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Almost any type of software you use to analyze your business—whether it’s marketing software to analyze your branding initiatives or employee tracking software to analyze productivity—will have an option to customize your reports, or rely on a template provided by the software developer.

Of course, templates and customization go far beyond reporting data analytics. You can find similar dichotomies in realms like website design, photos and images, and even invitations and slideshows. Obviously, some degree of customization is important, and having a template to work with can seem advantageous, but overall, is it better to rely on a template, or make your own reports?

Advantages of Templates

There are many advantages to relying on templates:

  • Time savings. Working from a template means you’re going to save a ton of time. Depending on what you’re using it for, you could save hours on every design or report you create. Templates require little to no input from the user, so if you’re in a hurry or you don’t the time to spend on customizing, they’re an advantageous choice.
  • Consistency. Templates are also advantageous because they offer some degree of baseline consistency. If you choose to use the same types of templates from the same types of software, you’ll be able to track your results with consistent precision. Of course, if your software allows you to save and re-use your customized reports, you’ll be able to get this advantage through customization as well.
  • Reliability. Templates are reliable sources of data, at least to some degree. The developers responsible for making your software had key variables and sections they believed to be the most important; that expertise should guide you in finding your most pertinent information.
  • Approachability. Templates are also more approachable than customizable reports, both for the person creating them and the people who are going to read them. They’re relatively easy to put together and tweak, and generally offer an intuitive layout that even a novice can follow. If you have limited expertise, or are communicating with someone who has limited expertise, templates may be a better choice.

Advantages of Customization

However, there are some areas where customization shines:

  • Minimization of unnecessary details. Not everything in your template reports is necessary to gain a reasonable understanding of the situation. Customization gives you the chance to minimize, hide, or otherwise reduce the emphasis on the details that don’t really matter. This gives you the ability to make your reports and designs much more concise and less distracting.
  • Full visibility. Most templates won’t show off the full range of whatever software you’re using. If your analytics platform tracks 200 different variables, a template report might only include 10 of them. Customization gives you the ability to scan all the details, and include the ones you think are best for the situation.
  • Professionalism. Templates also have a chance to make you or your business look unprofessional. Because templates are widely available, any template has a chance of being seen as repetitive, uninspired, or the result of laziness. This is especially true with design-related templates, like template-based websites or stock photos.
  • Variability. Though consistency is important, variability can be an advantage in many situations. Customization gives you more flexibility to adjust your report to new circumstances and new information.

If you’re interested in experimenting to see which approach you like better, choose software that offers the best of both worlds, like SAP’s marketing software. With it, you’ll be able to find the perfect balance between developer-originated templates, and your own desired structures.

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