Reporting

Analytics vs. Reporting: What’s the Difference?

Although analytics and reporting may sound the same, they aren’t. Dive into the difference between the two to learn which one you need.

Masooma Memon Masooma Memon on September 24, 2021 (last modified on September 20, 2021) • 8 minute read

Here’s the thing: analytics reporting isn’t one and the same. Instead, reporting and analytics are two peas in a pod with some major differences.

Picture it like this: your data is Lego blocks – all unorganized and mismatching.

Now if you organize it in an easy manner, say orange blocks in one row, blue ones in another, and so on, it’s reporting data. However, if you create a sensible structure from it, it’s analytics.

Meaning: organizing data is reporting and interpreting it is analytics. Easy, isn’t it?

Wondering which one you need? The short answer: both as they’re co-dependent in a way.

So let’s dive into the details. You’ll learn the following:

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What is Analytics in Simple Terms?

Analytics is the process of interpreting data with the aim of deriving meaningful information from it. Its aim? Find useful patterns, predictions, and lessons from data gathered from various sources to inform business decisions.

This means the outcome is simple: extracting actionable recommendations, predictions, or an outcome.

What Is Reporting in Simple Terms?

Reporting is presenting data from various sources in an easy to understand and digestible manner. The process is always well-defined so that accurate data is reported to prevent any misinterpretations.

Related: Marketing Monitoring vs. Marketing Reporting: What Is More Important?

Analytics and Reporting: 4 Key Differences

From the definitions themselves, you can see how data analytics and reporting compare with each other.

Briefly:

  • Analytics involves data interpreting where reporting involving presenting factual, accurate data.
  • Analytics answers why something is happening based on the data, whereas, reporting tells what’s happening.
  • Analytics delivers recommendations, but reporting is more about organizing and summarizing data.

Put simply, analytics is subjective as you read between the data lines to drive conclusions. On the flip side, reporting is objective as it involves presenting accurate data in a digestible manner.

In this context, Melanie Musson from SeattleCarInsuranceQuotes.com gives a great summary of the difference between reporting and analytics: “Reporting shares the facts. It’s numbers. It’s objective. Analytics makes sense of those facts. It explains those facts and points to what could be causing those numbers. Analytics is more subjective.”

On to the detailed individual differences now:

  1. Differences in underlying purposes and use cases
  2. Difference in the people responsible for it
  3. Difference in the way data is presented
  4. Differences in goals

1. Differences in underlying purposes and use cases

To begin with, analytics reporting both serve different purposes. If you’re looking to get an answer to ‘what’s happening’ you need data reporting.

However, if you already have data reports (in simple words: organized and summarized data) and you need to find out the answer to ‘what now,’ you need to dive into analytics.

As VisualFizz’s Marissa Ryan puts it, “Reporting is simply a means of making an observation about an occurrence. While that, of course, is an important step, reporting doesn’t necessarily provide direction, guidance, or anything actionable.”

“Analytics looks at the incoming data reports, looks for patterns, delivers insights, and guides actionable marketing decisions,” Ryan explains.

In short, “reporting is for observation. Analytics is for actions.”

Looking at reporting vs analytics this way tells us both analytics and reporting are dependent on each other.

If you want actionable insights or recommendations from raw data, you’ll first need to organize and format it – something that reporting does for you.

Similarly, reporting without analytics is useless at its core. Because then you have an idea of what’s happening based on the data gathered, but no way to interpret it into actionable takeaways to execute.

Keeping this in mind, the use cases of both differ. “Analytics is useful for ad hoc interpretation of data to answer specific questions related to user behavior, trends, etc. so that improvements can be implemented,” Sean Carrigan from MobileQubes writes.

“Reporting is important as it provides data related to what is happening and is processed in a standardized format on a repeatable schedule… But it is only fully valuable when it is followed with proper and insightful analytics,” concludes Carrigan.

Related: Marketing Reporting: The KPIs, Reports, & Dashboard Templates You Need to Get Started

2. Difference in the people responsible for it

Considering how analytics and reporting are different, different people and tools are responsible for the job.

Reporting analysts are folks who love to play with raw data to breathe some sense into it. Their work translates data into information.

Not many companies may have a reporting analyst though. From our pool of respondents, for example, we learned that 48.4% have a reporting analyst. But the same number, 48.4% don’t have one – making it a tie.

Percentage of companies that have a reporting analyst

For those who have a reporting analyst, we asked them for how long they’ve been having one. The answer was an interesting mix with an equal number of folks (33.3%) saying less than a year, 1-3 years, and more than 3 years.

reporting analyst survey results

The majority of teams tend to have a data analyst though as a human data interpreter does a much better job than a tool. So what do these folks do? They take data reports to find patterns in data, identifying why something’s happening or what you could do moving forward.

It’s for the important role that they play that the majority of companies, over 55%, have 2-3 data analysts on their teams.

Some 5% have 1 analyst and 10% have 4-5 of them. 5% also have over 5 data analysts. The same – 5% – don’t have any analysts though.

Average number of data analysts in a company

3. Difference in the way data is presented

“The biggest difference between reporting and analytics comes in the presentation form, and what each aims to achieve,” comments Alina Clark from Cocodoc.

Since reporting is about formatting for easy understanding, it’s more presentation-oriented than analytics. It’s for this reason that reporting relies on showcasing data in charts, graphs, and other visually appealing formats.

Eden Cheng from PeopleFinderFree agrees, “reporting is utilized to drag details from the raw data, in the leading form of easy-to-read dashboards of valuable graphs. Therefore, via reporting, data is carefully arranged and summarized in seamlessly digestible ways.”

“However, analytics is one step ahead of reporting and enables you to question and discover variable data,” Cheng outlines.

In Clark’s words: “Reporting entails putting collected data into a presentable and well-organized form, while analytics is the process of using the reported data to draw out actionable insights.”

4. Differences in goals

Due to the differences in the way data is presented, the analytics reporting goals also differ.

“The goal of reporting is to change data from its raw form, which is unintelligible and hard to understand, into an easy-to-visualize format. The end result of any reporting system is to make the analysis as easy as possible,” Clark highlights.

“On the other hand, analytics churns through the data, draws out the problems, and provides the solution while at it,” elaborates Clark. “Any data analysis that doesn’t look at the three stages (problems-solutions-conclusions) fails to achieve the intended goals in most instances.”

Put simply, “reports are mainly used to obtain the fundamental comprehensibility of a given dataset,” Cheng summarizes. “On the other hand, analytics perceive these details to understand trends and make top-notch business decisions in the future. With analytics, you can gain a profound understanding of a given dataset.”

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Analytics and reporting come with their differences. Where one is factual, objective, and focused solely on organizing and presenting data in a digestible manner, the other is interpretation-centered, subjective, and delivers actionable insights.

Both, however, are equally important and dependent on each other. It’s for this reason that most businesses depend on data analytics reports for getting their answers to ‘what’s happening’ and ‘what now’ to make informed decisions.

About the author
Masooma Memon
Masooma Memon Masooma is a freelance writer for SaaS and a lover to-do lists. When she's not writing, she usually has her head buried in a business book or fantasy novel.
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