The all too familiar year-end reporting will be throwing us FP&A professionals for a loop this year. Creating reports is a repetitive and tedious task that has us jumping through hoops to consolidate, validate, and deliver. Now our lives are easier if we start with accurate month-end reports but here is the good, the bad, and the ugly reality of our current process and of course, how to fix it.
We know what our clients want. Various managers throughout the organization are all looking to understand their performance over the course of their needed period, whether it be the year, quarter, month, week, or even day. We have the data. It’s a great step in the right direction. But, if only it were possible to get everyone the information they needed when they wanted it? The company would be running like a well-oiled machine, something the majority of FP&A professionals couldn’t say at the present moment.
Reporting processes provide a standardized output for understanding how the business is performing. It allows each department to set goals, benchmarks, and track trends for more accurate decision making. These reports break down business complexities into easily digestible summaries for those within and outside a business, all with their own stake in the final outlook of company health. With our current COVID-19 situation, the most recent report or data is not recent enough. One week we are back in the office and the next - another lockdown begins out of nowhere! So now it's time to mend the gap between our current year-end reporting process and what our company needs from us right now.
The first step is knowing where we come up short. I mean, it’s great that we know what people want but our delivery times are fairly questionable. If you were to think of current FP&A processes as pizza deliveries, we wouldn’t make it in 30 minutes or less. Fraught with complexities, our time is used for valuable business activities like manipulating data and providing understandable viewpoints but if we take too long, these significant insights become outdated. With current processes, we spend so much time creating these easily digestible views and data manipulations that when key stakeholders take hold of our reports they are practically obsolete.
Yes, management gets the data they want, but how outdated is it? The system in place makes it so when FP&A delivers, either the reports are hastily created and rigid, or flexible and outdated. We are trying to balance our deliveries with our time management skills and frankly, both sides are in a losing battle against the competition. But that's not all.
Obviously, time is of the essence, but we barely have time to do all things required of us as it is. What does this lead to? Mistakes. Numerous mistakes. Oh and time to review them, a laughable ideology in itself. We work with Excel spreadsheets - it's our bread and butter - our trusted and reliable Excel so why does it fail us so? We need rigor around the bevy of excel processes. The data needs to be manipulated, and then consolidated into a database, not just thrown into excel where the wild west ensues.
Fear not my fellow FP&A gurus! After years of this conundrum being the bane of our existence solutions now exist to let bygones be bygones. Software now allows FP&A departments to respond as quickly as they need to and deliver the results required of us with professional reports and daily updated data. FP&A software solutions are normally referred to as CPM’s or corporate performance management systems… at least that’s the ‘buzz’ term, but regardless of what the industry chooses to call it, the results are something we can not only understand but quantify.
These FP&A solutions provide a means of consolidating and organizing data so that true analysis can be undertaken. CPM solutions were built to help manage budgeting and finance activities. They provide a means of automating those repetitive tasks to streamline operations and boost activity. Here is The Finance Weekly’s CPM Comparison Report summarizing the different available solutions - many of which allow you to move away from Excel’s limitations and begin working with a new level of operational sophistication.
Now some FP&A solutions can integrate with your existing interface - meaning real-time updates with limited integration. A company like DataRails will even allow you to upload your Excel spreadsheets so that you can keep your formulas and everything you’ve built over the years. It takes your Peter Parker Excel Sheet and turns them into the Spider-Man of FP&A solutions combining the comforts of Excel and the benefits of automation. Their platform will tag datasets that do not follow normal trends and make drill-downs more simple than we have ever imagined.
So here you have it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel and all it takes is a simple demo request to see.