How to Improve IT Reporting in A Few Simple Steps

It’s difficult to make real progress without the right metrics. Here’s how to ensure you’re measuring the right behavior.

One recurring challenge is generated from the fact that each of us, including our customers, looks at reports from our own, unique perspective. It seems everyone has their own list of what they’d like to see and what they would find useful. Another issue is that, as IT Managers, we may find ourselves charged with creating reports from little – or even nonexistent – data. The result of each of these challenges is the same: We end up wasting hours that, when combined, add up to days of precious time every month.

Have no fear! I come bearing strategy and advice for avoiding common mistakes. Let’s start with the biggest ones (why not). Here’s what I’ve seen most people do first when attempting to avoid or resolve the challenges listed above:

  • Overhaul their ticket categorization system
  • Run every out-of-the-box report in their existing tool then look for any useful data
  • Hire a report creation specialist to identify which reports they should be running

Don’t do those things (not first, at least). Here’s a much simpler approach that will help you avoid wasted time and impress your boss (and, ultimately, your customers). Okay, here’s your list:

  1. Identify your reporting strategy
  2. Define what you can and should measure
  3. Gather and analyze the data
  4. Present the data in a way that makes sense
  5. Use this information to implement improvement

If you’ve ever designed new reports, I’m guessing you started at Step Three of this process. If you are walking into an environment with reports already developed, you are probably starting at Step Five. Instead, my recommendation is to focus on Steps One and Two. Here’s how:

1. Identify Your Reporting Strategy

Before you even think about developing new reports, schedule a meeting with your boss, customer, or whomever is ultimately receiving these reports. Without doing step 1, you will find yourself in the “Bring me a rock” scenario.

CUSTOMER: I want a rock.

YOU: Here you go! Isn’t this a great rock!

CUSTOMER: No this rock is too small. I need a bigger one.

YOU: No problem! Try this one!

CUSTOMER: Well, now this rock is too rugged. I need a smooth rock.

YOU: Alright, maybe you will like this one.

CUSTOMER: Nope, wrong again! This rock is too round. I really want a square rock.

YOU: Let me ask this a different way, what do you want to do with the rock?

CUSTOMER: I want to sit on it.

If you had met with your customer first, asked why they wanted a rock, what they wanted to do with it, and how they were going to use it, you probably would have given them a great rock the first time. Instead, you AND your customer are frustrated. You are frustrated because it seems like you have a customer you can’t please. Your customer is frustrated because they lost confidence in you and may think they chose the wrong person for the job.

To prevent the “Bring me a rock” scenario, be sure to bring an agenda with some (or all) of the following questions to your initial meeting with the customer:

  • What decisions are you trying to make?
  • Which issues/challenges are you looking to solve?
  • How can improvements in IT better support your team?
  • What common complaints do you hear?

Following this meeting, type up your notes and send them to your customer for review. This will ensure you’re on the same page. Your customer or boss may have had new ideas after the meeting or some meaning could have been lost in translation. Either way, it is great to confirm the basics before you start the next step of this journey!

2. Define What You Will Measure

Take the (confirmed, approved) answers from Step One and develop them into measurements. This step takes the longest and is the most important. Here is where we define what we want to measure and determine if we can actually make those measurements. We can only improve what we can measure. You only want to build as many reports as will be useful; too many measures and you will lose focus on improvement initiatives and spend all your time measuring! Thou shalt not measure for measurement’s sake.

Making sure you’re not falling into this trap, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions before you dive into designing the reports. Apply the following question to each of the responses you received from the customer during your initial meeting:

  1. Which measurements can validate this?
  2. Can we actually measure that?
  3. Where do you find the data to take the measurement?

Let’s go through a real-life example of putting these questions to work in response to a comment from your customer.

Q. What are the common complaints you hear?

A. I’m always hearing, “When I call the Service Desk, I have to wait a long time before I talk to someone.”

  1. What measurements can validate this?
    • Customer surveys (qualitative)
    • Time to answer (TTA)
    • Average call time
    • Longest Call
    • Wrap-up time
  2. Can we actually measure that?
    • Do you have a customer survey?
    • Do you have an Automated Call Distributor (ACD) System?
  3. Where do you find the data to take the measurement?
    • If you have a survey in place, you could pull past results or update the questions to measure customer perception. 
    • If you have an ACD system in place, you could pull the quantitative metrics from the reporting console.

Once we have completed these steps, we can then transform this statement into a Critical Success Factor (CSF) to be defined and measured against. In this example I would take the original statement from our customer:

“I’m always hearing, “When I call the Service Desk, I have to wait a long time before I talk to someone.”

And turn it into a Critical Success Factor:

CSF: Improve the overall quality of service customers receive from the Service Desk.

Now we can take this CSF, and turn it into Key Performance Indicators (KPI). The percentage will depend on your baseline measurements, so be sure to take measurements before you start working on making your improvements; otherwise, you won’t be able to report your progress to your customers!

CSF: Improve the overall quality of service customers receive from the Service Desk.

  • KPI Percentage Reduction in Average Call Time
  • KPI Percentage Reduction in Wrap-up Time
  • KPI Percentage Reduction in Time to Answer
  • KPI Reduction in Longest Call Time
  • KPI Percentage Increase in Average Customer Survey Results

3. Gather and Analyze The Data

Now, take baseline measurements. I know I already mentioned that, but it is so important it’s worth repeating! Once you have the baseline, you can determine what your percentages should be for improvements on the KPIs.

4. Present The Data In A Way That Makes Sense

The specifics of this step will depend on your tool, but you should have already verified that you can make these measurements in Step Two. Now all you need to do is organize the data in a way that presents it as information to your customer. Here are some quick tips for that:

  • Select meaningful names for reports
  • Provide a legend, if necessary
  • Include a schedule of when you will run the reports
  • Collect enough data for trend analysis
  • Refrain from giving too many reports – you want to make sure your customer is looking at them. Remember, we are trying to avoid reporting for reporting’s sake

5. Use This Information To Implement Improvements

Here are some tips for improving the KPIs mentioned in our example:

KPI Percentage reduction in Average Call Time.

  • Place an escalation timeline for calls. This way if your service desk technicians are on a call for, let’s say, 20 minutes, a team lead will come assist them. The team lead can then determine if the technician should continue working or escalate. This policy needs to be tracked and enforced.

KPI Percentage reduction in Wrap-up Time.

  • This one is more difficult to reduce. However, I will say that if technicians log the ticket first, they can document it throughout the call. Instead of waiting until they have resolved it to log, categorize, and document the ticket. This sounds harsh, but when I tried to improve this metric, I took all the steno pads away from the Service Desk. They started logging and documenting at the beginning of the call and, eventually, got their steno pads back!

KPI Percentage reduction in Time to Answer.

  • Making the above changes should help to reduce this one. If they don’t, you may have a staffing issue. I would recommend doing some analysis to learn your peak call times and possibly adjust schedules. Asking for more staff should be your last option. Many people make the mistake of asking for more staff from the get-go, and without a business case and data to back this up, you are unlikely to get the OK.

KPI Reduction in Longest Call Time.

  • Again, this one should drop after the above changes are put into place; however, you will still have your long calls here and there. It is good practice to track this so you can tell if it is always the same technician on these calls. They may need additional training, coaching, or disciplinary action.

Follow the above steps, and you’ll find yourself with solid metrics that show definitively the value of your improvement efforts. This will certainly satisfy customers and stakeholders eager to see value – but it will also allow you to keep up the momentum necessary to practice Continual Service Improvement (CSI). Communicating to your customers where you need to improve as a Service Provider – then showing them you are able to get there – builds trust through transparency. Create the trust necessary to be viewed by the customer as a partner or advisor – not simply a service provider. You’ll be amazed by the difference it makes.

Now that we’re getting that reporting sorted…
Time to rebrand and reintroduce that service desk to the business!



Originally published August 08 2016, updated December 12 2019