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The End (of the Year) is Near: Do You Have the Data You Need?

2013 Annual Reports: Do You Have The Data You Need?

With 2013 quickly drawing to a close, it's about time to start thinking about your annual finance report. With daily bookkeeping tasks and monthly reporting to consider, it may be tempting to put off your year-end reports until December. However, there are a few key questions organizations should start considering now in order to avoid the last-minute rush:

  • Do you have the numbers you need to do your year-end analysis?
  • Is business activity from the previous 12 months easily accessible?
  • Can you easily compare your figures from 2012 and 2013?
  • Are you able to make large amounts of data digestible for business stakeholders?

Organizations are facing increased pressure to identify and showcase all the data that relates to business value, according to consulting firm KPMG. There needs to be a slight shift in thinking in order to better identify what is needed from year-end reports, and how digestible and usable the information is. One of the issues that KPMG highlights is the organizational focus on the annual reporting of the current state of affairs, whereas identifying potential risks and opportunities requires a more in-depth look at the data. For example, the ability to look at and compare numbers between individual months and develop a graph to show the year's trends may reveal areas where the business is struggling more than it should be.

There is an integrated approach to close the gap between what organizations are doing and how they report those activities. The framework revolves around the idea that tasks such as annual reporting should be deeply connected to a company's business model and the way in which it actually operates. Furthermore, issues that are revealed through a report should become part of the organization's overall strategy.

"The mismatch between current corporate reporting and business value has become increasingly apparent in the volatile business environment of the last five years," the report stated. "The focus on current year performance may go some way towards helping readers understand 'business as usual' but it is not enough to provide a complete picture of long term value."

As emphasis shifts away from basic reporting and toward more comprehensive analysis, organizations need to strongly consider the tools and processes they use for such activities. The problem is that organizations currently spend a large amount of time gathering data needed for year-end reporting, and then they spend even more time preparing the reports. This takes away time that could be spent on activities that ultimately provide more value to organizational leaders. As a result, it may be beneficial to look at your employees' time from a different perspective.

Time is a Business Resource

Business leaders might be asking why they should move away from their current processes if they are "good enough." The problem with this perspective is that it fails to account for time as a resource. From a business perspective, labor hours spent on manual data collection costs money, and from an employee standpoint, it diminishes productivity. McKinsey & Company analysts Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet touched on the issue of time management as it applies to executives. They argued that trends such as globalization and the evolution of communications technology have placed many more responsibilities on the shoulders of decision makers.

"Our research and experience suggests that leaders who are serious about addressing this challenge must stop thinking about time management as primarily an individual problem, and start addressing it institutionally," Bevins and De Smet wrote. "Time management isn't just a personal-productivity issue over which companies have no control; it has increasingly become an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures."

When organizations start seeing time as a key business asset, they can start making technical and process changes to maximize their resources. For example, consider the amount of time it takes to build new reports every single year. Those types of tasks are ideal candidates for streamlining - what if finance could design a standard report template and run the same basic data set each year? This could ensure that the essential information can be easily collected and sent to those who need it.

There is a tool that can make their jobs easier, and does not require a large staff of developers: SEQUEL. This analytics tool makes it easy to design reports that can be run again and again, but it’s flexible enough to allow adjustments if sources of business value change, lowering the burden on those responsible for the reporting.

SEQUEL takes ease-of-use a step further by making critical data digestible to those who need to make decisions from it. Not only can information be delivered in real time, and in a wide range of formats, but easily generates graphs and other visualizations to spot trends. Customizable dashboards also enable users to focus on the data that is most relevant to them, and go from summary-level views to more detailed data sets.

SEQUEL users can pivot the data into month columns, and then graph monthly or yearly totals. Runtime prompts let users easily choose this year or last year to make quick comparisons. The same reports can be run for any year, and SEQUEL can produce side-by-side comparisons to make it easy to see where the organization was in 2012, and where it is in 2013. This can help decision makers establish realistic benchmarks for the future, or simply provide an overview of the information that matters to them.

End-of-year reporting often takes a lot of time because organizations do not always have the information they need readily available, and developers must rewrite scripts from year to year. However, a lot of this headache can be removed simply by adopting a more sophisticated data collection and analytics tool like SEQUEL. See how SEQUEL can help you with your data access and reporting with our Data Access and Reporting Kit