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Unlocking the Power of Data for Better Sustainability Reporting

October 24, 2017 | News,

For many, reporting means data, data and more data. From gathering and handling it, to crunching and analysing it, data can be a big headache. But as transparency expectations rise, data is becoming ever more important to reporting, and it’s essential that your reports contain the right level of details in a form that’s easy to understand.

Many companies now have several years of performance data on a wide range of metrics. This data can be sliced and diced to provide increasingly granular detail, arming the company with many different ways to tell lots of stories. The challenge is how to share this wealth of information with the stakeholders that care about it. A few well-designed charts can certainly enhance reporting by providing useful information and a visual element, but too many can become meaningless and overwhelm the reader.

Data visualization methods

In recent years, infographics have become the go-to data visualization method for sharing complex information. However, infographics have their limitations and while some communicate a wealth of information elegantly, there can be the risk of style over substance – with the worst offenders lacking either!

Meanwhile some companies have been experimenting with interactive reporting – using real-time data and data visualization. Some of these experiments have been a success, but many have been discarded as too expensive, unwieldy and time-consuming, particularly given the small number of users they sometimes attract.

Using Tableau for data visualization in your reporting

Despite these set-backs, we believe meaningful data visualization is a big part of the future, with a growing number of companies making a success of a data-led approach.  Patagonia’s long-established supply chain tool has been joined by a similar offering from Marshalls, which, if anything, offers greater transparency and impressive detail – combining interactivity and real-time audit data. Meanwhile Facebook are making great strides with real-time data reporting on their server farms.

These approaches often rely on bespoke software solutions, making them a major investment beyond the means of many reporters. The good news is that more affordable approaches are coming online, and software such as Tableau is opening data visualization up.

Tableau provides a cost-effective, straightforward approach. It excels at incorporating the visual and the contextual, letting you dive deeper into the data, and manipulate it for more answers. It’s relatively easy and quick to use and it even embeds into PDFs so there is no need to change your reporting format.

Sustainability reporting is often a balancing act. How can you meet the requirements of stakeholders and analysts, while protecting confidential information?  How can you assuage the worries of more conservative colleagues, without producing a report the size of the old yellow pages? Tableau doesn’t take away the biggest headache: gathering and validating the data in the first place, but when used correctly it can be an extremely useful and efficient way to get the balancing act right, and produce clear yet striking information to include in your reports.