Reporting versus analytics

“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”

- John Naisbitt

For the love of statistics, please stop using the words “reporting” and “analytics” interchangeably. Reporting is the display of information. Analytics is the interpretation of information. Analytics is the process that turns information into insight, reporting into understanding.

Every time someone uses the word “analytics” to mean “reporting,” a statistician loses its wings. If you ever need evidence that the misuse of these terms is widespread, just think about how many statisticians you’ve met who have wings. I’ve never met one. All the wings are gone.

Here are a few of my favorite illustrations of the difference between reporting and analytics:

xkcd extrapolating


New Cuyama

Since analytics solves problems, which is a lot sexier than reporting’s goal of presenting information, companies with reporting solutions have a vested interest in conflating the terms. Phrases like “analytics solution,” “analytic database,” and “advanced analytics” are used with the intent to confuse, to convince users to invest in technology over thought. A typical exchange goes as follows:

Reporting tool salesperson: “I have an analytic database.”

Business person: “Thank God! All my problems are solved.”

Here are a few of my favorite examples of oversells in the reporting world:

And don’t get me started on the phrase “business intelligence,” which has been used so many different ways with so many different connotations that it has been rendered virtually meaningless. If you ask ten people in the BI industry what “business intelligence” means, you’ll get twenty opinions. In case you’re looking for something to do this weekend.


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