Death by CSV File: Compliance Reporting Torture
(Or, how to make compliance reporting work for you instead of the other way around.)
Have you ever asked for or run a report and in return received a “CSV” file? I recently spoke with a client whose compliance system only generated reports via CSV format. If you are not familiar with the term, Wikipedia defines it as follows:
In computing, a comma-separated values (CSV) file stores tabular data (numbers and text) in plain text. Each line of the file is a data record. Each record consists of one or more fields, separated by commas. The use of the comma as a field separator is the source of the name for this file format.
She went on to say that it was difficult to identify the answers to her questions and that the answers are not readily apparent in those CSV reports. A report should be a means to find meaningful answers to tough questions supported by hard data. So technically speaking, the answers to her questions are in that CSV.
It’s Up To You
Like my client, it is up to you to tease out the answers from those numerous columns, rows, and cells. If lucky, you or someone you know can open the CSV file with Excel and create charts and graphs, provided you have the time and skill. This moves you somewhat closer to discovering your answers, but not without some effort.
Don’t get me wrong. The tried-and-true CSV is an important component of any compliance reporting system and every solution needs this feature when data mining, compliance audits, or highly specialized tabular reports are required. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
It’s up to you to tease out the answers from those numerous columns, rows, and cells.
Why can’t you begin with the charts and graphs and work backwards to the data?
The client agreed and felt that the reporting process was out of sequence. She asked, “Why can’t you begin with the charts and graphs and work backwards to the data?”
Of course, she is right. A good compliance management platform has dashboards and reports that automatically shows trends, patterns and potential hotspots in your data without having to sort through a lot of data. The system should work for you, not the other way around. And if it does work for you, your efforts can shift to conveying actionable information to stakeholders at your organization rather than building charts and graphs. In other words, you can focus on telling your story.
So when considering an automated compliance system (or any other data driven system, for that matter), at a minimum, you should ask the following questions:
- Does the system provide meaningful answers to tough questions and are these answers engaging?
- Can you identify other key performance indicators or trends quickly and in a visual format?
- Is the report always up-to-date in real time or is it a static report, potentially out of date moments after it is run?
- Is it accessible by co-workers and stakeholders at any skill level?
- Does it require the user to write queries or creating graphs before providing insight?
- Is it mobile friendly for on-the-go reporting or last minute requests?
- Can you easily drill down to the hard data that is behind the chart, trend line, or graph?
While you can cobble together a compliance reporting mechanism here and there that might include all of these pieces it is in your best interest for the sake of time, money and sanity to have one system that does it all.
For a more in depth look at how to audit your current system, check out our ebook
Mind the Gaps:
Five Areas Where Your Compliance Reporting Needs to Shine