Financial reporting and the cycle of inefficiency – common reporting issues

23 September 2017

Jon Fenwick

Jon Fenwick

SAP Solution Architect

Finance professionals around the world pride themselves on providing accurate and timely information to the business to facilitate decision-making. In my time as a Financial Controller and Director of a large outsource operation for a major FMCG, I have seen too many examples of ‘workarounds’ to complete the month end reporting and analytics. The Finance teams are only too willing to take on a new challenge to view the business in a different way and they will do what it takes to satisfy. Surely, there must be a better way than developing complex spreadsheets, a way that’s more flexible and that can be done ‘on the fly’?

Changes to reporting and analytics

Senior business management and Finance leaders often ask for changes to the reports that they use to run the business. The changes need to be made immediately and often require rework of the comparison periods, for the analytics to work. So, for the finance teams, this presents a challenge. What is required is an agile and ultimately adaptable reporting platform. With large Enterprise Resource Planning systems (ERPs), reporting via centrally built reporting tools like Business Warehouse (BW), ever-changing requirements present a problem.
 

Quick and dirty

 The accountant’s answer to every reporting issue is Excel. Drop the data to Excel and rebuild the report and analytical model from there, with the change. This may be time-consuming, but at least the accountants can see where the data has come from. If they have a decent grasp of Excel, they can manipulate the data themselves. It becomes their ‘single source of the truth’.
 
The Commercial Finance teams in each business unit have often built their own models, based on the ERP that they are running and a perceived idea as to what the management wants to see. This may be acceptable locally, but when Group, Regional or Global reports need to be aggregated it can become very inefficient. The Group Finance team will end up sifting through the reports and building their own model in Excel. They receive different formats from the different parts of the business and pluck the required data from this to manage the business. This is clearly a problem waiting to happen!
 

Workaround to achieve ‘Single source of the truth’

Now the ‘workaround’ is in place.

As a responsible finance team, we probably have good intentions to log a ticket with the helpdesk to have the changes hard-baked into the reporting system. The process for changing the reports is usually about 3 months so, before we start the change process we should give it a couple of months to make sure that the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is happy with the change. A couple of months go by and then someone comes up with a new project or a team member changes their role and the good intention to change the system never happens. The “single source of the truth” has been lost to all but those in the know and they have now got used to dealing with it.
  

How can we fix this?

At some point, the CFO will become aware of the inefficiencies of the reporting process and will instigate a project to revamp the ailing systems. The project will grow to the point of trying to fix everyone’s issues and set up a new set of reports and analytics based on the ‘single source of the truth’. There will be months of discussion leading to a standardisation of calculations and report structures. The IT team will take these requirements, build, test and ultimately deploy the new ‘Global reporting and KPI tool’.
 
As it goes live, there will be a new CFO or Chief Exec and they will want a new view of the business. And the cycle begins again!

All sounding a little too familiar?  There are several solutions out there that can break this cycle, want  to find out more?  Contact us today and one of our experts will be in touch.

 

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About the author

Jon Fenwick

SAP Solution Architect