To the best of my knowledge, there are no dedicated tools for creating and managing an inventory of reports/dashboards. At best these are done at the report/dashboard server level where you can audit user access, and read/write stats for the specific reports on that server. What happens if you have different environments and platforms for outputting these reports? How do you create and manage a comprehensive report inventory without a dedicated tool?
Well, here are some of my solutions:
1. Spreadsheet (local, network shared, or cloud based)
This is the most common and obvious solution and a great start to get the ball rolling.
Example of tools: MS Excel, Google Sheets, MS Office 365, Zoho Sheet, OpenOffice Calc, etc.
- Low entry barrier from a cost, complexity and technology perspective
- Easy to implement. In fact, here is a template I put together which you can use:
(Excel template with marco script which automatically populates the inventory page based on information found on each one of your sheets, where each report details are recorded)
- You need to have some sort of version control process to keep track of changes and ensure its editors aren’t overwriting each other’s work. Most document management tools should work for network files or cloud file sharing services.
- If you’re using cloud sharing productivity suites such as Office 365 or G Suite, you need to be mindful of the type of information saved in your inventory and if this complies with your province/ state and federal legislations. Most of the information would be public, but some might be sensitive.
- Manual process for creating new entries and maintaining existing ones
2. Knowledge sharing platform
If you’re already using a knowledge sharing tool, consider the idea of creating the report inventory within one of these platforms to disseminate it to your user base easier.
Example of tools: MediaWiki, Freshdesk, Answerbase, Bloomfire, Moodle, Elgg, etc.
Note, I haven’t mentioned SharePoint as I’ll provide more details on that in a second article.
- Increased dissemination – could be integrated with an FAQ
- Can be accessed from any web ready device without any additional software installed
- User management support
- Usage of user management functionalities, allowing you to control who and how is adding new entries on your report inventory page – most knowledge sharing tools have these
- Version control – most tools have it
- Still a manual process for creating new entries and maintaining existing ones.
- There’s usually no ability to export this data in any other way other than a text or PDF file
3. Incident management / ticketing tool
I’ve seen solutions where the incident management tool is configured to track details of each report as a custom incident type which is funneled into its own queue (i.e. what can be seen as the inventory).
Example of tools: Jira, Gemini Tracker, ServiceNow, Freshdesk, Samange, Service Desk, etc.
- Workflow configuration for adding and maintaining entries for each report
- User management support (excluding end user)
- Can be integrated with existing ticket submission forms and email workflows to create a report type incident automatically
- Streamlines the communication between the report owner or requester and the development and testing team while the report is being built
- Each report entry can be easily linked to related support requests, previous support resolutions, change logs, etc.
- Easily pull metrics on the report inventory activity such as number of report requests per time period, duration of time spent from initial request date to deployment, number of assigned resources, etc.
- Some configuration or extra customization might be required
- More for the incident management users as visibility of the queue itself is restricted
- Cannot easily be shared with your user base
- Can be resource prohibitive if you don’t already have one – some have a low entry cost, but require resources for maintenance
Note: some of these tools have knowledge base capabilities as well.