Improving Productivity: Automating repetitive data presentations

Automation has been a way of improving productivity by removing the need for a person to be in charge of repetitive activities. As soon as I hear the word ‘automation’ I get the mental image of a factory with machines doing repetitive jobs. However, the principle can be applied to many contexts where there is a repetitive activity. 

Recently I have been looking at making some of our learning analytics report generation more efficient. When you require a specific kind of report that is not supported by the learning analytics platform tools there is little you can do (unless your organisation is a huge customer who can influence the supplier of course) but to prepare it yourself. 

Computer programming code

There are so many tools out there that allow you to prepare repetitive reports with data tables and graphs more efficiently. For example, Microsoft Office Excel allows the creation of macros. You can either program it yourself, or record the macro, or record the macro and then program parts of it to suit your needs. You do not have to be a programming expert to attempt this as there are many websites and tutorials containing helpful code segments and Q&A posts.

In making our report generation more efficient, I have used R programming language to clean and prepare the data; and then Microsoft Excel Macros to automatically generate and format the required graphs and tables. Though it initially takes investment (time and effort), in the long run, as long as the data dump or log files do not change, you can reuse the written script over and over again. Even when the logs or data dump format change, a few lines of code should be able to deal with that situation too. 

Are there repetitive activities you do that you think can be done more efficiently?