Having been in the online reporting business for almost ten years, I have seen a lot of features come and go. Some have been glorified as a paradigm shift – such as the notes function which allows users to attach their individual comments to a report. A lack of usage due to privacy and technological issues saw this particular hype soon fade.
By contrast, there are online reporting features that have proven to be in strong user-demand in the long-term. Some of them have been used since reporting made its first steps into HTML, some have joined later, and most of them have never been labelled as making a paradigm shift. They work simply because they are intuitive and add value to the usability of reporting data. Lets have a look at five of my personal evergreen-features for online corporate reports:
1. Find-as-you-type search tool
A search function plays a vital role to the usability of web content. There is a reason why Google has become the most important web company!
The find-as-you-type search offers important advantages in comparison to searching in a printed document (PDF): While entering a search term, a list of contents found in the report is displayed beneath the input box. The list is ranked by relevance and adapts automatically to the input. This form of support leads the user to the correct hits more quickly. The searched term is emphasised in colour for better identification, both in the hit list and on the pages themselves.
2. Interactive Chart Generator
Many reports pretend to be interactive, this tool actually allows for interaction whereby the user is able to create tailored graphics with the aid of interactive selection and preparation options. The respective selection can be saved and printed as an image or an Excel table. On request, the ChartGenerator can also be integrated into the customer’s corporate website.
In order for them to be really effective, cross-references need extra editorial work: after a detailed analysis of the content, a network of “further information” based on the report structure has to be developed. These are links to thematically related content. The concept is familiar to that of online shops: “Users who are interested in this topic normally also feel addressed by XY.”
4. Layer glossary
A glossary function offers the explanation of words or abbreviations directly “on mouse-over” of the term requiring clarification. A simple feature offering great value in comparison to a glossary section found at the back of a PDF.
5. Indexed XLS file of all tables in one single file
A service especially important for analysts and institutional investors: this excel file contains all of the report’s tables in different worksheets. The values are formatted to enable further calculations. According to feedback from customers and users, this compiled file is one of the biggest advantages of a fully automated production process behind an online report.