The availability of business intelligence (and artificial intelligence) tools has increased over recent years. Demand for better technology has attracted different players of all sizes. Some examples are Power BI (2014), Tableau (2013), Spotfire (1996), Oracle BI (2013), and Qlik (1994).
These tools facilitate how information is presented to get the best insights for better decisions. Even so, the adoption of these tools isn't always an easy task. Not to mention the fact that creating a digital report can be extremely time-consuming, even on a good day!
So, how can you as the CFO (and/or your finance team members) create a financial report that’s truly time-efficient?
In this post, I reveal 3 easy steps to create a digital reporting shortcut for busy CFOs and their finance teams, covering topics such as:
- Common issues with introducing tools without being prepared for digital transformation
- How to transform data visualization with reporting tools
- 3-step digital financial reporting shortcut template
- Checklist to ensure the best possible results
The problem with implementing new technologies
Introducing new technologies to help with tasks such as creating and managing forecasts, grouping data sets, inputting graphs, tracking metrics, etc., is a great way to optimize workflow. However, implementing new digital reporting methods can be tricky.
Here are some potential issues that companies might face in the process:
- Increasing the workload for the teams (and impacting employee engagement)
- Duplicating the traditional spreadsheet into a fancier report.
- Not being able to convince leaders to adopt the business intelligence systems instead of having a deck full of slides or a spreadsheet.
- Losing agility to change the reports. This may be because not everyone on the team is trained to operate the Business Intelligence systems. They may be more comfortable working with spreadsheets.
- Having difficulties feeding all the data sources into the BI management system.
These and many other situations are the ones pulling back the digital and automation reports to the original Microsoft Excel (launched in the 80s).
The question is then raised...
How can companies transform the way information is gathered, organized, and displayed?
There’s no shortcut to the process of adopting a Business Intelligence Platform to digitally present reports. But there is a shortcut between data generation and data reporting.
For many years, analysts have become experts in extracting information from several systems and consolidating them into spreadsheets (or dashboards) to present them in different meetings or written reports.
Nevertheless, there’s no value-added in doing this process every day, month, or quarter closure.
That is why the real digital reporting shortcut requires a paradigm shift from analysts crunching and merging information from different systems to finding the shortest and fastest way from the data generation to the data presented.
So, how can finance teams streamline financial reporting using digital technology?
The answer is to follow the 3-step digital reporting shortcut below...
3-Step digital financial reporting shortcut
To perform this paradigm shift, leaders should be aware of the following three important steps:
- Identify the ultimate data generator
There’s always a specific action that triggers the creation of data. For example, an invoice, an entry/exit of merchandise to a warehouse, a debit/credit, a sales register, etc.
2. Always store the data in a structured protocol
After clarifying where the data comes from, it's important to guarantee that the data is stored in a way that will last, and is retrievable. This means archiving it on a proper database with clear fields. Avoid duplicating information, defined tables, and relationships between them.
3. Bring the data alive for the decision-makers into the best channel
This is where the Business Intelligence Systems are extremely useful - but only if the first two steps are complete. The BI system allows sharing to different users without the need to access the database. The best possible graphical representation of the information can lead to the best business decision. These representations could be charts, maps, pie charts, tables, and heat tables. Filters and actions could also be implemented to improve the user experience.
Perform a checklist to guarantee the process
Last but not least, it’s always important to check that the process of steps one to three brings more value to the company. That way, you can assess the sustainability of the process and decide whether to keep it going or not.
The following is a non-exclusive checklist that helps to verify the success of the process:
☐ The information can be retrieved online at any given moment (and in real-time).
☐ The data creation, storage, retrieval, and display processes are automated.
☐ Little to no dependence on IT departments (or other stakeholders for that matter) for consulting the information.
☐ No additional workload needed vs a previous spreadsheets/slides deck scenario.
☐ Don’t forget to take care of the user experience (UX) and follow up by asking the users for feedback.
☐ Fast and easier to use than previous spreadsheets/slide decksOnly data must be guaranteed and avoid different sources for the same information.
☐ Being able to extract the data if needed for final calculations on a spreadsheet.
☐ Maintenance of the reports and systems should not be more expensive than previous reporting models.
In conclusion, the digital reporting shortcut is not based on the number of BI systems that a company uses, but on how short the path is between the data generation and data display for decision making.