As discussed in the first installment of this two-part blog series, many business users tend to be happy to let finance people write their performance reports for them. In response, finance department managers tend to talk about narrative reporting best practices. But business leaders want performance reports to be business owned and actionable, produced in a highly participative and collaborative environment and distributed with high frequency and short 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. The real question was, and is: how can the finance department 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 interdepartmental collaboration and trust.
Part 1 of this blog series examined existing document production processes, as well as the day-to-day reality all departmental teams face when writing performance reports. This focus helps us understand not only why organizations may 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 practices and influencing the way common document production problems are solved, finance departments can deliver business value—not just within finance—but across the whole organization.
In this installment, take a look at how some finance departments have already delivered business value within their own business domain. The underlying best practices 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 discussed in the first installment of this series by implementing IBM Cognos Disclosure Management software. They have delivered business value at a number of different levels. The following value matrix demonstrates how Cognos Disclosure Management features enable best practices and how the associated product benefits deliver business value.
|Business owned and actionable
|High participation and collaboration
|High-frequency and short reporting cycles
|Operational value: Reduce the cost, risk and pain of the document production process||Extended Microsoft Office environment||Users and groups||Activity dashboard|
|Audit trail and track changes||Workflow control||Format enforcement|
|Review commentary and file attachments||Translatable UI||Check-in, check-out and caching|
|Tactical value: Produce highly accurate, relevant and fast information||Reference variables||Snapshot version control||IBM Analytics data integration|
|Business rules||Cascaded reporting||Roll-forward reporting|
|Strategic value: Drive performance and enhanced business outcomes through improved alignment and commitment to corporate goals||Cloud deployment process checklists, content glossaries and online instructions and custom group reporting||Multiuser application environment, scalable and secure, and shared content||Central data connection and query management, tailored output formats and consistent views|
Let’s consider each business value further, in terms of the related best practice.
Business-owned and actionable performance reports
- Operational value: Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word; low-level audit trails; and change tracking, sidebar review commentary and file attachment functionality are already familiar to many users. Onboarding is straightforward; little training is required. Instant familiarity with the user interface not only ensures that content is business owned and actionable, but it also helps reduce the cost, risk and pain of the document production process.
- Tactical value: Using Cognos 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—the report becomes actionable, which helps users produce accurate information quickly.
- Strategic value: Lines of business can deploy their own Cognos Disclosure Management applications on cloud-based platforms. The software is provided and maintained by IBM as a service, and it is business owned. Training is targeted and implementation is quick. 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 on premises—for example, as part of a corporate-wide initiative using existing IT infrastructure.
Further, 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—for example, by business unit, geography, product, project, service and so on. Departmental users can write recommendations and action plans that align with corporate strategies and commit them to company goals—for example, related to resource allocation, profit optimization, and so on.
Material produced in highly participative and collaborative environments
- Operational value: User management, workflow controls and translatable user interfaces within Cognos Disclosure Management help ensure that departmental users don’t tread on each other’s toes but access their parts of the document at the right time in the process. It’s possible to have 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 helps ensure 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, multiuser application, Cognos 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.
High-frequency, short reporting cycles focusing on current, imminent and future outcomes
- Operational value: Using Cognos Disclosure Management, 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 helps reduce cycle times and therefore the cost associated with the process.
- Tactical value: Reports can include data from a wide variety of IBM Analytics solutions and platforms as well as many other data sources, helping increase document scope and potential insight. Once a reporting cycle is completed, the document 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-flavor, built-in online analytical processing (OLAP) and relational query builders; Cognos Business Intelligence connectivity; Object Linking and Embedding database (OLE DB); Open Database Connectivity (ODBC); Excel source files; and so on. These capabilities rationalize 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 still see the same consistent view no matter what the media. This approach promotes alignment and commitment to corporate goals.
Automating and streamlining internal reporting
Finance has always played a key role in improving common, companywide business processes. And now narrative reporting is no exception. Cognos Disclosure Management can help finance departments facilitate the automation and streamlining of internal document production cycles across the entire organization. The platform helps finance departments break down dysfunctional game playing within a department and unnecessary stereotyping and demarcation lines among departments. It can be deployed on premises or on cloud-based platforms. 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, including human resources (HR), IT, facilities management, product management, and so on.
Once line-of-business users see how easy it is to use Cognos Disclosure Management in their own narrative reporting environments, they can feel a lot more comfortable writing their own performance reports and commentaries for the finance department. They may 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 practices. Institutionalizing best practices in this manner should help finance departments promote, or rebuild, interdepartmental trust for the greater good.