4 Types of Report Automation Tools in 2024 & Selection Tips

Automating reporting can transform the way your business monitors performance and identifies opportunities. But with so many options, how do you select the right report automation tool?

As a data analytics consultant, I’ve helped organizations across industries implement reporting solutions tailored to their needs. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll overview the four main categories of report automation tools, key selection criteria, and recommendations to help you make the best choice for your team.

An Introduction to Report Automation

Let’s start with a quick primer on report automation and its benefits.

What is report automation?

Report automation tools allow you to automatically generate recurring reports by pulling data from multiple sources, conducting analysis, and distributing polished reports on a schedule.

Benefits include:

  • Time savings – Automation reduces the tedious manual work needed to create reports repeatedly. According to Deloitte, companies spend up to 76% of reporting time on repetitive tasks like data collection and report creation. Automation helps redistribute this time to value-add analysis.
  • Efficiency – Automated reports are generated quickly with no manual effort. Changes can also be applied across reports in one step.
  • Consistency – Reports maintain the same layout, formatting and accuracy every time.
  • Advanced analytics – Many tools allow for complex data modeling, forecasting and “what-if” scenario analysis.
  • Flexible delivery – Reports can be scheduled and distributed via email, portal or internal dashboard at preferred frequencies.

With so many potential benefits, it’s no wonder the report automation tools market is projected to grow from $7.8 billion in 2022 to $14.1 billion by 2027 according to MarketsandMarkets.

Now let’s explore the four main categories of solutions.

1. Code-Based Report Automation Tools

Code-based tools allow developers to fully customize reporting functionality through coding languages like SQL, Python, C# and JavaScript.

Examples include:

  • SQL – The standard language for database querying and reporting. SQL skills are in high demand.
  • Tableau – Data visualization tool with a SQL backend. Tableau lets coders enhance reports through custom scripts.
  • Python – General purpose programming language frequently used for reporting.

Key features:

  • Complete flexibility to build customized reporting workflows and logic.
  • Ability to incorporate advanced analytics like machine learning algorithms.
  • Processing of both structured and unstructured big data sources.
  • Integration with virtually any data source.

Use cases:

  • Financial reporting – Custom financial statements and detailed analysis of past performance.
  • Client reporting – Tailored reports specific to each client‘s needs.
  • Internal business intelligence – Centralized reporting solution for company-wide insights.

Pros

  • Full control and customization for unique reporting needs
  • Process any data format and volume
  • Add advanced analytics like predictions

Cons

  • Requires experienced programmers
  • Time-intensive to develop and maintain
  • Not easily scalable or collaborative

Pricing: Code-based tools themselves tend to be free or open source. Paid options are typically priced per user or based on usage volume. For example, Tableau offers desktop, viewer, and creator licenses starting at $70/month. Support and maintenance packages are also available.

Overall, code-based report automation is ideal for large companies with in-house developers looking for complete customization. The flexibility comes at the cost of coding time and talent required.

2. Low-Code/No-Code Report Automation Tools

Low-code/no-code tools require little to no programming through graphic drag-and-drop interfaces and pre-built templates. Examples include:

  • RPA software – Robotic process automation tools like UiPath Automation Cloud
  • Zapier – Pre-built integrations and workflows to connect apps
  • Funnel – Marketing reporting with pre-defined templates

Key features:

  • Intuitive “clicks not code” interfaces
  • Drag and drop report elements
  • Libraries of pre-built report templates
  • Connectors to pull data from popular apps
  • Scheduling and distribution capabilities

Use cases:

  • Operational reports – Daily/weekly reports on support tickets, sales, marketing campaigns.
  • Employee productivity – Reports on employee output like calls handled, tickets closed etc.
  • Digital marketing – Reports on web traffic, ad performance, social media.

Pros

  • Quick and easy setup
  • Low learning curve
  • No coding required

Cons

  • Limited customization
  • Less flexibility than code-based tools
  • Advanced analytics require add-ons

Pricing: No-code tools are typically priced via monthly subscriptions often based on number of users. For example, Zapier’s plans start at $14.99/month per user. RPA tools like UiPath offer enterprise licensing models.

Low-code/no-code tools empower non-technical users to implement automated reporting quickly. They are ideal for common operational reports that don’t require heavy customization.

3. Business Intelligence (BI) Report Automation Tools

BI tools are designed for in-depth data analysis and visualization. Top solutions include:

  • Tableau
  • Microsoft Power BI
  • Qlik
  • Sisense

Key features:

  • Drag-and-drop report designer with advanced visualizations
  • Connectors to integrate data from multiple sources
  • Options for ad hoc analysis and interactive dashboards
  • AI-powered insights
  • Collaboration capabilities

Use cases:

  • Sales analysis – Metrics on pipelines, forecasts, rep performance
  • Operational analysis – Charts showing workflow efficiency, bottleneck identification
  • Market research – Competitive benchmarking, segmentation, product research

Pros

  • Sophisticated analytics and visualizations
  • Centralized insights across the business
  • Real-time dashboards

Cons

  • Steep learning curve
  • Requires training for advanced features

Pricing: BI tools are typically priced per user with discounts for larger deployments. Some offer free versions with limited functionality. For example, Tableau’s pricing starts at $70/month per user. Premium BI tools can cost hundreds per user annually.

BI report automation empowers data-driven decision making through robust analytics. The rich capabilities require an investment in platform costs and user training.

4. KPI Dashboard Tools

KPI dashboard tools provide real-time tracking of key performance metrics through interactive visualizations. Examples include:

  • Google Analytics – Free web traffic and marketing metrics
  • Klipfolio – Customizable cloud dashboard
  • Geckoboard – TV-style real-time dashboards

Key features:

  • Real-time monitoring of KPIs
  • Interactive data visualizations
  • Pre-built metric templates
  • Collaboration capabilities
  • Alerts and notifications

Use cases:

  • Digital marketing – Site traffic, conversion rates, ROI
  • Support – Tickets opened/closed, customer satisfaction
  • Sales – Quotas met, deals won/lost, sales cycle times

Pros

  • Visually intuitive
  • Excellent for tracking real-time metrics
  • Low barrier to get started

Cons

  • More limited customization
  • Requires setup for advanced dashboards

Pricing: KPI tools range from free entry-level options to paid plans around $25 – $100+ per month with volume discounts available. For example, Geckoboard starts at $26/month per user.

KPI dashboards provide real-time visibility through engaging visuals. They are quick and easy to implement for monitoring essential operational metrics.

How to Select the Right Report Automation Tool

Here are some key criteria to guide your selection process:

Your team‘s technical expertise

  • Small business / non-technical team: Prioritize no-code solutions with pre-built templates like Funnel or KPI dashboards
  • Developers on staff: Consider code-based tools like Tableau for full customization
  • Dedicated data/analytics team: Robust BI tools like Qlik or Tableau may be suitable

Data infrastructure and sources

  • Many disparate sources: Seek a tool with pre-built connectors or integrations
  • Primarily unstructured data: Choose a tool adept at natural language processing like RPA
  • Large, complex data: Lean towards BI tools capable of managing big data

Key reporting use cases

  • Standard operational reports: Low-code or simple KPI dashboards often suffice
  • Ad hoc analysis: Enable with BI tools or code-based custom builds
  • Client-specific reporting: Opt for maximum flexibility of code-based or BI

Required customization

  • Little customization: Pre-built no-code or KPI dashboards
  • Moderate changes: Configurable low-code like RPA
  • Extensive customization: Select code-based tools like Python

Budget

  • Small business: Free or freemium solutions like Google Analytics
  • Mid-market: $20 – $75/month per user common for low-code or KPI tools
  • Enterprise: $70 – $250+ per user per month for advanced BI platforms

Here is a comparison table summarizing the key differences:

Tool TypeCustomizationCodingData ConnectorsAnalyticsLearning Curve
Code-basedMaximumRequiredBuild anyAdvancedHigh
Low-code/No-codeLimitedNoneCommon pre-builtBasicLow
BIHighOptionalWide rangeSophisticatedModerate
KPI DashboardsLimitedNoneCommon pre-builtBasicLow

Key Takeaways

  1. Reporting automation delivers significant time savings, efficiency and analytical advantages.
  2. Leading options include code-based, low-code/no-code, BI tools and KPI dashboards.
  3. Consider your team skills, use cases, data and customization needs when selecting a platform.
  4. Robust BI tools provide the most insight but require investment. No-code options get you started quickly.
  5. Partner with a platform offering flexibility to grow with your future needs.

Automating your recurring reporting provides tangible ROI through increased productivity and informed strategy development. With the right toolkit, your team can focus less on manual processes and more on data-driven decision making. Reach out if you need any guidance finding the ideal report automation tool for your organization.

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