Blog, Narrative Performance Reporting

(Part 2) Narrative Performance Reporting: The Story Behind Finance’s Numbers

Part two of a two part series

Written by: Colin Vamplew, Director of EMEA Solution Engineering, Disclosure Management

Last time we learned why many business users seem happy to let Finance people write their performance reports for them. In response, we saw that Finance managers tend to talk about narrative reporting best practice. We understood why business leaders want their performance reports to be business-owned and actionable; why they want them produced in a highly participative and collaborative environment; and why they want high frequency and shorter reporting cycles that focus on current, imminent and future outcomes. Finance managers already know that these best practices will deliver business value as they have seen the result of their use within other process-oriented financial disciplines. So, the real question is:

How can Finance get the management buy-in that the business needs when it comes to writing internal financial performance reports?

One answer could be recommending that business users access the same software platform their Finance colleagues use when they write their own departmental business reports.

All team-based narrative reporting processes share common characteristics and suffer from common document production problems. This commonality can be used to promote and develop inter-departmental collaboration and trust. We therefore examined existing document production processes as well as the day-to-day reality all departmental teams face when writing performance reports. This helped us understand not only why organisations might benefit from a common narrative reporting platform but also why business users from different departments might bond with it. By priming ourselves with this knowledge, sharing reporting best practice and influencing the way common document production problems are solved, Finance can deliver business value – not just within Finance – but across the whole organisation.

So, let’s now look at how some Finance departments have already delivered business value within their own business domain. The underlying best practice can then be presented to management as a blueprint for success within other departments.

Delivering Business Value

Many Finance departments have successfully met the day-to-day document production challenges we discussed last time by implementing Certent Disclosure Management. They have delivered business value at many different levels. In the following value matrix, we can see how Certent Disclosure Management product features enable best practice and how the associated product benefits deliver business value.

To explain each business value further – in terms of the related best practice – we have already noted that business leaders want:

  1. Performance documents to be business-owned and actionable.

  • Operational value: Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, low-level audit trails and change tracking, sidebar review commentary and file attachment functionality is already familiar to most users. On-boarding is straightforward as little training is required. Instant familiarity with the user interface not only ensures that content is business-owned and actionable but also reduces the cost, risk and pain of the document production process.
  • Tactical value: Certent Disclosure Management “reference variables” update data points within text automatically and business rules help departmental users validate their data. Once these types of controls are in place – and the content is updated and validated automatically – it becomes actionable. This helps users produce accurate information quickly.
  • Strategic value: Lines of business can deploy their own Certent Disclosure Management applications on the cloud. The software is provided and maintained by Certent as a service. It is business-owned. Training is targeted and implementation is fast. Departmental usage is self-paced and software adoption grows organically based on merit. Individual applications can also be deployed within a hybrid cloud environment or 100% on-site, e.g. as part of a wider corporate initiative using existing IT infrastructure. Process checklists, content glossaries and online instructions can be used to provide corporate guidance on everything from business objectives, timetables and deadlines to specific document completion requirements. Custom group reporting allows the same information to be presented in a different way depending on the audience, e.g. by product, service, project, geography, business unit, etc. Departmental users can write recommendations and action plans that align with corporate strategies and commit them to company goals, e.g. related to resource allocation, profit optimisation, etc.
  1. The material they are reading to be produced in a highly participative and collaborative environment.

  • Operational value: Certent Disclosure Management  user management, workflow controls and translatable user interfaces ensure that departmental team members don’t tread on each other’s toes but access their parts of the document at the right time in the process. There could be hundreds of users from the same department collaborating on the same document all over the world.
  • Tactical value: Version control helps document administrators manage change at a high level. Cascaded reporting ensures that master documents bring uniformity to subordinate reporting processes. Amendments can still be pushed down. Departmental users can collaborate on content to produce far more relevant information.
  • Strategic value: As a secure, multi-user application, Certent Disclosure Management     provides a single hub for departmental narrative reporting. Shared objects can be included in a variety of documents so that departmental users can comment on common content from their own unique perspectives. They may be writing local business or functional reports but their local or functional content could be incorporated into group reports automatically. The application can release untapped document production synergies.
  1. High frequency and shorter reporting cycles that focus on current, imminent and future outcomes

  • Operational value: Document administrators can see the big picture at a glance from their activity dashboards. They can spot bottlenecks, enforce formatting standards and generally expedite the reporting process. Departmental users can work at the speed of the fastest team member, not the slowest. Everyone can see which part of the document is checked in or checked out. Increased transparency reduces cycle times and therefore the cost associated with the process.
  • Tactical value: Certent Disclosure Management   report data can be integrated with other reporting platforms and solutions (using XML), thereby transmitting upstream efficiency gains downstream. For example, internal marketing and corporate communication teams (as well as external design houses) can bulk import validated Certent Disclosure Management data into their desktop publishing tools. Adobe InDesign documents (IDD) can be updated regularly as each external reporting cycle closes out. Thereafter –  once the reporting cycle is complete – Certent Disclosure Management documents (and IDD) can be rolled forward to jump-start the next cycle. Such automation can save hours of tedious clerical work.
  • Strategic value: The solution delivers central data connectivity and query management through multi-flavour built-in OLAP and relational query builders, OLE DB, ODBC, Excel source files, etc. The solution also leverages native connections to financial consolidation tools such as Hyperion Financial Management (HFM). This rationalises the way users interact with common data. One query could be used in many reports. Different output formats can be chosen for different audiences but they will still see the same consistent view no matter what the media. This promotes alignment and commitment to corporate goals.

 

Conclusion

Finance has always played a key role in improving common, company-wide business processes. And now narrative reporting is no exception. Certent Disclosure Management can help Finance facilitate the automation and streamlining of internal document production cycles across the whole organisation. The platform will help Finance break down dysfunctional “game-playing” within a department and unnecessary stereotyping and demarcation lines between departments. It can be deployed on-site or on the cloud. Other service functions can also use it to help front-line business units and operating regions buy into the key management reporting requirements within their professional domains, e.g. HR, IT, FM, PM, etc.

Once line-of-business users see how easy it is to use Certent Disclosure Management in their own narrative reporting environments, they will feel a lot more comfortable writing their own performance reports and commentaries for Finance. They might even say, “Help me break open and investigate the numbers so that I can write my own commentary.” In the meantime, cutting their teeth on their own documents should help departmental users understand the different levels of business value that can be derived from narrative reporting best practice. Institutionalising best practice in this manner should help Finance promote – or rebuild – inter-departmental trust for the greater good.

 
 
 

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