Nine Reasons to Refuse Custom Report Requests
Posted by Marco Rolla
While no one wants to decline a request for information, demands for custom reporting cause significant issues in companies using traditional tools to consolidate financial data. Many organizations rely on multiple accounting platforms, and they feed information from a variety of sources into spreadsheets and manual-entry database programs. There is simply no flexibility for efficient production of customized reports with these resources.
When faced with unmanageable requests - or when considering a transition to a comprehensive financial data analysis and reporting platform - consider these nine points:
The Use of Multiple Accounting Platforms
A piecemeal approach to recording financial data is a frequently observed phenomenon in medium and large organizations. As new tools are released to handle highly specialized tasks, companies find themselves with a variety of systems that perform individual functions, such as handling expense reporting, accounts receivable, and purchasing. Combining figures from multiple systems for custom report requests isn't practical.
A Failure to Communicate
Typically, unrelated systems lack the ability to communicate with each other, and outputs are produced in such a way that consolidation must be performed manually. This results in an inability to view, compare, and analyze financial data stored in unrelated systems, at a cost of missing out on information critical to strategic planning. Such an arrangement makes customized reporting nearly impossible.
Simple Spreadsheet and Database Program Capabilities
In cases where data related to custom report requests can be identified relatively easily, creating the reports poses a new problem. The spreadsheet and database programs commonly used to consolidate financial data from multiple sources are simply not designed for custom report creation.
For example, finance professionals might spend the time required to develop an Excel spreadsheet that makes certain calculations based on entries to other fields. However, these formulas are often quite complex. Moving data does not automatically lead to new presentations of the information. Requests for new perspectives on existing figures require that an entirely new spreadsheet be designed.
Data Accuracy in Manual Entries
The manual work required to gather tailored information for custom report requests is subject to the usual level of human error, whether in pulling the correct figures or entering them accurately in spreadsheets. The fact is that without automation, reporting can be unreliable.
Constant Adjustments in Data Points
An additional issue arises in that financial data is always fluid, with new entries made in various accounting platforms on a regular basis. Customized reports, even when created with accurate figures, become obsolete almost immediately. Recreating reports to reflect frequent changes in the underlying data is simply not feasible. As a result, decisions are made on old information, which reduces their effectiveness.
Creating Visual Representations of Data
Those outside the finance department are hard-pressed to understand lists of numbers. Most benefit from clear visual representations of the data. However, spreadsheet and database programs are rarely designed to create user-friendly graphs and charts, and when there are reporting features available, they are extremely basic. To truly provide useful custom reporting, it is necessary to have a platform that gives a variety of options for showing the report's results.
Time Commitment Required for Custom Report Design
Multiple accounting platforms, minimal spreadsheet and database information consolidation tools, and limited visual reporting options result in a huge time commitment when it comes to fulfilling any custom report request. In most cases, data must be manually pulled from the relevant accounting platform, entered into a customized spreadsheet, and exported to a tailored reporting platform for creation of visual representation of findings. Simply stated, the cost associated with this large investment of time is often too high to justify consenting to custom report requests.
Requests for Data vs. Requests for Business Solutions
In many cases, requests for custom reporting come in the form of a list of specific required data points, and little or no background on the purpose of the report. However, the individuals asking are not necessary well-versed in the type of information required to answer their underlying questions. Time spent gathering the wrong information is time wasted.
Finance experts are often able to pinpoint the specific data required to provide an accurate response when they understand the purpose of the request. Instead of accepting custom report requests, inquire about the specific business question that needs answering. The data required to solve the underlying problem may already be available, making a custom report unnecessary.
New Technology Changes the Face of Financial Reporting
The issues that come along with custom report requests are often insurmountable, which is an unfortunate side effect of outdated accounting platforms and information consolidation tools. However, new technology is making it easier to combine, analyze, and report on financial information. Tools designed specifically for the needs of organizations with complex financial situations, such as Unit4's Consolidation software, are making customized reporting far more viable.
These personalized systems are created to combine data from multiple information streams, offering an opportunity for finance professionals to spend less time on data entry and more time on data analysis. It is now possible to efficiently create original views of various pieces of the financial puzzle to better understand which areas of the business are most profitable. The higher-quality tools also offer users unique modeling capabilities to easily examine the results of multiple courses of action.
As the use of such comprehensive platforms becomes more widespread, finance professionals will have an opportunity not only to create custom reports for others, but also to engage in strategic planning themselves.