Management packs: New tools and techniques

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After more than 60 years of office computing, getting fast and accurate management reports is a still a struggle for many senior managers and their accountants.

Is it really that hard to extract a summary P&L for the month, compare it against the budgeted figures and summarise the year-to-date trends? And wasn’t accounting software supposed to do all this stuff?

While many executives assume all their management data comes directly from their accounting systems with little intervention, AccountingWEB member tom123 confirmed that the reality still falls short of this ideal in many businesses.

This article is the second in a continuing series looking at the monthly management reporting pack and whether the techniques recommended six years ago still apply today. New tools and possibilities have emerged since then. Drawing on comments from AccountingWEB members, finance managers and software developers, we will explore whether and how accountants are using these tools...

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16th May 2013 09:30

This is a great thought provoker and hopefully teaser for accountants to start delving into online business analytics. I would open the discussion further, coming away for a moment from the technical or operational aspect of automating manual work and delivering information effectively to consider more strategic matters or positive business outcomes.

Let me explain, our parent company OlapCon is a premier partner for IBM and has years of experience with satisfied customers in helping with corporate performance management. So yes as the article covers something like their step 1 “automating” where we can look at efficiency over Excel for example,  provided from the likes of ourselves Smeebi for the SME or at the other scale something like IBM’s Cognos reporting tools for the Enterprise.

Step 2 would be “solutions for strategy implementations” for example balance scorecard or ‘strategy map’ with KPI measures (such as mentioned in the article to easily look at actual vs target and ability to drill down), again something that Smeebi offers and of course IBM Cognos. But where I would also (and sorry for another plug) point a difference with the likes of Smeebi over a ‘widget dashboard’ is that we do work with the COA, P&L and BS structures and our first solution is a specialist finance BI Tool. However unlike a pure reporting only solution (and I won’t mention them by name) we have full ‘enterprise grade BI’ using techniques like OLAP cubes (again Smeebi has this just like Cognos) so we have the technical ability to do multi-dimensional analysis.

This takes us to step 3 which is “streamlining processes”. Typically using an OLAP Cube a powerful method for multidimensional analysis, Cognos allows the analyst to create different user reports, simple drag-n drop usability. Also Ad hoc reporting. Smeebi have built this technology too, but unlike traditional BI we are creating a plug’n’play solutions and looking to integrate with additional data sources together with creating workable tools that don’t take an analyst to handle or a datawarehouse expert to set it up.

In case your wondering yes finance can remain at the centre but rather than just looking at points in time with accounting data values whether they be facts on the historical transactions or the budget or even trend,  you can expand to incorporate other data and sources, such as CRM, EPOS, ERP etc. and what we end up with is an ability to look at a combination of dimensions like product, customer, location, supplier etc. using the same financial measures or KPIs such as profitability.

Step 4 is planning and forecasting and this now opens up to some very interesting moves with predictive analytics too. Lastly I would add a Step 5 to OlapCon’s 4 th, that is "adoption,  being prescriptive and measuring BI performance". Failure of IT projects often comes from lack of use, that’s why OlapCon also offer training, support and maintenance, of course at a price for the larger organisation, but with Smeebi being subscription based it is in our interest to help with this.  In terms of being prescriptive, let’s put it this way, rather than saying ‘you have a hit a tree’ we are working on a concept that describes your likelihood of achieving your goals and some suggested actions that will steer you back on course.

Last thought to share from OlapCon who have demonstrated that as we go up the steps so we increase the competitiveness of the firm, hence taking the argument back full circle that this is about positive business outcomes through making strategies measurable and better informed decisions.

Thanks for you patience if you read all this! Please feel free to engage with me further, happy to discuss or demo Smeebi for smaller firms and from mid-market  to large organisation I can introduce OlapCon / IBM solutions too. [email protected]. I will also be covering some of this in a seminar at Excel next month

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