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Who’s running your reporting landscape?

Flexible budgeting not only helps you stay current with the challenges and opportunities that surface throughout the year, but it can be a lifeline when your business is rocked by revenue shocks, drops in demand, workforce shifts, and whatever else a global event can toss your way. By updating budgets to reflect those changes, you can quickly course correct to improve efficiency or enhance performance.

Why do I ask this question? Because the answer is not as simple as it used to be. Here are some potential answers:

  • The local business intelligence (BI) team (as it used to be)
  • Local users all around the world
  • A center of excellence for BI
  • A robot (or a series of robots)

It can of course also be a combination of all of those, yet the reporting landscape is changing, and by and large that’s good news! Why? Because it’ll free up time for finance professionals to start using the numbers as opposed to producing them (or producing reports). If we get caught up in production, we’ll surely disappoint our stakeholders.

Here’s how the landscape is changing

If we go by the Microsoft case we touched upon in the first article, “The finance value chain disrupted. Are you keeping up?” then it’s clear what’s changing. Through machine learning, robotics process automation, and other AI tools, we can now produce a lot more with a lot fewer (human) resources.

Before, when reporting was owned by local users or the BI team, the reports were all created by humans. I recollect my first job at Maersk as a student, where I was working for the Hyperion Financial Management team. One of my tasks was to create and maintain reports so that users could populate them with data in the consolidation system. Already back then, the report production was quite automated.

Still, lots of reports were made in Excel too, either from scratch or through extracting reports from the system and continuing to build on them. It wasn’t very efficient at all, and to many that is still reality today.

If you ask in a gathering of finance professionals from a random selection of companies how many use Excel as their primary reporting tool, a good guess is that half will raise their hands. But this is all changing now, so let’s look at the evolution of the reporting landscape.

  • It started with the rollout of ERP systems in the past decade followed by a suite of enterprise performance management (EPM) tools
  • The systems and tools allowed companies to centralize their BI efforts as opposed to leaving them in the hands of local users
  • With offshoring and outsourcing coming next, it allowed companies to gather a critical mass in the global business services to create centers of excellence where the competence to build reports and bind together data various systems and other data sources resides
  • The next step is to put the center of excellence (CoE) through automation so that no reports are produced by hand but simply through the click of a button, i.e., macros or fully automated through various BI tools, SQL scripts, etc.
  • This leaves only demand management for new reports in the hands of humans, so when the business landscape changes, the CoE and finance professionals on the frontlines gather requirements for new reports and then feed them into the reporting landscape

You might have thought I was going to answer the question of the article with “a robot,” however, I don’t think we’re there yet. Robots are likely running the operation, but the demand management is still done by humans.

How should you react to this?

Here’s what I want you to do first. CELEBRATE! Finally, someone took this daunting task of producing reports off your hands. Think about how much time it has freed up for you. If you don’t consider this a good thing, then I would go take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask what kind of finance professional you want to be: a producer or a user? Producers are not in demand anymore, so is that really what you want to be? Let’s now quickly turn our attention to the disrupted standard workweek. Here’s how you should work with reporting now.

On Monday morning, the report is ready in your inbox/dashboard/desk, and you spend 15-30 minutes skimming the main conclusions. That’s it! It’s OK to make it a bit more nuanced: You might figure out on Thursday when you put your solutions to business problems to work that new reports are needed to measure the impact of the solutions. Then you help the CoE to create new reports (which will then be ready again for you on Monday morning to see how things turned out!).

I’m hoping that most of you are celebrating this disruption of the finance value chain. The key question for you now is: What are you going to do with all this time? Spend it all on analysis or something else? Don’t worry, we’ll try to answer these questions in the coming articles in the series. For now—take a breather and enjoy that you’re not a report producer anymore. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

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