Best Practices

TechRepublic is a great resource for Construction and Real Estate IT Managers to keep up with technology

We work with construction and real estate companies every day to improve their reporting and provide an over-arching reporting system.   I’ve talked to many IT managers about their technology and what resources they use to stay on top of ever changing technology.  Several of them mention TechRepublic.  It’s a site I scan every day and often find reviews of new hardware and software along with IT trends and best practices.

As an example here are some topics from today’s home page that would help construction and real estate IT managers and directors keep up with technology changes:

Financial Consolidations Across 2 Accounting Systems Without Excel

Many companies end up with more than one accounting system. It happens all the time – you acquire another company, merge with another company or end up with a division that is in different line of business that needs a different accounting system to function. Examples we see include:

A) Acquisitions or mergers that lead to 2 similar core systems
Construction companies end up a combination of Timberline Office, ViewPoint Software, Dexter Chaney, Sage Master Builder, etc.  Real Estate companies end up with a combination of Yardi Software, MRI Software, RealPage or Timberline.  Depending on the sizes of each company / division on each system converting to one of the systems is expensive, time consuming and results in huge productivity losses with historical data gone and people taking time to learn the new system.

B) Companies with subsidiaries in different businesses:

Anterra FREE best practices guide for improving construction reporting

Anterra has published a free best practices guide for improving construction reporting.

This guide is intended to help CFO’s, Controllers and IT managers look at their reporting in 5 key areas.

  1. Report design improvement
  2. Data Quality
  3. Reducing the use of Excel as a reporting tool
  4. Using dashboards to quickly convey information
  5. Mobile availability of reports

This guide is free and can be downloaded by clicking here.

Good Reporting Breaks Down Walls Between Finance and Project Management Teams

Anterra’s growth is built on our customers’ success using our software.  As we prepare a for a big marketing campaign we are interviewing our clients to see how we have helped them and what impact Business Intelligence has had on their organization.  We’re seeing clients bring up a benefit we never anticipated – closer teamwork between the finance/accounting and project management groups.

Top 5 Construction and Real Estate Report Design Best Practices

We wrote a blog article a few weeks ago about reporting worst practices to help you evaluate current reports, the purpose of this post is to provide guidance when you are starting a new report.

1.  Report purpose is immediately obvious, important information leaps off the page

When we work with clients on business intelligence we review reports currently in use.  In many cases reports are “dumps” of information and the reader then has to wade through hundreds of numbers per page to find important information.  One of the key performance indicators of a report is how many numbers you are putting on a page – simply multiply the number of columns by the average number of rows per page.  For example a 8.5 x 14 report with 15 columns and 30 rows has 450 numbers per page.  Consider reducing the number of columns to make the report easier to read.  Also consider the purpose of the report and use red / yellow / green indicators or a bold font on the key column to make the most information leap off the page.

2.  Intuitive sorting, possible multiple sorts

When you design a report think about how the reader will look for information.  Would they know job numbers if there are hundreds of active jobs or would they know unit numbers if there are hundreds of tenants in a property?  If readers have to flip through multiple pages of a report to find a particular job or tenant you are reducing the effectiveness of the report and the productivity of the reader.  Consider what field the report should sort by and if it makes sense add a sort option to the report parameters to empower the reader to choose how the report appears.

3.  Clear report title

A full title immediately tells the user what the report is for.  Without a useful title, you are asking the reader to spend time reviewing the columns to interpret the report’s purpose.   A report that is sorted by AR balance over 60 days titled “Delinquent Tenants” or “Delinquent Customers” tells the reader exactly what the report is designed for, “AR Report” does not.

4.  Beautiful Design

Most of the time spent building reports is spent in formula creation and testing to ensure the numbers are right.  As people are generally pressed for time they often publish the report as soon as it is working.  Add a step to your report construction process before you start building the report – formatting.  It only takes a few minutes to put sections in  a report, bold totals and section headers, put page breaks in, add your logo and use a nice font.   Readers appreciate a nicely formatted report and you can take pride in a beautiful report.

5.  Add Date / Time Stamp

Ensure all of your reports have a date / time stamp – otherwise people rerun reports many times not knowing if the information is current enough for a decision.  For example a commitment status report run yesterday afternoon is often okay to review today but an AR listing run 2 days ago isn’t current enough to review.

We’ll be writing more posts about report design, as always we appreciate any feedback or ideas you can share.

Top 5 Worst Reporting Practices

Typically we write about best practices with the goal of helping clients as they work proactively.    The goal of this blog post is to help you evaluate your reports to see if they suffer from typical maladies so you can work on improving them.  Use this list as a guideline to see if you can improve a report design.

The Kitchen Sink Report –  8.5 x 14, 22 Columns, 7 Point Font

I find many client reports growing in columns over time.  This makes the report difficult to read as there are hundreds of numbers per page and the font is very small.  While some audit reports need to look like this, it is better to have drill through reports for managers and staff.  For example, a top-level report might show total estimate; the drill through can show original estimate and change order columns.

No Date / Time Stamp

Without the date and time showing on a report, users will be rerunning it repeatedly as they won’t know if the data on a printed report is current.

Generic Report Name –.e.G. “Job Report” or “Property Report”

A full title immediately tells the user what the report is for.  Without a useful title, you are asking the reader to spend time reviewing the columns to interpret the report’s purpose.

Sorting on an Obtuse Field

If you are running an accounts receivable, accounts payable or tenant report that sorts by the record key, you may be asking the reader to hunt for information.  If your record keys look like “ABCD1234,” users outside of accounting will have to scan names to find what they are looking for.  Sorting on customer, vendor or tenant name is more intuitive.

Writing a report that takes too long to run

If your report is complex make sure it runs in decent time.   Readers want information on a timely basis and don’t like waiting for reports to run – often these reports sit unused on menus.  Solutions like Anterra SQL Data Center can speed up the processing of complex reports, especially when you are consolidating information.

We’ll be blogging about reporting best practices as well. As always we appreciate any feedback or ideas you can share.

The Definition of Business Intelligence for Construction and Real Estate

The term “Business Intelligence” is very generic and often thought of as “dashboards and scorecards”.   The definition of business intelligence is broader than that – the best definition we’ve found is:

Business intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term that includes the applications, infrastructure and tools, and best practices that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimize decisions and performance.

Gartner Group

It’s important to think about BI in broader terns than dashboards – to improve and optimize decisions and performance you need to

  1. Design dashboards and reports based on the role of the person using them. Consider the purpose of each component of a reporting package – the design of dashboards and reports should support the “use cases” of the roles using it.  What decisions does a project manager make or what risks does a property manager need to monitor?
  2. The processes to create the data underlying reports need to be consistent and accurate – garbage in, garbage out
  3. Information needs to be timely.  For example a balance needs to be struck in closing of GL month ends between making accrual guesses and waiting for information to come in. Issuing financial statements on the 10th of the next month with a few accruals is better than waiting until the 25th so budget variances can be acted upon earlier

We’ve had the privilege of working with industry leading construction and real estate companies to hone their reporting into clear, actionable information for each major role in their organization.  Once your staff gets the information to help them succeed in their role they spend far more time working on the business and less time fire fighting.