The death of PDF: Why assessment reporting is likely to change

A key value-add IO Practitioners bring to the businesses they serve is the ability to make sense of talent data. The IO discipline, in many ways, was founded on the premise that data derived from assessments, performance reviews, and other sources could be used for the benefit of organisations and employees.

And throughout their history, IO Practitioners have excelled at synthesizing results, analyzing data, and reporting on their analyses. Most of us who have gone through IO internships in the past few decades will recall the travails (some would say suffering!) of report writing.

The rise of Business Intelligence

But times are changing. Businesses are ever-more sophisticated in not only their analyses of data (think Big Data and Machine Learning), but in their methods of data representation. In a world where infographics have become the norm of explaining complex data sets, standard, static reporting of information looks increasingly outdated. This is especially true for information that requires close scrutiny and exploration in order to add maximum value, such as assessment results.

So while there may still be some value in teaching IO students the art of report writing, the reality in modern organisations is that managers and other consumers of assessment data will except reports to resemble contemporary best practices in data representation. Already, the average manager consults multiple information dashboards as a regular function of their job. Business and Management Intelligence (BI/MI) systems have enjoyed a growth period of unprecedented scope in the last few years as a result.

In a recent study commissioned by Dresner Advisory Services (as reported in Forbes, June 8, 2018), the top five important trends and priorities in BI/MI were:

  1. Data dashboards
  2. Reporting
  3. End-user self service
  4. Data visualization
  5. Data warehousing


Given these strategic priorities, it is perhaps telling that the same study found that the executive layer within organizations in particular perceived BI/MI as a major business lever for future success. In addition, executives identified usability and reliability as the two top features that would persuade them to adopt BI/Mi systems or reporting.

What about assessment reporting?

It stands to reason that if business data is increasingly represented through dashboards, best-practice data visualization and self-service tools, assessment data used within organisations might well follow suit.

In fact, one could make the argument that given the complexity of assessment data, it is especially important to ensure continual relevance by representing such results in the best, most accessible way possible. If business leaders can interact with assessment data via dashboards and better yet, decide for themselves how they want to consume that data through self-service pathways, assessment data will look and feel more like the data such leaders consume on a daily basis.

A perennial complaint we hear among IO colleagues is that business doesn’t always take talent data seriously enough. We would argue that at least part of the cause (and solution) to this problem lies in the methods currently employed to represent assessment data.

The death of PDF

For decades IO Practitioners have relied on the venerable flat-file PDF report to convey assessment results to end-users. Much effort has gone into finding the right ways to represent results, and over the years, reports have ranged from narrative, page heavy reports to short, graphic summaries.

Given the trends in BI/MI however, it is likely that assessment reporting will have to evolve to keep pace with expectations. In addition, the recent emphasis seen across the globe on data privacy and security means that the days of emailing reports as attachments, or even worse, having hard copies lying around the office, are numbered.

For these two reasons: the increasing demand of self-service, data visualization reporting and pressures to comply with data privacy legislation, we predict that assessment reporting using PDFs or flat files is reaching its final stages. The death of PDF seems inevitable.

Closing thoughts

 Like so many new developments on the horizon, changes in assessment reporting will challenge IO Practitioners to think carefully about their practices and advise the businesses they serve according to available scientific evidence, business savvy, and professional judgement.

At TTS we’ve been exploring the implications of the demise of PDF reporting and what that would mean for our profession and client companies. As a result, we’ve embarked on an exciting project to redefine the way assessment results are reported by, in part, taking studies such as the one mentioned in this article to heart.

If you’re interested in how we can help you evolve the way you report assessment results in your organisation, why not drop us a line at to continue the conversation?