In its ideal state, operational reporting supports the critical day-to-day performance of a business, enabling leaders to drill-down into the data to assess operational effectiveness and drive better business decisions.
However, it’s in desperate need of a makeover. According to a recent survey of 500 finance decision makers across the US and EMEA, only 11 per cent of respondents are happy with current operational reporting tools. Further, respondents cited a need for technical skills (47 per cent), time to generate reports (46 per cent) and the inability to access the right data (28 per cent) as the three main pain points when using operational reporting tools.
Too manual, too slow, too limited
According to the survey, 76 per cent of operational reporting currently happens in Excel – an inefficient, manual approach to accessing necessary data.
Relying on spreadsheets poses multiple challenges. When operational reports are exported to Excel for variance analysis, it runs the risk of confusing the accounting team, particularly if the report was generated by non-accounting personnel. These Excel-based reports are error-prone, require more time to navigate drill-down issues, and expose challenges with multi-currency reports if different global offices are trying to analyse them.
Furthermore, the reliance on Excel reveals worrying trends. In the same survey, fewer than a quarter of finance decision-makers were creating reports that are all (or mostly) interactive, with 45 per cent of respondents saying that interactive reports are considered harder to produce than static reports.
Even more of a concern in today’s age of digital transformation, the role of automation is very limited, with only a third of decision-makers producing reports that are all or mostly automated. However, of those, more than three quarters were satisfied with the report output, which points to the huge value delivered by automated operational reporting.
Seeing the value in automated and interactive reporting
Finance teams struggle to invest time in exploring the role of automation in the operational reporting process, and must rely heavily on their IT departments to create reports. According to the survey, 71 per cent of decision-makers said their IT department was involved in creating or modifying recurring reports.
But there is a huge appetite for automation. It cuts down on time and staff needed to generate a report. It improves the accuracy of data: automatic, recurring reports keep information up to date. Automation also reduces error and allows you to view a wide range of data from various sources.
Lastly, automation cuts down on time spent creating a report. Half of decision-makers generate reports in four hours or less but, depending on the type of report, 14 to 24 per cent can still take five to eight hours to complete this type of work. Automating operational reporting greatly improves efficiency by removing the mundane and repetitive elements of reporting workflows.
The time is now
Quality reporting is critical for departments across a business to make operations more productive and efficient. The challenge is that finance users have been unable to access the data they need to create reports that suit their requirements without involving IT staff. This ongoing challenge results in teams defaulting to the outdated and unproductive standby: exporting data into Excel and manually creating reports.
As companies look for a competitive advantage, they’re turning increasingly to data inside their own operations to find it. By seamlessly integrating multiple data sources, automating the creation of visual, customised reports, and enabling users to drill down into transactional data for a deeper understanding of how to drive the business forward, companies will unleash the full potential of operational reporting.
Daf Llewellyn is the General Manager of EMEA for insightsoftware, a global provider of financial reporting and performance management solutions for the office of the CFO.