After a period of business change – whether it be a new acquisition, fresh investment or restructure, there tends to be an associated requirement for new management reporting capabilities.
Very often this requirement is focused around the need to provide greater visibility on business cash flow, cash movements, operational costs, individual cost centres and so forth.
This can put pressure on the existing finance team, who will naturally want to simplify reporting requirements as far as possible. So as a senior financial processional, what steps can you take to optimise the reporting process – balancing client demands against the finance team’s resource capability to deliver?
1. Help shape the requirements
It’s all too easy for internal business clients to become agitated during a period of significant business change. Often, they will be facing fresh pressures and demands in the business, and suddenly the corporate services function is being overstretched with random, ad-hoc demands for information upon request. Where possible, work with senior internal customers and the business leadership team to define financial reporting requirements in detail. Really pin down what they want, and what you can provide, from the start – and then agree to provide this as a programme of development work, where you don’t already do so.
As part of your work defining requirements with the leadership team, also agree how ad-hoc requests will be handled and how often reports will be produced. It is all too easy otherwise for internal directors to request a report immediately before they need it, without appreciating the impact on finance staff.
2. Request system investment
If your financial reporting system is out of date, request investment to bring it up to speed. A period of business change may have resulted from a drive to strip costs out of the business, but a business case may allow you to extract budget from the change delivery budget itself. Focus on the features and benefits of a new system. These might include on-demand data provision on a self-serve basis for senior leaders, secure data through remote server deployment, automatic updates via the cloud, a more automated and seamless integration with existing multiple systems etc.
3. Re-visit processes and optimise workflows
New reporting requirements need clear processes, especially if your finance team is already over-loaded. Set, agree and document processes. Train staff and assign responsibilities. Review and re-work internal workflow processes to ensure that the team has a system for prioritising requests and processing work on a timely basis, without key person dependencies where possible.
4. Create a dashboard
A financial reporting dashboard makes it easy to see KPIs and important ratios and figures. Create an online dashboard that pulls data from your financial systems and allows your leadership team to review the figures on demand. If you can invest in a system that offers self-serve options to identified senior staff, then all the better.
5. Provide context
Not all managers will understand financial metrics – so provide a useful and meaningful financial summary with reports wherever possible. By providing value-added insight, you can position yourself strongly as an internal strategic lead and reduce knee-jerk information requests.
Allocate time to visit senior management team meetings, boards, sub-boards and senior groups where finance is on the agenda. By doing so, you can demonstrate your ability to communicate meaningfully about finance and open up your function as a team that provides insight, guidance and knowledge – alongside number crunching! Also communicate clearly with internal customers and IT – cross-sharing knowledge helps to build relationships.
Look for investment to train both your own staff in new reporting systems, and external staff who need to be able to access, interpret and understand financial data. Training is integral to avoid more work falling upon your team!
With these steps in place you will find that your new reporting system can be implemented in a stress-free manner with great results.