The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way we work. Now more than ever, finance and accounting workers around the world are discovering the merits and the pitfalls of working remotely. This also presents a fresh opportunity for finance and accounting managers to consider how their teams operate. As companies have scrambled to deploy online meeting platforms and offer collaboration tools, many are asking whether there might be other technology tools available that could help their employees to work more efficiently while experiencing higher job satisfaction in the process.
One such opportunity lies in transforming the way finance and accounting teams design and generate reports. Historically, most business software systems have incorporated some form of packaged report-writing functionality. Unfortunately, those tools are usually cumbersome and lack flexibility. They do not integrate with external software systems well, and they often require specialized, technical expertise when a report needs to be modified or created from scratch.
The Problem with Built-In Reporting Tools
Today, most organizations are operating more than one software package to run their business. This could include an ERP system, customer relationship management (CRM), or specialized billing software, for example. If each of those systems has its own unique report-writing tool, and if none of those systems shares data with the others, then the process of extracting useful information and transforming this into meaningful insights can be extraordinarily challenging.
Over the years, finance and accounting (F&A) professionals have developed numerous workarounds to cope with these limitations. Very often this involves exporting report data from each system, combining that data into a single Excel file, and even adding manually keyed information to complete the picture. This is very time consuming, and it carries with it a high potential for introducing errors.
More importantly, reports that are created in this way are out-of-date as soon as they are compiled. Because they rely on static snapshots from multiple software systems, such reports can only provide an accurate picture of the past. They cannot show managers what is happening in the business right now. At a time when the world is changing very quickly and businesses must adapt rapidly to survive, this is a potentially fatal flaw.
The Challenges of Remote Work
Right now, the majority of finance and accounting professionals are working remotely. This has introduced some additional stresses. Schedules have changed. Many remote workers have school-aged children and must juggle child care, meals, and homeschooling supervision in addition to work responsibilities. Some have shifted a portion of their workload to evenings and weekends.
Because many built-in reporting tools require specialized expertise, outside consultants or IT department personnel are required if a report is to be modified or built from scratch. At a time when everyone was working a 9 to 5 schedule in the office, that already presented a challenge. Add the anomalies of a largely remote organization, and it becomes a significant roadblock.
The Need for “Non-Standard Data”
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted a large-scale response from governments around the world. This will help a lot of businesses to survive a crisis that might have otherwise been a threat to their existence, but it will also call upon F&A teams to produce information that they have never needed in the past. Many of the government assistance programs for businesses and non-profits come with contingencies, and those contingencies require additional reporting.
Business managers will need to provide backup information to demonstrate that they have complied with the provisions of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, for example. Healthcare facilities may be eligible for reimbursement for certain expenses related to COVID-19. Educational institutions can receive grants to cover additional costs incurred because of the coronavirus. All of these programs will require organizations to report on information that has never been part of their standard routine in the past.
Remote F&A professionals are likely to find that their dependency on IT specialists to create and modify reports can be especially burdensome at a time like this. The solution is to empower front-line remote finance workers with powerful, flexible self-service tools.
The Way Forward
For years, Excel has been the tool of choice for finance and accounting professionals. It is easy to use, but it is also remarkably flexible and powerful. For most number-crunchers, Excel is the perfect tool. Why, then, do so many organizations try to rely on the native report writing tools that are built into the software packages they use?
The big challenge is to get data into Excel, keep it up to date, and to honor the existing security of an organization’s financial systems. The reality of Excel typically requires a tedious manual cut-and-paste process to combine information from multiple sources. Not only are reports outdated as soon as they are compiled, but cutting and pasting leaves multiple opportunities for errors to creep in and distort data.
Fortunately, sophisticated tools from insightsoftware make it possible to pull data from multiple disparate systems in real-time, automate report creation in Excel, and distribute the resulting reports easily and securely to a virtual team.
Tools that are purpose built for finance, include built-in ERP smarts that understand your financial data and hierarchies, and integrate with your existing ERP security can have a transformative effect. When F&A professionals can produce their own reports, without relying on the busy IT department or expensive outside consultants, it removes friction from the process. And when you consider the system can be installed in a matter of hours and deliver value in as little as a day with minimal IT impact, then you have an easy way to ensure remote workers can get what they need, when they need it.
Companies around the world are realizing the benefits of collaboration software, video conferencing, and other technology. The coronavirus pandemic has prompted them to deploy tools that they otherwise might never have used. To fully empower their remote teams, however, business leaders should go further into opportunities to create permanent efficiencies in their organizations. Self-service reporting adds significant value and should be on every CFO’s shortlist.
Want to know more about how to support your remote staff at this time? Ensure business continuity during the COVID-19 crisis.