Architects have blueprints, musicians compose using music sheets, and anyone can read a map. So why haven’t business decision-makers adopted similar standards for communicating what’s going on in the company so they can more easily get where they want to go?

The data explosion that’s speeding up business and industry transformation is only creating more urgency for faster, smarter reporting. For example, research firm IDC predicts there will be 22 billion Internet of Things devices installed by 2018 generating more than data than business has ever had.

Stepping into the gap between data and decisions is the International Business Communication Standards (IBCS) association, a Central European-based non-profit developing common reporting standards that businesses can use to accelerate decision-making. I talked with Dr. Jurgen Faisst, managing director at the IBCS association because he’s teaching a thought leader MOOC on the openSAP platform entitled “Semantic Notation – The Next Big Thing in BI?

“We can improve communication in business by adding semantic notation, meaning the kind of shared visual language and set of notations that almost any discipline has used for hundreds of years,” said Faisst. “It’s a good idea that Mozart wrote all of his sheet music with same notations, and even better that all composers use the same standards. In business we don’t have anything like that, which is why it takes too long to read, write and act on a report. If semantic notation is added to reports, we could improve quality and response time.”

Reporting in a Universal Business Language

Everyone already uses the same ingredients to write most business reports. Semantic notation for business is a kind of universal language that takes shape in the specific symbols, shapes, lines, colors and other attributes of charts, tables and similar report visualizations, allowing decision-makers to quickly interpret findings and recommendations.

This MOOC is geared towards anyone involved in collecting, analyzing, packaging and deciphering data from IT through management. The course is structured to provide an understanding of what semantic notation is, how it improves business reporting, and how to build templates using a corporate notation manual. The content will focus on how to build a storyline that shares clear, concise messages about what the information means and proposed next steps.

Having a common reporting “language” is particularly valuable for cross-departmental communication between busy IT personnel, financial and business data analysts, controllers, and managers. Faisst envisions cost-savings from time saved creating and interpreting reports. He also sees potential for semantic notation to become inter-company standards as well.

“A report is not just a list of numbers. You need to tell a story, explaining what has happened and why, what could happen in different future scenarios, and here’s what we need to do to move forward,” said Faisst.

IBCS bills itself as an open concept for reporting standards, sourcing ideas from over 400 members. Hundreds of companies worldwide, have adopted IBCS association standards for information design and visualization since the group was launched three years ago. The data explosion is transforming everything and business reporting needs to align with this new reality.

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