I often wonder how some of my more BI-savvy clients track all the reports they have. It seems to me that BI report proliferation is directly proportional to the explosion of data from both internal and external sources. I hope I’m wrong about that, for their sake.

Several BI products feature report libraries that help companies track and store their mushrooming report volumes, availing reports for re-use by multiple user groups. Microsoft SharePoint comes to mind here, and I particularly like Lyzasoft for this kind of functionality. Lyzasoft’s robust search and social media features let business users collaborate in building reports, actually tagging as they go so that that metadata evolves apace. Users can then recommend and further annotate these reports in an active and friendly way.

And by “active and friendly” I mean the Lyzasoft features, not the business users, though hope springs eternal.

Most companies just aren’t there yet. Those that pride themselves on using a common source of integrated data for a variety of analytic needs nevertheless replicate reports faster than you can say “organizational silo.” This is more tragic than the rising number of spreadmarts. It results in poor decision management, which ultimately ends up costing companies a lot more than report-glut.

This past July a Washington Post investigation revealed that over 850,000 government employees had top-secret security clearance, and 33 new building complexes — the equivalent of almost three Pentagons — are under construction in the Washington, D.C.-area to support Homeland Security. You can’t help but wonder if all of those 850,000 workers really need top-secret security clearance to do their jobs. And whether there’s a bureaucrat who can actually explain the unique and special purpose of each of those 33 new buildings.

In last month’s Newsweek Fareed Zakaria broke this down even further, reporting that the new Homeland Security infrastructure produced 50,000 reports annually, or “136 a day — which of course means few ever get read.” Zakaria quoted an anonymous senior official familiar with these reports saying, “Many could be produced in an hour using Google.”

Business users have become victims of their own competence. Want information? Create a report! Less generously, many users are now on autopilot. Building a new report might be fulfilling, but a report is still just a means to an end. The real success is in the decisions we’re making. That’s assuming, of course, we’re making the right ones.

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