When a Director or Vice President of Finance, Corporate Controller, or even a CFO need information, the burden to provide it generally falls on the Financial Analyst. They are the resource that will have to take any and all available data, use tools (probably Excel, possibly Access) at their disposal, and turn it into useful information in a “pleasing to the eye” format, for the aforementioned requestor to consume. Now, this task may not be overly daunting if the requests were always the same, if the look and feel of the report was not overly important, or if organizational structures and master data were not constantly changing. Unfortunately, for most analysts, all of these items are normally there to provide barriers to being able to easily fulfill these requests for information.
In today’s world of accounting and finance, it is probably safe to assume the analyst is proficient in Excel, if not an Excel guru. They would likely not have gotten through the first interview if they weren’t. The reason for this is many companies are still using Excel as their primary stand-alone reporting tool. The hiring manager knows that it will take an Excel guru to create and maintain the inevitably complicated reporting packages that will be needed to satisfy the thirst for information. Currency conversion, inter-company eliminations and roll-forwards are just a few items that make consolidated reporting complicated. Excel data collection packages, pivot tables, vlookup and index functions, VBA, large multi sheet workbooks, links to other large multi-sheet workbooks, all of these items and more are common ingredients in the Excel reporting package recipe book. Broken links, corrupted calculations, hard to trust information, difficult to make changes, and requests for new information can take days to fulfill.
In addition, as a company grows so do the workbooks, getting larger and larger until it seems like adding one more tab will literally make the workbook explode, or more realistically, just freeze up and shut down. When an analyst decides to leave a company, what is often left behind are complicated, undocumented files which nobody in the company knows how to use, or possibly even understands. Any successor will face a significant challenge in getting up to speed in a timely manner. This all assumes the analyst left on good terms and the files weren’t deleted or corrupted. This is a risky way to run a finance department.
There is a better way. With the right Business, Planning, and Consolidation system, set up properly, reporting even in a dynamic changing environment can be much easier, and with much less risk. A properly implemented Business, Planning, and Consolidation system like SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) makes collecting data from multiple sources and turning it into useful information much easier. Here are a few reasons:
- It’s Online – This sounds simple, but a centrally maintained system that’s documented and backed up on a regular basis reduces risk significantly. In addition, having one source of data to go to for consolidated or standard reporting, provides that single version of the truth we’ve all heard so much about.
- Simplified Master Data maintenance – Master data for things like Account, Company, or Cost Center can be hard to maintain in offline “systems”. BPC is flexible enough to set up automated master data imports, so it updates along with a source system. Or if you decide to maintain manually the interface is intuitive and easy to use.
- Single, “Analytical” chart of accounts – Whether its Actual data for a consolidation, or Forward looking data for a Plan/Budget, the Account dimension in a BPC system generally does not have to contain all of the operational detail that is in a general ledger system. For instance while a local GL may contain a “Cash” account for every bank account, and there may be a “Revenue” account for each line of business. For reporting purposes these can likely be narrowed down to one Cash account and one Revenue account for consolidated reporting and to reduce the “clutter” associated with Local GL charts of accounts. It’s your decision, if you want the detail, you can have it, if not you don’t have
- Automated critical calculations – Simple scripts and business rules make things like currency translation, inter-company elimination, and balance sheet roll forwards quick and straight forward.
- EPM Reporting Interface – The EPM add in for Excel is as intuitive and easy to use as a reporting interface gets. Here are a few specific EPM features that help facilitate easy reporting:
- Drag & Drop – Building a quick ad hoc report is easy with the drag & drop feature. A frame can literally be built in less than a minute with single or multiple dimensions on the rows and columns
- Report Wizard – For more complicated reports, an intuitive interface is available to build and position your report exactly where you want it to go. Options are available for dynamic formulas, formatting, sorting, filtering, and much more. Charts can be built to dynamically change when report data is updated.
- Dynamic Formatting Sheet – An intuitive formatting interface is available so you can build templates with standard formatting. No more guesswork or trying to remember how your standard reports should be formatted. In addition, for dynamic reports where users are drilling down for additional detail, the formatting will adjust and expand right along with the drill down.
- Dynamic Calculations – Want to calculate Gross Margin %? Or Operating Income %? Any multitude of variance calculations? Using EPM Local Members, formulas like this can be attached to a report so if a user decides to drill down, or change the company or cost center they are looking at, the calculation will change right along with them.
- Report Publication – Using the book publication wizard, easily take your standard report and publish it for an entire group of Companies, Cost Centers, Profit Centers, whatever you need.
With an EPM system, even an intermediate level Excel user will be able to create and maintain reports with ease. With a report wizard, drag and drop interface, or one of the many available EPM functions, there are flexible options for building ad hoc or standard reports that get published monthly. An intuitive formatting tool can provide identical controls, without the need to build them from scratch every time.