By Andromeda Wood, Vice President of Regulatory Strategy, Workiva
Ensuring consistent reporting within an organisation can be difficult, especially when data is being gathered from many different departments. This is especially true for both financial and ESG reporting, where data integrity is absolutely critical given it impacts the value, perception of, and trust in a business.
To ensure that reported information stands up to scrutiny, organisations need fail-safes at every step in the process.
Below is an outline of a few of the most common reporting challenges faced as well as some practical steps to streamline processes and avoid errors.
Prepare for ad hoc reporting list requests with a centralised listing
Financial teams often receive requests from customers who would like to see a list of all the reports they are working on. This can be a long and time-consuming request to fulfil, depending on how companies are tracking and overseeing various reporting processes.
To prepare for these requests, it is therefore valuable to build out a key report listing as a central source of these various reports. Creating a central report listing as a collaborative spreadsheet that includes meta data like data sources, timing, contributors’ deliverables and file location is one simple step to streamline the process of turning around an overview of all the reports in play quickly for ad-hoc requests while providing clear project oversight.
While building out the key report listing, moving away from a localized spreadsheet to the cloud makes it easier for the team to keep the listing up to date. Using a centralised cloud platform allows financial departments to tap into a whole host of benefits such as easier real-time collaboration, secure access for the different teams accessing the file and efficiencies gained with version control.
Link to report examples for a more dynamic listing
Reports are often scattered around the business – saved in different locations as they are worked on by numerous teams. To create one dynamic, central report listing which offers easy access to the various reports underway, financial teams need to know where to locate those reports in the first place.
Tenured team members who have worked on financial reporting at a company for years are likely to know the processes that are conducted every month, every quarter, every year and so on. When building out the report listing spreadsheet, they should input direct links to examples of these processes, i.e., the reports created with each type of reporting process undertaken.
Identifying the specific locations of these reports and including this information in a key report listing provides transparency into where these files are. With one core listing within a centralised cloud platform linking to all reports and acting as an up-to-date dashboard, financial teams can accelerate their company’s ability to obtain up-to-date insights and answer questions about the business. Additional benefits include removing the need for cross-system access permissions, and the ability to add process management
Turn to the cloud and automation to achieve more consistent reports
When collecting data from various departments and updating many different reports, a lack of version control not only requires teams to spend more time checking different versions, but it can also lead to more errors, report corrections and trust issues with the data being put forward. Transparent streamlined reporting allows teams to work with one single version of the truth.
In fact, financial teams should be aiming to establish a single source of truth for all financial and non-financial information. By layering in automation, they can ensure that when a data point is updated once, it is updated in every relevant report for consistency. For example, after finding where a treasury team has provided a file that needs to be copied into multiple reports, the file needs to be linked so that when updated in one, the update is replicated across them all.
A combination of integrating processes in the cloud and automation is key, but an important step is pinpointing where data crosses over reports in the first place.
Collaborate with the integration experts – the technology team
Unlike their peers in IT, financial teams do not have as much experience integrating teams and processes through technology. Financial teams can gain insights and work closely with the technology department to pinpoint how best to set up the ability to integrate processes and enable real-time collaboration securely.
By working together, IT teams can help to pivot the reporting approach to bringing data into a centralised system, ensuring everything is tracked and linked correctly. Ultimately, they can help identify the data integration approach that provides the best security posture and works best for the company and its unique reporting requirements.
When all the work can take place across integrated processes and within one central location, everyone can collaborate in the same workspace in real-time and ensure better data consistency.
Create a flexible (and future-proof) roadmap
Building out a reporting roadmap that is set in stone may provide initial direction, but it is not scalable in the long term. The key to any complex reporting process is having an adaptable roadmap that enables the team to meet their reporting requirements but considers two or three routes to success. This ensures the team is moving forward with an approach that is not only efficient in the short-term, but also adaptable in the long-term.
Reporting requirements will continue to change overtime. New regulations and mandates will continue to come into force. As such, as well as addressing the ‘now’, a strong roadmap must be flexible if it is to be future proof in anticipation of further reporting expectations.
Financial teams can start off with a small roadmap exercise. Then, with trust and buy-in from the other teams involved in reporting, they can expand to a longer-term, flexible roadmap to guide them on transforming their future processes. This will ensure the process integration, real-time collaboration and automation required to achieve trustworthy reporting in the short and long term.
Team-building long-lasting solutions
Transforming the entire reporting system within a business is not an instant process. However, teams can take small steps now to address some of the most common challenges in financial reporting and start their journey towards more efficient, streamlined processes.
There’s no time to delay. Updating current reporting processes will be vital to not only meet future mandates but also to deliver the trustworthy reports that stakeholders are demanding today.