This post is part of a series in which we’re taking a closer look at some of the common barriers to effective knowledge sharing in organisations and how to overcome them through the lens of three different perspectives; the source, the information, and the audience.

Part 1: Finding the root cause of a problem
Part 2: The Source
⠀⠀⠀a) "Sharing information is challenging when away from the office"
⠀⠀⠀b) "Information is stockpiled for the next weekly report"
⠀⠀⠀c) "Knowledge is only shared in infrequent meetings"*
Part 3: The Information
⠀⠀⠀a) "It’s a mess - Information is unorganized and uncategorized"*
⠀⠀⠀b) "Data is siloed in individual teams"*
Part 4: The Audience
⠀⠀⠀a) "Too much data leads to information overload"*
⠀⠀⠀b) "Working remotely breaks down communication channels"*
Part 5: The importance of effective knowledge sharing for your organisation*

*coming soon
✍️ ⏳

If the events of recent times have taught us anything, it is that businesses need to prepare for the unexpected. Driven by the constant evolution of technology and the changing consumer habits that come with it, not to mention increasing economic uncertainty in the wake of COVID-19, organisations must steer themselves towards more agile business models. They must be able to adapt quickly to change, whether that concerns managing inventory, ensuring optimal customer experiences, capitalising on new opportunities, or anything else.

All of the above hinges on the ability to make informed business decisions in less time. That said, only 20% of business leaders say their organisations excel at decision-making, according to a poll by McKinsey. Moreover, most businesses claim the time spent on making decisions is used inefficiently, with less than a quarter of time spent on report analysis and taking the necessary actions.

In the clear majority of cases, ineffective or delayed decision-making comes down to a lack of knowledge-sharing throughout the company. Since no organisation nor department exists in a vacuum in today’s volatile global marketplace, these information silos are something to be avoided. To enable seamless collaboration throughout the business and drive faster and more informed decision-making, access to mission-critical information must be readily available.

To stay relevant in today’s market, businesses must pursue quality and speed when it comes to reporting. Setting up monthly or even weekly reports is no longer enough, since it prevents time-sensitive decision-making in an age when every hour and day counts. Instead, more time should be dedicated towards analysing reports and acting upon them, while report creation and quality assurance should be automated to save time wherever possible.

1. React quickly to changing business environments with flexible reporting

Critical business functions must strike the optimal balance between standardised reports that are published at specific times and dates and non-standardised reports that provide real-time insight for decision makers. On one hand, every organisation is subject to certain rules when it comes to financial reporting. On the other, there is no reason why they should not be able to leverage the data that goes into standard reports at any time and without notice. Flexible reporting gives businesses access to key data and insights when they need it, allowing them to act in near real-time.

In an effort to become more agile and align seamlessly with today’s rapid and ever-changing business cycles, companies must have full transparency of information. That means decision makers must be able to quickly access and share information that is up to date and relevant. After all, the best business decisions are those that draw on recent high-quality data, rather than that which is weeks or months old and, consequently, much less relevant. Not only does this help businesses become more agile – it also fosters stronger teamwork, accountability, and a culture of fast-paced innovation.

When information is captured and made available to the minute, rather than by the week or month, decision-makers can quickly identify new trends and unexpected events. For example, in the retail sector, buying habits can change suddenly and without notice. Thus, stocks can suddenly dwindle without warning, leaving buyers dissatisfied and decreased profits. Similarly, and especially given the continuing disruption to global supply chains in light of the pandemic, many organisations must regularly adjust their orders and supplier portfolios with little warning. This is every bit as true for financial reporting as well, since budgets also need to be adjusted to accommodate continuing economic uncertainty. For example, investors typically want up-to-date reports as soon as possible, whereas regulators and government bodies might only demand financial reports quarterly or yearly.

Quickly create and share new business reports with Harkster ➔

2. Streamline compliance and policy enforcement with effective governance

Effective information governance depends on the availability, timeliness, and accuracy of data. After all, you can’t detect potential breaches of regulatory compliance or company policy when you don’t have complete visibility. Moreover, different departments often need to deliver the same data sets several times. With an appropriate governance model in place, it’s possible to reduce the time spent on creating reports and to increase the quality and timeliness of those reports.

An effective governance model makes it much easier to detect problems, such as breaches of policy or missed business goals so that they can be remedied quickly. For example, service companies might be obligated by their service level agreements (SLAs) to maintain a certain degree of service availability, in which case IT system status reports must be timely enough to allow for a proactive approach to remediation. In other words, if a system is experiencing a few outages, you need to know about it as soon as possible, before the problem can escalate.

IT System Status Report built in Harkster
IT System Status Report built in Harkster

Timely reporting can also expose problems like missed deadlines or goals. For example, retail businesses might set daily sales goals. However, if decision-makers have access to reports only once per week or month, they will likely have to spend much more time mulling over them to find what went wrong on a given day. At this point, it may be too late to take any meaningful action anyway. In another situation, there might be an acute drop in sales of a specific product or in a certain region, in which case more timely reports will make it easier to identify the root cause.

Retail Sales Target Report built in Harkster
Retail Sales Target Report built in Harkster

From a compliance perspective, whether we’re talking about government, industry, or financial regulations, timely reporting helps facilitate more effective monitoring, tracking, and auditing. In other words, it empowers a proactive approach to compliance, as well as a commitment to continuous improvement and transparency.

3. Reduce the risk of errors and inconsistencies with automated reporting

According to Deloitte, almost half of top management reports are compiled manually rather than automatically. In many organisations, employees spend weeks or even months curating information and compiling it into lengthy reports that are already woefully out of date by the time they reach decision-makers. Although this might provide a historic view of anything that went wrong, the lack of timeliness makes the reports far less actionable.

An even more serious drawback of over-reliance on manual reporting is the greatly increased risk of human error. Curating data can be a laborious task, especially if it involves collecting, for example, sales and financial information from multiple regions and branches. When this happens, manual reports may also end up with conflicting information, making it hard to find out which figures are right, and which aren’t. Again, in the case of financial reporting, this can lead to breaches of both internal policy and legally mandated compliance regimes.

The often tiring nature of manually compiling reports also increases the risk of inconsistencies and other errors. Manual reporting can also foster a rise of different interpretations, leading to reduced control and accountability. This, in turn, can reduce team productivity and morale and, in the worse case scenario, even lead to increased employee turnover.

By implementing a state-of-the-art reporting system, organisations across virtual all industry sectors can improve efficiency and minimise risk. Fortunately, the proliferation of data is what makes this possible. Since every digital interaction leaves behind a data trail, there are ample opportunities for businesses to turn that data into actionable insights. However, to make that happen, they must implement a business intelligence (BI) and reporting system that translates that data into actionable insights, ideally in a user-friendly visual form. And, since automation works at machine speed, all the while eliminating the risk of human error, it is possible to gain those insights in real-time, rather than relying on stockpiling information for release every week or month.

Does this mean weekly or monthly reports are no longer relevant?

While the importance of timely reports providing real-time insights cannot be understated, this emphatically doesn’t mean scheduled reports are no longer as relevant. Modern business intelligence and reporting systems should absolutely do both. They must offer real-time insights to allow for agile business decision-making, while also making it easy to compile scheduled reports. After all, scheduled reports are crucial for detecting trends over time, as well as meeting the demands of regulatory compliance.

There is nothing wrong with stockpiling information and, indeed, it is a necessity. However, it should not come at the cost of timeliness in accessing and acting upon that information. Agile business models depend on access to timely information and the ability to make important and informed decisions quickly. But, just as every business has always had to do, they must also have the means to compile and analyse reports over specific timeframes, in line with company policy. This will allow them to act quickly in the face of sudden, short-term changes, while also monitoring trends over time to build more sustainable long-term business models.

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In the next post in this series, we'll cover the final barrier to effective knowledge sharing from the source's perspective. We'll be looking at how the modern day meeting can hamper efforts to work collaboratively and share information efficiently.

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