Finance: The perfect report
Almost every Finance professional shares a common frustration: the inefficiency of report production processes in their organisation. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
Imagine a world where a robot sources and formats your data, delivers it into a pre-formatted visualisation tool, and the commentary writes itself. By embracing the latest technologies, this vision of the perfect report is within reach.
The lay of the land
Typically, reporting in Finance goes something like the following: log into two or more systems, download data into Excel, integrate these data sets, identify any cross-data set discrepancies and reconciliation errors, investigate and resolve with data owners, manipulate with manual overrides and rounding error formulas, format to meet organisational design standards, paste into PowerPoint, identify and highlight the key themes, review and update, and sign-off and distribute email and hard copies.
Processes like the above are not only laborious, they suffer from severe operational risk, versioning issues, delay reporting and management decision making and, in an increasingly environmentally conscious world, waste significant volumes of paper.
Given such a manual and inefficient process, it’s no surprise Finance practitioners become frustrated.
Why haven’t these processes been fixed yet?
If processes like the above are common across Finance departments, why hasn’t something been done about them?
Typically, there are two answers to this question:
- It’s too broken to fix – Many institutions feel that their reporting processes and underlying data structures are so broken that they simply ‘are what they are’. A common response in these sorts of organisations is to set-up sizable offshore reporting teams to ‘churn’ through the more mechanical elements of the process.
- We’re fixing the data, but slowly – At the other end of the spectrum, many organisations are undergoing enormous multi-year transformations to eliminate or simplify the problems associated with multiple data downloads and manipulation by implementing a single global ledger, using one data model, with one user interface.
Unfortunately, option #1 is unsustainable in the long run, leading to an inefficient and overinflated cost base. Option #2 is a valuable undertaking, but it’s expensive, only deals with the data elements of the reporting problem, and the benefits won’t be realised for several years.
What can be done instead?
So, what should Finance departments do to address these challenges? In short, they should make good use of the latest developments in technology.
- Robotics Process Automation – RPA tools such as BluePrism are perfectly suited to replace humans in repetitive, mechanical tasks like data sourcing, manipulation, integration and onwards delivery (e.g. to a reporting tool), completing these tasks at far greater speeds and with lower operational risk than a human equivalent. They are the perfect ‘stop gap’ solution for these tasks until longer-term data remediation initiatives eliminate or reduce the need for them.
- Visualisation – Tools such as Tableau and Qlik Sense can consume and present data in a much more intuitive and impactful format than traditional PowerPoints, plus they can be consumed on mobile, laptop, tablet and desktop devices, reducing or even eliminating email and paper distribution. What’s more, they have in-built forecasting capabilities – potentially a significant further boon for Finance departments.
- Natural Language Generation – NLG tools can review data sets, identify key trends and significant movements, and articulate their findings in digestible text format either for direct user consumption or, following review, update and augmentation by a human user. Many of these tools, such as Wordsmith and AX Semantics, can also generate commentary in almost any language, perfect for global organisations.
By implementing these tools for a small number of high priority use cases, Finance departments can prove their value at relatively low cost, whilst reducing or eliminating the effort associated with several steps of existing reporting processes and accelerating time-to-report. Taking this approach can demonstrate value, help build organisational comfort, develop useful and forward-looking technology skillsets, and free-up Finance professionals for more engaging, rewarding and valuable work.
The ‘perfect report’ is within reach
As with any technology implementation, there will inevitably be frustrations and learnings along the way, but by taking the first steps now Finance departments can kill two birds with one stone: laying the foundations of their future reporting landscapes, whilst beginning to fix outdated and inefficient reporting practices.
Imagine a world where a robot sources and formats your data, delivers it to a pre-formatted visualisation tool, and the commentary writes itself. All the technology is there, Finance departments just need to embrace and implement it.
If they do, the perfect report is within reach.