We’ve talked about the importance of replicable and sustainable accounting results that support a better flow of data. This includes from source to reporting to operations with the fewest number of manual adjustments possible. Controls and audit trails serve a purpose. They ensure results are provided consistently, which breeds trust in the data and eliminates noise and emotion from the results.
Both processes and technology are critical for business reporting needs. The processes ensure adherence to rules and regulations. The technology supports efficiency. Using the “right tool for the job” will provide the foundation for better reporting and analytics regardless of the place in the business.
“One source of the truth” doesn’t mean using one tool for everything. Yes, I said that. While it may sound contrary to what you have heard in recent years, I stand by that statement. Using one tool for everything, just to obtain a “single source” of the truth misses the point of what is intended. If I could reword it, I would say that your financial reporting technology should use the same source of data to support different audiences. What do I mean by that? Simply that the activity and transactions of a business are key to what needs to be reviewed and analyzed, but it’s the type of audience which determines the necessary level of detail within the reporting stream in order for it to be meaningful.
SEC reporting requires audit trails, SOX controls, and sign-off by leadership necessary for external reporting to stakeholders. But, if you look at and/or prepare a Q or K report, you are fully aware that the level of detail required is highly summarized, but still effective for that audience. Try to use that same report for making management decisions about the profitability of a product or a region, and it falls woefully flat. Or, put product level detail into a consolidation solution and it slows and bogs down the system when close activities are running fast and furious to provide timely reporting results to the organization. Excluding that level of detail in a management reporting solution leaves far too many gaps to provide meaningful details to management and further operational discussions. There is an approach to use the same source data in the right tools to support appropriate utilization of the data.
Management reporting should not be subject to audit. Although, the numbers should reconcile to external reporting to “prove” external and internal reporting are in sync. There is a hand off between the externally reported numbers, the detail that management needs to assess the business, and the additional analysis of the organization’s health. Trying to use the same tool to support these differing constituents and level of detail mean one thing is done well (the purpose of the tool or solution) and the other needs suffer with “square peg/round hole” issues. Between legal entity and management reporting there is a lowest common denominator that supports quality and accuracy between tools at a reasonable financial statement line item. Once you tie, there, you can expand the details for additional analysis knowing there is common ground.
Even platform solutions have purpose-built functionality to support financial reporting and analysis. Some examples:
- You own a smart phone or tablet, but you download distinct applications to address your travel, calendar, and news requirements (to name a few!) The source of data used in the platform or in different technology applications should still be the same across the different financial reporting spectrum. This does not mean other sources are not valid or valuable, but having Actuals tie to management reporting, and also tie to the first step of your analysis, breeds far more trust in the decisions made based on those numbers.
- Take an example of budgeting and forecasting vs. Actuals. You want Actuals at one level of detail, but that may not be the level needed for Plan or Forecast. Imagine a grocery store that requires revenue by product. Revenue by product is not the level of detail for external reporting, but across the organization it is the appropriate level for forecasting revenue or sales. There are different levels and needs as you move from CFO to Controller/GM to Regional Management to Operations. Trying to address all those needs with the same level of detail, reporting, or application maintenance is not the answer.
My soapbox is, “Just because you ‘can,’ doesn’t mean you should.” Application maintenance, customization, and costs associated with audit reviews or implementation are just some of the myriad reasons to align the right technology with the right audience in your organization.
Reliable Actuals are the foundation to accurate and trustworthy reporting across the organization. It is at the core of how an organization determines where it is headed through insight, visibility, and confidence. It’s critical to have an effective and efficient close. You must get the Actuals out to the business users in a sustainable and effective manner. Replicable and sustainable Accounting results rely on the ideal flow of data from source to reporting and back to stakeholders with the fewest number of manual adjustments. And finally, using the right technology allows companies to leverage the same source data throughout the organization, all while providing consistent, scalable, and reliable data to decision-makers.
A solid close process, system, and team provide value to an organization that is significant. And it should be appreciated beyond the “just a cost-center” mentality. It is the backbone of providing insight, visibility, confidence in the health of the organization, and the direction of where it is heading. Now, add an acquisition or divestiture and this throws a monkey-wrench into an already taxed close process with no room for margin of error, delays, or inaccuracies in the best of situations.