How to Keep Up with Reporting Requirements — Before They Change Again

May 24, 2023 / #Unstuck Government

This blog was original published on govloop. To view the original article, click here. 

Reports can be a nightmare. Every agency and office has its own unique reporting requirements that apply to their specific activities, whether mandated by law or regulation, or just internal preferences handed down by agency heads or managers. Preparing these reports can be time-consuming and tedious. It can be even more difficult when relevant information is not consistently available. Frequently changing reporting requirements also add an additional layer of complexity.

Yet, effective reporting is a critical part of operating within an agency or large organization and reports are not going away any time soon. Luckily, there are tools and strategies that can help minimize the pain of reporting. By first reframing the problem, then taking actions today to prepare for future reporting, and finally planning for inevitable changes, you can keep up with and stay ahead of evolving requirements.

Reframe the Problem

A key element of effective employee engagement is explaining and understanding the “why” behind a “what.” It’s important for teams to understand that reports are not just “something else” they have to do. Reports are how they know they’re doing the right thing and doing it well. Reports are the way teams share their accomplishments, measure achievements, and highlight opportunities to improve. Reports are a way to understand how specific activities contribute to an agency’s core mission.

Act Today to Prepare for Tomorrow

A lot of time, effort, and hair-pulling is wasted in recreating past activities and gathering the necessary  information to prepare a report. However, with a bit of targeted planning, teams can minimize this challenge.

Standardize Reporting with Templates

Most offices already have standard reports they’re required to generate. These can be monthly or quarterly management reports, weekly reports about open and high-priority issues, or annual reports about agency activities. For the purposes of effective preparation, what and when you report is not as important as knowing the full universe of possible reports you might have to prepare and standardizing their content. That way, you can create templates that will speed preparation and review, ensuring you’ll always be able to pull together the information you need.

Gather as You Go

I cannot stress enough how much easier and faster it is to prepare a report when you keep contemporaneous notes about your activities than when you have to go chasing down data closer to the deadline. Luckily, when it comes to case management, there is software available that automatically tracks your activities so you don’t have to do it manually. The key is to choose a platform that gives you the full breadth and depth of information you need to collect. Think about the full extent of the case or process you’re working on. Many software solutions only cover a portion of your activities – maybe a discrete task, or a specific communication – and you have to rely on workarounds and multiple software platforms in order to manage the full lifecycle of your activities (such as sending an email or opening another browser window or file folder). Every time you close one software application to move to another you lose a key thread of information, adding complexity and risk, not just to your day-to-day activities, but also your reporting requirements. The best bet is to find one software solution that covers the full lifecycle of your case, from start to finish and every interaction in between, so you can make sure to automatically capture every step.

Make Time to Write

While many reports are composed of tables, charts, and raw numbers, some require deep and comprehensive analysis. Make sure you are scheduling time in advance of any report deadline for your team to write and review this content and release the best and most accurate deliverable you can.

Prepare for Change

Finally, realize that even if your agency has standardized and regular reports, you’re very likely to be asked for the occasional ad hoc report with little notice, or have the standard reporting requirements changed to include additional data or alternative ways of reporting the same data. In the context of case management, the risk here is that you might choose a software solution that meets your data needs one day, only to find that the following month your reporting requirements have materially changed, requiring you to once again rely on work-arounds and time-consuming information gathering. You’d be left with a software solution that’s immediately out-of-date and a burden to continue to use, or, maybe even worse, one that requires a significant investment to customize in order to meet your new requirements. That’s why the new industry-standard is to opt for highly-configurable low-code/no-code software applications where you can easily add new ways to collect information as part of your standard process, reconfiguring regular reports to quickly adapt to change. After all, change is the only constant. Prepare yourself for it.

Benjamin Tingo is the Chief Legal Officer and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at OPEXUS. OPEXUS (formerly AINS) is a DC-based GovTech 100 awardee whose mission is to empower professionals to elevate trust in public institutions through the design, development, and delivery of specialized case management software, including Open Government (FOIA and Correspondence), OIG Audits and Investigations, and Human Resources/Employee Management. Benjamin is a licensed attorney, with nearly twenty years of experience with complex civil and criminal litigation and as in-house GovTech counsel. He is also a member of NARA’s FOIA Advisory Committee and a volunteer firefighter.

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