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Revolutionising Financial Reporting in the Digital Age
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2022
Finance and Accounting team, if you ever happened to discuss what they have been suffering from their work so far, one of the most frequently mentioned issues will certainly include a painful report production process.
Repeatedly, month after month, to serve such standards and business and executive requirements, the FA people need to dedicate their time and motivation in preparing numerous spreadsheets and presentations with numbers, charts, and relevant footnotes and narratives. The process involves efforts of data gathering, manipulation, and spreadsheet gymnastics, which can consume days to weeks to produce the usable outcomes. Based on the survey of 600 global finance leaders conducted by Deloitte, it was found that companies surveyed spent 48% of their time creating and updating reports, whilst they spent only 18% of their time interacting and communicating with the business perspective (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: How finance teams spend their time
Source: “Developing insightful management reporting: Opportunities and challenges for CFOs” Deloitte UK.
More than ever, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses currently require greater support from holistic reporting in decision-making process to strengthen themselves or at least survive the upcoming crisis. Though many companies have strived to reduce time in generating reports and enhance ability to get insights more quickly by standardising reports into those ones which are necessarily required, there is still a huge room for improvement in response to the dynamically changing business requirements. We can see that the trend is shifting from periodic reporting-monthly, quarterly, and annually to a more real-time-insights manner for off-cycle reporting. Further transformation entails the interaction between working people and reported information which will replace static data merely displayed in the system or printed on paper. Underlying these mentioned characteristics, the key driver for changes lies on emerging intelligent technologies which will not only remove laborious work but also improve the user experience.
Embracing digital tools could have been one among alternatives for FA people to reshape their work life by speeding up report production process. Little by little, some companies have started implementing such tools as point or end-to-end solutions, while many are still hesitating to transform themselves. Yet, it is quite surprising to learn that many organisations are still relying on traditional ways to compile data from sources and produce into reports despite the prevalent handful technologies, such as automation, advanced analytics, machine learning, presence nowadays. Perhaps one of the factors that delay the decision to do so is just basically that the management do not know how to push the start button. Here are some tips we would like to share:
Organise your data. Because your report quality will certainly depend on the quality of your data, somehow you will need to redesign the way to manage your finance and enterprise data prior to the adoption of those digital reporting tools. This could involve implementing data platforms that can develop gradually to support structured and unstructured data or cleansing your data to avoid ‘Garbage-in, Garbage-out’.
Gain buy-in from the C-Suite. We know that the first mover role here should belong to CFO since the issue was raised from FA side. Nonetheless, it is also crucial for the CFO to bring these ideas to the entire C – suite. If other leaders support technological innovation in finance, it can also help the business to further adopt the innovation and apply to other functional processes to make the most of their capabilities.
Focus on the user experience. Early in your journey, explore “what-if” questions with key users. Ask them how they might use information differently if their reports were more intuitive, more visual, and more proactive. Build in formal and informal mechanisms for generating feedback. These actions make sure you put technologies in the right place and right way.
Take small steps. Just try applying solutions to specific segments or functions first. You do not want to make a huge investment at a time to find it hurts the most when things are not going well as you have dreamt of. Look for high-impact use cases to build a base of advocates. For many firms, sales reports can be a good choice to start with. Make sure you pilot with a range of potential users who will become your champions. Then you can span the full range of usage among those who will eventually adopt the technology.
Reassure your people. Workforce disruption is inevitable for companies trying to adopt automation or digital tools. Since some more routine and laborious tasks may be obsolete when new technologies take place, make sure you have plan to build new talents and skills for your people to cope with the changes. Work with employees to make the most of their human skills, empowering them in new roles that rely on high-level analysis, relationship-building, and creativity.
Reimagine your people. Start thinking about your people in future conditions. What types of skillsets you will need? Be aware that, with the handful digital tools armed in your company, the time allocation of the finance workforce will shift toward analysis, prediction, and decision support. Thus, in collaboration with your HR team, make sure they understand this so that you will get the right persons at hand.
Finally, let us imagine how life would be much easier if there is a personal assistant helping you gathering data and composing the first draft of all reports, or the chatbots that can retrieve insights you need to know without diving in all sources of data by yourself. Now you can focus on the value-added activities.
By Vichai Suknaibaiboon, Partner at Deloitte Thailand