In the new reality brought on these unprecedented times, the office water cooler has ceased to be the hub for work discussions with colleagues. Like many others, finance and accounting professionals are turning to collaboration tools, as remote work becomes the norm for millions of people around the world.
The video conferencing business is booming. Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other software solutions are enabling a rush to embrace online meetings. Managers are discovering the latest team collaboration tools like Slack, Asana, and Airtable. In the world of finance and accounting, CFOs are discovering the merits of finance-owned reporting tools.
These real-time reporting tools are ideally suited for remote work. They enable team members to access up-to-the-minute information, share the right information with colleagues, and empower the end-users of that information to drill down into the details and get answers to their questions. Some of these tools even support bidirectional data flow (for example, uploading sales forecasts or budget numbers back to an ERP system).
Here are some tips for making optimal use of real-time reporting tools in a remote work environment.
1. Fully Embrace the Possibilities
Collaboration tools have been growing in popularity, but many businesses have been slow to adopt them because they didn’t necessarily see a pressing problem that needed to be fixed. At a time when remote work has become the norm, however, many companies are quickly seeing the benefits of embracing new technologies.
Those benefits can be substantial. Organizations that have embraced collaboration tools have enjoyed higher productivity and improved communication as a result. Collaboration tools empower teams to communicate efficiently and respond quickly. They have become essential ingredients of the agile organization.
Finance leaders can recognize these kinds of benefits using real-time reporting tools with distribution capabilities. For example, Spreadsheet Server, a product from insightsoftware, includes a feature that enables members of the finance team to distribute financial and operational reports from their ERP, CRM, or other systems to stakeholders throughout the organization.
Like all of insightsoftware’s products, Spreadsheet Server provides real-time information with a self-service toolset that empowers finance end users. With self-service access to the information they need, finance teams can maintain productivity even while functioning remotely. This helps your business keep a clear sense of costs, forecasts, and more no matter where in the world individuals are operating from. Plus, instant access to live data keeps your team agile for responding to rapidly evolving business needs.
2. Don’t Over-Share
One potential risk of collaboration is providing too much information. Today’s businesses generate a lot of data, often from different systems. Great reporting systems bring together all of that data under one roof, making it appear seamless. They link data from ERP, CRM, and other systems in a way that allows users to see a complete view of the organization.
However, too much information can be a problem, too. Effective collaboration tools should be designed with security in mind. That means sharing the right information with the right people and not publishing sensitive information to a wider audience. CFOs should look to reporting tools with integrated security features that build upon their company’s existing systems and security settings.
Effective collaboration tools should also be capable of filtering data efficiently so that team members can make sense of it. Nowhere is this more critical than with reporting. Gaining insight from your data requires that users have the power to slice, dice, and filter that information so that it is meaningful and actionable.
3. Do Away with Static Reporting
Good collaboration requires that everyone be on the same page. When everyone in the organization has access to the latest data in real time, the entire organization can operate from a “single source of truth.” That translates to agility and good decisions at a time when the world is changing rapidly and up-to-date information matters.
Many organizations still work with data from static reports, often pasted into Excel spreadsheets and stored on local hard drives. Savvy teams recognize the drawbacks of that approach. Information that is disjointed and dispersed will inevitably lead to miscommunication and lost opportunities. Numbers can be mis-keyed during manual data entry, skewing results. Data that is stored on local hard drives can easily be lost or stolen, and creates version control issues. Collaborative reporting tools virtually eliminate those risks.
When a team is committed to the “single source of truth” approach, the right data is available to the right people throughout the organization, whenever and wherever they need it.
4. Implement High Value/Low Effort Initiatives
Finance-owned real-time reporting tools offer an opportunity to add high value for virtually any organization very quickly and at a relatively low cost. Finance and accounting leaders are well-positioned to implement reporting systems that enhance collaboration opportunities for remote workers. The process can take hours or days, not weeks or months, and the return on investment is high. Pre-defined templates for common ERP and CRM systems can make the process even faster. Companies that implement real-time reporting tools will experience benefits almost immediately.
5. Make “Self-Service” Your New Mantra
Over the years, finance leaders have often had to rely on their IT department or outside consultants to create or modify reports. Many of the tools commonly used for ERP or CRM reporting require technical expertise and detailed database knowledge. It doesn’t need to be that way.
The new breed of reporting tools allows end-users to design and modify reports and to drill down on information to get the answers they need without resorting to IT specialists. Excel-based tools build real-time links to data from multiple systems into the familiar spreadsheet environment with which finance and accounting professionals throughout the world are most comfortable.
Supporting Your Remote Team from Your Armchair
CFOs should encourage innovation in remote collaboration. Reports can be viewed and discussed together in online meetings, for example. Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other platforms include whiteboards and mark-up functionality that allows a presenter to add highlights or comments as they present information. For teams that are accustomed to static PowerPoint slides, these features can bring focus to the numbers that matter most and can enhance discussions in a way that might not work as well in a conference room setting.
In a virtual organization with a remote workforce, technology is the great enabler. Teams that have access to powerful collaboration tools can be just as effective—if not more so—than those in a traditional office setting. Finance professionals around the world are discovering the benefits of online meetings, but that is only the start. Real-time reporting tools are an untapped opportunity for CFOs who are ready to embrace the next wave of innovation.
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