Reports: Being All Things to All People

Posted by Michele Morrill

Oct 30, 2015 1:51:28 PM

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How can reports be all things to all people?  A key part of a Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting system – or a Reporting and Financial Consolidation system – is reports.  And while there is always a balance between customized or canned reports in any EPM project, a more efficient balance is achievable.

A strong model or design will support the creation of reports that can be used for a myriad of functions.  In addition to meeting the functional requirements and scope of a project, a strong design will support the level of detail required by the users.  Whether this is delivered through a “few-click” solution to find answers, or through an all-encompassing system with information immediately ready, sufficient detail will enable the users to find their answers more quickly and minimize the time required to get to that point.  A strong design will also contain the dimensionality sufficient for the required analysis.  This may come through as a more detailed level than the chart of accounts – or it may require additional analytical points that are outside the standard financial reporting terms that are usually seen in a typical budgeting and forecasting system.

Once the optimal design of your finance solution is architected, there are still more efficiencies to be gained when making finance reports to be all things to all people.  One option to be considered is not reports at all, but dashboards or metrics delivered through stoplights, gauges or other visual analysis tools.  This option automatically focuses the users on the important points that matter, rather than on the noise of “on track” data that doesn’t need attention.  Exception reporting or trigger notifications can be used with dashboards to further filter the focus points for the user.  The visualizations can be stunning or simple as long as they are effective.

At the level of the reports themselves there is also work to be done.  We’ve all seen multi-page reports, where each user will focus on only a few lines of data.  By now many users have moved away from paper printing, but that isn’t too far in the past in some organizations.  So for reports, we can take one of two approaches - either a full data approach or a partial data approach. 

The full data approach typically proceeds by displaying all of the data and using macros or other tools to draw the users’ attention to important items.  While this report is sometimes time consuming to generate, it has the advantage of containing secondary information that the user may need.  This minimizes additional required steps after the data is displayed.

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The partial data approach uses a filtering mechanism so that the data displayed is streamlined and only contains the data that the user needs to see.  This approach usually means that the report is faster to generate.  The filtering mechanism can be customized to each user, ideally using the user profile to automatically filter at an even greater efficiency.  The advantage of this approach is easy maintenance since it is a single report that looks different to each user.

While no one report design will work to be all things to all people, there are various approaches that can be taken.  When trying to balance canned vs. customized reports, the ideal answer is “both”.

Strafford has broad knowledge and experience across many applications, technologies and cloud infrastructure environments – with an overall goal of improving the practice of data gathering, reporting and business processes within Finance and Operations. Our expert team of finance-focused technology leaders, infrastructure consultants, financial systems consultants and project managers are ready to help you.

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Topics: Consolidation and Close, Budgeting and Forecasting, Financial Reporting