About the ‘egglaying woolmilksow’ and Reporting in the Food Industry

The ‘egglaying woolmilksow’ is an idiom popular in the German language, which represents something that does it all. Everything you need in one single low maintenance environment. It reflects in our world the desire to have a single tool for a wide range of purposes, like a Swiss army knife or a Leatherman. In the computer world we call this digital convergence. This brought us all-in-one printers/scanners/faxes, smartphones and ever more feature rich devices in our homes for entertainment and work.

When you look at this idiom, you will quickly recognize that the ideal of everything in one comes with significant compromises. Smartphones, as great as they are, have significant limitations based on screen size and input devices (your fingers just are as big as they are), making a smartphone not really ideal to do a lot of reading or writing. The screw driver of the Swiss army knife is probably not as practical as a specific screw driver in the right size for the job; I guess you catch my drift.

Digital convergence that puts more and more features in a single device has basically stopped in the world of software. If you look at current trends, you see that more and more things are done via ‘Apps’ which have comparatively little functionality within themselves, but we use lots of them. Digital convergences in Software today means, that we work with lots of different modules and pieces at the same time, but we want them to seamlessly integrate with each other. In Software, the current buzzword for this is interoperability. More and different software modules work coherently and seamlessly together.

A business in the food industry is managed by numbers which are represented in reports. To manage your business well, you have a range of different requirements that not one single reporting tool can offer. There is no one-size-fits-it-all or ‘egglaying woolmilksow’. Considerations for the choice of reporting tools include:

  • Delivery: via File Folder, email, fax, browser, print,…
  • Offline:     do you need the reports when disconnected from the internet?
  • Real-time: do you need most current data or can the data be pre-aggregated?
  • Write-back: do you need the ability to add comments or change data, or do you just read, slice and dice?
  • Hardware: do you run this on PC’s or on other form factors, such as tablets, smartphones?
  • Internal Data: are the data in a single database or single application, or are they spread out across multiple internal systems?
  • External Data: Do you want to incorporate data from external web services like USDA, FDA, Urner Barry, Chisolm and others?
  • Organizational: Is the reporting managed by end-users, department leads or IT?
  • Data Volume: Are we dealing with a couple hundred thousand line items a year or tens of millions and more?
  • ….

Now, if you say ‘all-of-the-above’, you will easily wind up with a number of reporting tools that you need to incorporate and orchestrate to work together. Even BI Solutions from single vendors, whether IBM (Cognos), Oracle (Hyperion), SAP (BusinessObjects), Teradata, Microsoft (my personal favorite!) or SAS are comprised of a range of tool sets that address issues in different ways. Each of them has strength and weaknesses, and it is more common than not where companies decide to use multiple ones in their environment, because they are truly great in one aspect, but too weak in another.

Every reporting tool has its purpose, the build-in reporting tools in your ERP package, the look-up reports and screens that are integrated and even MS-Excel has its purpose. The issue is not how many we use, the issue is how we can keep them peaceful and well living next to each other, like hens, sheep, cows and hogs – sometimes on separate farms.

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