There’s a seismic shift happening in how customers get information out of your product. 

Like most big changes, it’s going to happen gradually, then suddenly. That’s also how most failures happen, so you need to make sure you don’t get caught flat-footed when the game changes.

Here’s the short version: If your product features a reporting tool, a reports module or even if it just packages reports to send data to your customers, those tools are about to become obsolete. 

Why Your Data-Reporting Tools Are About to Become Obsolete

Over the past 10 years, as the volume of data available to the general public has exploded — and as that public relies on that data more and more to get things done each day — the way they consume that data has been evolving. Unfortunately, those of us who produce that data have been slow to adapt to that evolution.

The upshot of the problem is this: People who like to create reports really like to create reports. People who need to read reports really hate to read reports.


An Unsustainable Data Explosion Has Changed Data Analysis

The goal for product makers used to be to throw as much data at customers as we could. Then we’d let them analyze it to their hearts’ content. The unintended result of this unsustainable data explosion was a boom in the hiring of expensive data scientists to make sense of all that information. 

As those data wranglers’ salaries climbed ever higher and became unsustainable themselves, automation crept in. Companies began to rely on any number of business intelligence platforms to automagically pull insights from the mountains of data that they produce. 

Today, as those BI platforms have become multibillion-dollar companies, the law of progress is kicking in again. The expense of a traditional BI platform is itself becoming — you guessed it — unsustainable and thus disruptable. 

That disruption is currently underway, and today’s product maker is responding by throwing data at customers in smaller, functionally oriented chunks. In other words, the data analysis middleman is effectively being eliminated. If your product still relies on that middleman, you might soon find yourself as an afterthought in the customer’s purchase decision process.

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Actions Speak Louder Than Numbers

Whether your product is SaaS software, a digital service hybrid or even if you’re just relying on internal data to increase margins and scale, the amount of data you can (and should) produce will continue to increase. 

Not only can we product makers track that a thing happened, but we can usually tell when it happened, sometimes where it happened, and even the chain of events that produced that thing and another chain of events that resulted from that thing. All of this tracking not only takes place in real time, it can now be reported in real time. 

You might say this is nothing new; this has been the status quo for a while, especially with mobile, cloud and SaaS options. But that’s just the slow change — the evolution, if you will. And the impact of evolution is something you don’t see until it’s complete. The more rapid change has been happening over the last few years, as customers have been figuring out how to react to real-time information delivery as the events happen. 

The sudden shift is going to take place when customers start expecting insights, alerts and triggers over more traditional reporting for every product they use. Including yours.

That shift is happening now.

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Real-Time Reporting Is Now a Must

The recent release of Google Analytics 4 has gone a long way toward fixing why no one actually likes Google Analytics. 

Real-time data and events are now up front in the application. Now, this has created a couple new dislikes, because the data provided isn’t exactly real-time itself, and the shift to insights-over-numbers has made Google Analytics a lot harder to use — unless, that is, you approach Google Analytics from a different perspective than you’re used to. 

Once upon a time, the customer might have sat down weekly and pored over endless reports and screens trying to understand what kinds of customer reactions were caused by the real-time actions of the business: marketing, product engagement, new feature releases, price changes, etc. Today, those same customers are taking smaller and more targeted actions over shorter time periods, sticking with what works and rejecting what doesn’t.

For instance, if you’re developing an app on a two-week release cycle, waiting a week to analyze the results of the latest release means you’re always giving the customer exactly what they wanted weeks ago. The time it takes to get from data to analysis to reaction, even if it’s just a week or two, has gone from inconvenient to painful to unacceptable. 

Companies and their customers are waking up to the adoption of real-time, insight-driven information delivery. Google Analytics is rarely on the cutting edge of movements like this, so the fact that they’re accommodating this shift, even before their data aggregation is ready for it, is telling of how far we’ve already shifted.

At Spiffy, where I’m head of product, we’re moving from a global dashboard and reporting suite to an internal data-builder tool that lets us compile and deliver insights to multiple constituents across various communication channels, including text, Slack, email and, yes, the app screen when necessary. 

One of the companies I advise is considering dropping their reporting module altogether as they shift to a more mobile-oriented UX and UI. They’ll replace it with alerts, reminders and triggers throughout the application.

While Google Analytics 4 isn’t something I’d call a game-changer, it’s finally beginning to align with my own product-development and marketing strategies, which have evolved from review-and-respond to continuous improvement towards achievable goals. In other words, it’s finally becoming useful for more than a vanity check. 

This is not a distant, early warning. Mainstream adoption is here. So if you have one major internal initiative planned for this year, make sure you’re ready for this shift in customer mindset. The evolution of data reporting is happening much more quickly than it seems.

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