the business card "report," and had interns complete the process by separating the cards.

By doing this, the company saved money AND was assured of the data's integrity. The same data used to populate a new employee’s offer letter in our first example can be pulled in to create a new business card once the offer is accepted.

That's another key benefit of using reporting software to create non-traditional reports such as business cards, letters, certificates, insurance quotes, timesheets, proof of coverage and more. Because the reporting software is relying on one source of information -- your database -- you are assured of consistent data company-wide.

Reporting software helps us understand how our company is performing and provides us with the information we need to make decisions. As you see here, it can also help us better present that information in new ways.