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Automated, Dynamic Reporting for Improved Management Decision-Making


This article is sponsored by DataRails


By Charlie, Financial Analyst, BCC

We adopted DataRails about a year ago, and ever since my work has been significantly enhanced and changed for the better. If it hadn’t been for DataRails, I wouldn’t be able to maximize my work output the way I can today. I’ll explain:


DataRails took our manual, static management report and converted it into an automated, dynamic report that allowed us to answer questions on the spot during management reviews.


As an Analyst I can now understand the business and do the analysis that I went to school to do. Before DataRails what ended up happening was that I was managing spreadsheets all day long and barely doing any analysis. Thanks to DataRails, I can now spend time doing analysis and come to my CFO with suggestions. Now I get to spend my time connecting the dots. I can truly conduct analysis, and not just prepare spreadsheets.


Prior to DataRails, in order to produce a typical management report, we’d have to collect a wide range of information in order to understand what was going on in the business and how we were performing. We’d gather information from a bunch of places and manually unite it in one Excel file. The Excel spreadsheet would have as many tabs as needed- it could be a couple of tabs, it could be 50. The end goal would be to sit down with management from across the organization and discuss how we've performed and what can be done to improve performance.


First off, the basic information would come from a financial system. Second, additional information would come from other systems and would allow us to calculate certain metrics and KPIs. For example, part of the discussion was always on how sales is performing. But- only very high level sales information comes out of the financial software, and much more granular details come from our CRM (Salesforce). Prior to every management meeting, I’d have to find a way to consolidate all pertinent data so that I could provide the right understanding of the Sales team’s performance.


DataRails was a game-changer for me.


Once I started working with the system, I was able to take the financial information, as well as the Salesforce data, and bring it all into the DataRails environment. Once in the system I could roll up the data as necessary, and I could provide automated outputs. This was super useful, but it was only the first way DataRails was of great help.


The second way is during our recurring periodic management meetings, when management tries to understand the numbers. For example, they sat in a discussion and the person in charge of sales saw that he had a variance, such as a regional variance, that was not as expected. Management was interested in understanding what was driving this variance. Without DataRails, typically in a discussion someone would say something along the lines of “let me get back to you.”


But- when it comes to using DataRails, they can actually say “you know what- let me drill into that and I’ll answer that question right now.” So, it becomes a much more live discussion.


This is a really important point- prior to DataRails we’d have the right people in the room, and they’d sit down to discuss performance and a lot of the questions that are asked by the CEO or whoever, the response would be something like “let me get back to you”… and then, by the time the response would come in it’d be too late- that group of people wouldn’t be all together in that room anymore. The answer would then be reported directly to the CEO or whoever asked the question.


With DataRails, we can answer such questions right within the meeting. This way, we still have that group of people, which is the valuable group of people in the organization, who can listen to the response (such as what's the driver for example), and then together come up with a conclusion or solution. So, it allows for those kinds of discussions that are much more live and dynamic, with the right people.


For example, during one meeting, management was looking to answer the question of what was driving labor variances. Labor costs were expected to be fairly consistent, and yet they weren’t. We were seeing big swings from one month to the next, for example one month was 6% and the next it was 8.5%. We were having trouble understanding it because labor costs were being provided by multiple temp agencies.


We were looking to understand and identify the source of the variances-am I spending more money per hour on my labor? is it taking me more people? Or am I shipping out less items per hour?


There were a few potential drivers. Without DataRails, if we didn’t have all that information together in one system, with an easy way to drill into it and understand the drivers, then something that's not rocket science becomes quite challenging. Without DataRails, it wouldn’t be possible to answer some important questions in such a short amount of time.


DataRails combined all the data in the system for us, and set up a process so that on a monthly basis, I just need to drop into DataRails a bunch of Excel files that I was getting mailed to me. Each Excel file contained the labor costs with the people that worked for us each month and how much we paid them per hour and how much overtime they got. All pertinent information was brought into the same system, and then I created a management report with the ability to drill down to an analysis with a waterfall chart that would show the drivers for each product line for the direct labor.


For my CFO this was super valuable information because now he can sit there, hear the problem, hear potential drivers, and react on the spot. The ability to react is really a significant thing. Now, management can brainstorm and come up with solutions together, on the spot.