Capture the Power of SumTotal Advanced Analytics

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Analytics plays a critical role in providing insights about the impact of learning on organizational performance. SumTotal Advanced Reporting provides the capability for building robust analytics for your learning processes. It is powerful reporting tool that is fully capable of supporting your learning analytics needs – if you know how to use it.

Over the past twenty years, we have seen many instances where the leading human capital management software vendors provided advanced reporting capabilities, but the tools were too complex for non-technical users. That situation persists, and the best efforts of leading companies like SumTotal have not yet overcome the challenges.

Bringing together complex data sets, derived tables, calculated fields, and data filtering to provide actionable intelligence has a steep learning curve for non-technical people. Many people are discouraged by the complexity of analytical tools, and, in our experience, many don’t try.

However, there are ways to gain mastery over your data. Let’s examine some that may work for you.

Achieve Data Competence

If you are leading the learning function in your organization, you have probably already begun the process of aligning learning to the business. That includes understanding how the use of data drives decisions. To help you get started, let us show you some of the ways you can overcome the challenges to having a robust reporting function for your learning organization.

Learn the skill : There are many educational resources for analytics. MOOCs and certification courses are available, as are self-study guides and tutorials. A person with a math background and an aptitude for data analysis can gain useful skills in a few months.                 
                    It is a viable solution if you have an able and willing person on your staff and can wait for the skill to  develop. We know people who have become human capital analysts in just this way.

Hire a data analyst : Another excellent solution is to hire a good data analyst with a background in human capital management reporting
           However, data analysts are in short supply, and the added requirement for an HCM background makes  the required    skill even more scarce. According to Glassdoor, the U.S. national average salary is $73,500.

Get Help from IT : If your IT group has the availability and you can work with them to articulate your needs, it could be a way to get help, at least in the short term. 

            There are some drawbacks. Your IT group’s priorities are not yours and, like most, it is probably   overtaxed. You may find you cannot get help when you need it.

Hire a Consulting Company : A consultant is a good option because you can get the help you need and pay only for what you use. However, just as in hiring an employee, human capital analytics is a critical competency, and you need to employ the same diligence you use in hiring a staff member, including financial stability and background checks.

These are the minimum criteria you should consider.

1. Domain expertise and experience. Look for a provider who has solved the problem for others.
2. Sensitivity to your budget.
3. The resources to give your needs their full attention. Being busy is a good sign, but too busy may mean you can’t get service                when  you need it.
4. Good communication skills and ability to work with you. You need a provider who not only can  provide the solution but has the         patience to teach you how to use it.

We hope we have motivated you toward taking the first step and making the most of your reporting tools. With the right help, you can master your data to give you the kind of insights that will transform your operation.

5 Tips for Deploying SumTotal Advance Reporting and Analytics


Whether you are preparing to implement SumTotal Advanced Reporting for the first time or seeking to improve your reports, there are many decisions to make along the way. Your enterprise learning and talent activities will produce a tremendous amount of valuable data. We want to share some of our experience to help you get the full value of the information you generate.

As we discussed in a previous article, the most important tool in your reporting and analytics development is a data governance framework. Agreeing on standards, policies, and procedures now will save you a lot of trouble later on. If you don’t have data governance in place, we recommend you get the conversation started.

Even in a platform like SumTotal, where the data structure and permissions are well-defined, you need to have naming conventions, reports management and delivery, and server load management protocols in place. Without that governance, you risk

  • Frustrating your users when they must search long lists of incomprehensible report names to find the one they need,
  • Cluttering your lists with obsolete and duplicated reports, and
  • Bogging down your servers during peak load times.

    If you require guidance on how to get started, we recommend the Data Governance Institute as an information resource, or you can call us if you have questions.

    Sumtotal Advance Reporting

Deploying Advanced Reporting

How you set up your reporting structure and permissions depends on your organization and how you conduct your daily business. If you have a compliance driven, command-and-control organization, you might restrict reporting to a small select group. If you have an open, fluid, team-based organization, you may give permissions to many people. Be aware that the more people involved, the harder it is to maintain standards.

Getting Started

SumTotal will generate tremendous amount of valuable data. With the growth of eLearning, you can track much more than course completion. You now can create assessments, track the time to complete activities, and measure engagement. Instead of waiting until the end of a course, you can use spot checks to ensure users learning.

Before we discuss the recommended for developing your reports library, there are a some things to consider.

  • People rarely know what they want until they see it, and showing them one kind of report will often prompt them to ask for            another.
  • They rarely think about the information they need the moment they need it. We recommend having a process in place for              users to request reports and have them developed quickly if they don’t have permission to create their own.

Besides learning measurement, you can track cost data to calculate the ROI of each learning program. You will have many options to integrate operational data to assess the impact of learning on the business.

Deploying SumTotal Advanced Reporting

The first in deployment is to know what you have. SumTotal LMS delivers standard reports that can cover almost all of your routine reporting needs. Use those delivered reports as the starting point for any additional reports you need to develop.

  • Once you have a thorough grounding on the standard reports that are available, assess your users’ requirements. Information        needs for most users will be embedded in their home page and resources. Some will need more granular information, while           others require summaries in crosstab reports and charts.
  • Start your development effort by understanding the needs of each group of users. Roles will have similar needs, but it helps            to  work with people in each role to understand what information they require and how they will use it.
  • For those who need regular recurring reports, use the scheduling function to provide them. Create reports only once, then let        the computers do the work.
  • When you create custom reports, test them to make sure they are providing all the right information, calculating custom                fields correctly, and conforming to your security settings.
  • Establish a procedure for requesting new reports and revising old ones.

Advanced Analytics

Decision-makers in your organization will require more than reports. The fast pace of change in business today demands that business leaders have information at their fingertips. We recommend customizable real-time dashboards to assist your executives in their decision-making. The dashboards will require an advanced analytics engine.

You have many options for deploying analytics in your organization. Consider the capabilities, costs, and benefits carefully before you choose.

  • If you already have analytics in place, one option is to use SumTotal’s integration tools to send data to your analytics platform, data mart, or data warehouse.
  • If you do not have an analytics platform, or if you manage workforce analytics separately, SumTotal Analytics is available. It is built on industry’s most advanced business intelligence solution.
  • Many third party analytics platforms are available. There are enterprise class solutions from ERP vendors like Oracle and SAP. Business intelligence providers like Tableau, SAS, and Qlik view are highly rated, and there are lower-cost open-source solutions like Pentaho and TIBCO.
  • If you are on a tight budget, we recommend a custom executive dashboard on your SumTotal news page using the Jaspersoft tool in SumTotal or an open source platform.

We hope these tips help you with a successful reporting and analytics deployment. Managing your learning and talent information well will help you build an agile learning organization.

For more information on integrations, see our article about SumTotal data integration challenges.

Tips for Creating and Scheduling Reports in SumTotal Advanced Reporting


Over a series of several articles, we are sharing our experience in reporting and analytics to help you get the optimum possible value from SumTotal Advanced Reporting. In a previous article, we discussed how to avoid some of the pitfalls in creating ad hoc views. Today’s discussion is a few key tips to help your reports and report scheduling run smoothly.

It begins with knowing your organization's information needs.

Conduct a Needs Analysis

Do a thorough survey of information needs throughout the enterprise so you understand the information requirements of every role in every domain. Use the information you gather to guide you in developing a set of reports for common use throughout your enterprise. You will probably find it easier to adapt your standard reports for particular needs rather than developing individual reports from scratch.

Be aware that people often don’t know what information they need until they need it. Make sure you have procedures and resources in place to meet their needs as they realize what they are. Remember also that people often are unaware of the ways information can help them. Assist them in discovering their needs, and involve them in the report design.

Choose the Right Report Type

You will create your custom reports from ad hoc views. You can create them as you create the views or from existing views. When you create reports from an existing view, a popup window will tell you what dependent reports have already been set up for that view. Be aware that changes in a view do not affect existing reports.

There are three types of reports. Use the right kind for each of your user’s needs:


If you are presenting information in a table, let your users guide you in what groups they want to use to summarize information and what summary function they want to see.

Use tabular form if you will import data into another program for manipulation, such as Excel or SAS. There are still many people adept in those applications who prefer to manage their information that way.

Use a tabular form if you are scheduling data for import into another business application using FTP or a manual upload.


Use a crosstab report if your users want to summarize data in different ways but need not drill into the detail. A crosstab is a powerful tool in which end users can change the way a data set is summarized. For example, a report on training costs summarized by month can quickly be realigned to show summary information by activity.

In our experience, few users want to learn how to use crosstab reports, but the ones who do will help you design some of your most useful summary reports.


Use charts to present data in graphic form. Use them to tell a picture story about trends, relationships, comparisons, or correlations. Creating charts is relatively easy. Knowing which one to use to tell the story is more difficult. In an upcoming article, we will discuss all the types available and how to use them.

Keep your charts simple. The central theme should be clear when a user views the display. Keep distractions to a minimum, and pay attention to how to use colors to tell the story. Watch for our upcoming article on how to design charts that make sense to your users.

Scheduling Tips

Pay attention to the warning in SumTotal guides and training materials about network timeouts and server loads. Bringing your business applications to a slow crawl or a timeout is a fast way to become well-known in a way you won’t like.

Schedule reports to run during non-peak times. Schedule large data extracts to run overnight. If you need a large dataset, plan it for a time when others will not be using the platform. Check with other Administrators before you schedule large data extracts to see they are not planning to run long processes also. Also, know IT maintenance schedules, so your reports do not interfere.

You can schedule reports for delivery by email, but in our estimation, it is a clumsy way to deliver information and is not without risk. The ideal method to provide reports is in a dashboard on the home page of a business application employees often use. If you have Jaspersoft experts, they can develop the dashboards in Jaspersoft Studio. They can also use any other analytics software that will embed the reports into your business application. We frequently place dashboards on the SumTotal LMS home page and often use open source software to minimize cost.

Test Your Reports

In your custom domains, test your joins with small data sets before you deploy them, and test your custom reports thoroughly. SumTotal learning management system has limited support for custom reports, and the responsibility for troubleshooting lies with the report developer.

Simplify Security

Consider using roles for security instead of setting security by user for folders and objects. It will be much easier to manage when people move in and out of positions. Also, use Audiences in Learn and Custom Groups in Talent to manage security on folders and reporting objects.

Objects created in a folder inherit the security settings of the parent folder. Leverage that inheritance to make security management easier.

10 Tips for Managing Report Names in SumTotal Advanced Reporting


It happens all too often. A CLO tells a new analyst she needs a custom report on training costs for the past three years. The analyst knows it was done before, so he goes to SumTotal Advanced Reporting and searches for the previous report using keywords.

He finds a few that look promising, but when he opens them, they are nothing close to what the CLO wants. There are hundreds of reports with names so cryptic he can’t deduce what is in them.

After 30 minutes of searching, he gives up and designs a new report. He takes the new report to the CLO, whose first comment is that it doesn’t look like the report she got last time. The analyst asks for a copy of the old report, and when he gets it, he sees a title in plain English, but nothing that shows the name. He surrenders and reformats the new report to look like the old one.

We hope that story doesn’t sound familiar to you. It is a true story, modified for today's discussion.

Report names matter, and without a published and enforced set of rules, you will, in time, have chaos. And the effort to resolve the problems may make you want to junk it all and start over.

There is an easier way. Your organization should have report naming conventions as part of its data governance policy. If your organization doesn’t have a data governance team or function, we recommend you get started on it right away. Your organization may have all the procedures in place, but may not have named them governance. Start with your CIO to learn how it works in your business.

Data Governance

According to the Data Governance Institute, data governance is the exercise of decision-making and authority for data-related matters. It defines who has authority to do what with data in the organization. It governs how you carry out the decisions management makes about your company’s information.

What data governance means to your organization depends on the nature of your business. If compliance is your primary concern, it will focus on that. Need for consumer behavior information will have another.

To get started, we recommend you connect with the Data Governance Institute and download the DGI Data Governance Framework, or contact us to talk about your needs.

Report Naming Conventions

If your organization does not have report name conventions, we can give you a few tips to get you started. We have updated the standards since we first published them in June.

  1. Create a naming taxonomy. Decide whether you will use an organization taxonomy, an information type taxonomy, or both. Or, you may find something different better for your purposes.
  2. If you need to include department or location in a report name, use them at the beginning of the name so reports will be grouped together.
  3. Use plain language. Use abbreviations only if they are common acronyms.
  4. Decide whether you will use spaces in names or underscores between words. Camel case works fine, but it's hard to read (ThisIsCamelCase).
  5. Use specific report names that give a searcher a clear idea of what is in the report. “Completion Report” is not useful. “Safety Training Completion Report” is better.
  6. Do not use ampersands (&). Spell out “and.”
  7. Use hyphens only if a user would type them in a search. Searching “year end” will not return a name that contains “year-end.” Instead of using hyphens for separators try colons.
  8. For country and region codes, use ISO standards. The International Standard Organization maintains both 2-letter and 3-letter codes.
  9. Identify temporary reports with a suffix and purge them when you have finished using them.
  10. Provide complete, verbose descriptions for every report. Don’t assume people will know what is in them.

Enforcing Standards

Decide how you will implement the guidelines. Train everyone on the standards and provide reference guides for individuals who create reports.

Follow up frequently. It might be a good idea to have your IT group or implementation partner help you design an audit report.


Following your guidelines will help people find the information they need. It will speed up report development because users will see what they already have as a starting point. And, when it comes time to clean up the reports lists, it will be much easier than having to open each report to see what is in it.

Happy reporting!

Tame SumTotal Advanced Reporting with Custom Domains

Tame SumTotal Advanced Reporting with Custom Domains

Although SumTotal Advanced Reporting is an improvement over Report Manager, many customers we talk with have been unable to capitalize on its strengths.

SumTotal Learn and its sister ElixHR applications are built for complex enterprises. It is many times more robust than the many simple, single-purpose products in the market.

That power comes at a cost. Customers need expert administration and support to capture the potential of tools that can do so much. In Advanced Reporting that includes:

  • SumTotal audiences and security
  • Custom Domains, Topics, Ad hoc Views, and Reports
  • Data tables and joins
  • Derived tables
  • Calculated fields
  • Report management and scheduling
  • Data visualizations

SumTotal provides basic training for administrators and analysts to enable them to use the advanced features. However, the ability to use those tools depends on a thorough understanding of the organization’s unique structure and configurations that can only come with experience. One person may not have all the required knowledge and skills. It takes a team to elicit the value SumTotal Advanced Reporting can bring.

Skilled data analysts serve as a bridge between data and users. When they team up with the business experts in your organization and use a disciplined approach to understanding reporting needs, you will have the right expertise and methods in place. Those experts will use custom domains to manage your advanced information needs.

Domains are virtual views of data. They are a meta-layer between raw data and business users, presenting the raw data in a form they can use. SumTotal provides dozens of pre-built domains data analysts can use to prepare reports and visualizations.

For more advanced reporting, administrators and analysts create custom domains. They can combine data sources, specify what information users can access, define data labels, create calculated fields, and apply locale bundles for multilingual organizations. Within those domains, they can create topics to filter the data for specific uses.

A Sample Business Case

Suppose a company with hundreds of branch offices needs to track required learning for each individual in those offices. The training use multiple delivery modes, and both online and offline activities. They use both SCORM assessments and Quick Assessments, and each activity relates to a skill or competency. There are different training tracks for each of six job roles. Some of the training is common to all positions, but much is role-specific.

  • Managers in each location need to know the training status of each employee, by activity and skill or competency. They also           need to report on the aggregate training status of the branch and must report training costs for each month, quarter, and               year.
  • District managers need the same information for all the branches in their area of responsibility and must be able to drill down        into the details of their reports. Area managers must have the roll-up data and drill-down for their areas, and the EVP needs            all  the information in a dashboard.
  • Employees need detailed, up-to-date information on progress against goals and their individual projected learning paths.
  • L&D must know whether each activity is working or not and why, and whether new investments in enterprise learning are              producing results.

The Solution

Domain creators can assemble a data source in a single domain that includes all the information users will need. They can use topics to create data subsets, and security settings to safeguard personal information and make sure each person has only the data they may access.

Analysts build ad hoc views from those topics, and from those views create reports and visualizations users can access in SumTotal. They can also schedule and email those reports to the people who need them.


To get the full value that custom domains can deliver requires an organization-wide approach to reports management.

  • Expect no one to know everything. Assemble a team and help team members build on their strengths.
  • Develop expertise in data management. If you don’t have a skilled data analyst, get one on board. A staffing service or                      consultant can bridge the gap while you build your team.
  • Create a permanent reporting team to help end users understand their reporting needs. As business users receive useful                information and act on it, they will want more. Needs change over time and reporting must keep up with the organization.
  • Invest in ongoing training for administrators, data analysts, and business users. You may also want to consider the services of          an analytics consulting firm.

Although SumTotal Advanced Reporting brings data closer to the end user, it doesn’t bridge the gap between data experts and business users. Put those people together and build a team.

Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.

Master Operational Reporting in SumTotal Learn