Has a New Era of Self-Service Reporting Arrived?

8 June 2017

By Gary Simon , Chief Executive of FSN and Leader of the Modern Finance Forum

At first sight, the notion of self-service reporting appears attractive. End users get the information they need on-demand and the finance function is relieved of the tedium of serving up reports month after month, not knowing whether business operations are using the information they are providing or even looking at it.

The issue has risen to the top of the pile because the modern finance function is under pressure like never before.  A recently released survey, “The Future of the Financial Reporting” (you can get your copy here) identifies that over the last 3 years’ average headcount has remained flat for 40% of finance functions and reduced in 25% of cases.  And all of this against the background of relentless change and complexity.  The idea of empowering users to help themselves to the information they want holds obvious appeal for hard-pressed finance professionals looking to offload some of the burden of their work.

But the move to self-service reporting is far more nuanced and profound than simply improving finance function productivity. There are deeper questions around data integrity, the suitableness of self-service tools and finally, whether the organisation as a whole will be better off as a result.

As things stand, the quality of data is a real concern.  For example, the confidential survey identifies that 40% of finance professionals doubt the trustworthiness of their own data, 55% worry that financial controls are not working and 50% concede that not all documents and disclosures have been updated with the latest changes to accounts.  It begs the question, why would the finance function want to do its ‘dirty washing’ in public?

For other organisations, there is the challenge of keeping up with information demands.  47% struggle to add new sources of data to regular reporting and only 40% have managed to formally identify how new sources of data could give them a competitive edge.  Unveiling reporting to the masses risks leaving as many questions unanswered, as answered.  Finance functions that open up their organisation to self-service reporting could find themselves exposed to more work than they had bargained for.

Finally, there is the knotty problem of which tools would work best in the hands of users.  The research finds that most organisations are still strongly wedded to their spreadsheets.  Just 32% of CFOs believe that finance functions will be able to move away from spreadsheet reporting by 2030.  And although spreadsheets have been the backbone of regular reporting in many organisations they do not lend themselves to the ad-hoc reporting demands implied by a self-service model.  The likelihood is that organisations will need to offer a range of reporting tools so that users can choose the tool that suits them the best.

But the other side of the coin is that there are organisations that do not harbour concerns about data quality, who have integration capabilities to quickly bring on new data sources and have introduced more sophisticated reporting and query tools.  For these frontier organisations self-service reporting could be liberating, allowing end users to drive new data-driven insights that open up new vistas of opportunity and growth. For those organisations that are open to experimentation and innovation, self-service reporting may just provide a glimpse into a better future.

 

Click below to download the FSN's Future of Financial Reporting Research 2017 :

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