8 Great Ways to Improve Your Quarter-End Analysis and Reporting

White Paper

All too often, finance departments face the same challenges at the end of every reporting period—whether it’s month-end, quarter-end, or year-end. The department must prepare financial reports and statements such as balance sheets, cash flow statements, income statements, and increasingly, management reports, as well as provide information about key performance indicators. This white paper offers insightful information about such a process in eight steps, while also touching on tools that are available in the market which will help all departments get key information from their data. By following these steps, spreading analysis throughout the company will ultimately make your business more competitive.

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All too often, finance departments face the same challenges at the end of every reporting period—whether it’s month-end, quarter-end, or year-end. The department must prepare financial reports and statements such as balance sheets, cash flow statements, income statements, and increasingly, management reports, as well as provide information about key performance indicators. On top of that, many managers seek specific information about their product line, region, division, or a myriad of data points throughout an organization. The more information required, the longer these tasks become.

Fortunately, a new age of analyzing data has come to the forefront—not necessarily due to new concepts, but because of the availability of powerful tools in today’s market. Analysis can now fall in the hands of each user instead of relying on a technical genius or a financial guru to come up with fancy integration and complex formula management. In today’s marketplace, many tools are available to analyze data on the fly. For example, solutions that contain an OLAP database lend themselves to natural roll-ups by product, division, sales person, or however selected. Data can be sorted or grouped in a manner that makes sense.

Many companies, unfortunately, spend too much time just preparing the reports. To be competitive in the market, companies need to move beyond simply reporting; they need to analyze the data in the reports and adjust their tactics based on the results. Use these tools to move beyond reporting and spend more time on the analysis of your key performance indicators.

This white paper offers insightful information about such a process. It is presented in eight steps and touches on tools available in the market that will help all departments get key information from their data. If you follow these steps, spreading analysis throughout the company will ultimately make your business more competitive.


One of the biggest challenges facing the finance departments is the time it takes to prepare reports and statements. All information must be pristine and error free, which is the nature of financial reporting, and usually slows down the process due to checking and double-checking. There are added pressure points, such as ever-changing compliance requirements, causing a push on the finance department to the point where they cannot add any insight or value beyond simply delivering the results. Given some extra time, many highly trained finance leaders can provide value-added analysis of the data by doing quick analysis and investigation of data points.

When using the most popular reporting tool, Excel, the challenges have been clearly laid out—the lack of security, automation, workflow, control, and consolidation functions. These challenges may seem manageable at first, but as the business grows, or as the market becomes more competitive, in-depth analysis is forced not only onto the finance department but every department. And, unless you’re an Excel wizard, the answers don’t just jump out from the spreadsheets. To be more effective, other tools should be placed in the hands of all users so that anyone can investigate data that stands out. As each person performs their own analysis in Excel, where does the data come from? Is everyone starting from the same page? Is there a single source of the truth? If not, every conclusion will be different.

To overcome this problem, standard reports are delivered through the entire organization. But what happens when the report consumer has a question? Who generally answers these queries? Just when the finance department finishes delivering the reports, it’s time to field the questions. Yet another argument to deliver analysis tools in the hands of the report consumer. It makes sense for the finance department to put the reports together, and have everyone starting from the same place. But, each report consumer has his or her own interests, and hence the analysis of the data in the reports spreads out like a spectrum. With the proper tools, report consumers could look behind the numbers and drill down into the data as he or she desires—making the reports the starting point of an investigative journey, not the end point to a finance task.

Imagine you can dynamically create trend charts. Or perhaps drill down from an expense account right through to the accounts payable transactions in an ERP system. Even better, the marketing director would never need to leave his desk to find out how much money was spent all of last year in print advertising, without bothering the finance department to pull files or copy invoices for analysis by hand. The report becomes a “portal to financial analysis,” but what you do with the information could control your place in the market.

To be more effective, other tools should be placed in the hands of all users so that anyone can investigate data that stands out.

Make reports the starting point of an investigative journey, not the end point to a finance task.

1. Prepare your financial and management reporting for review

First of all, before a report or statement is prepared, some obvious, yet important things need to happen. A consolidation process has to happen and this can often be a complicated process—especially if there are multiple entities, currencies, or legacy systems. There are many systems in most organizations— different ones for Personnel, Operations, Sales and Marketing, Services, and even Finance. Providing a high-level and unified view of the business can often be challenging when data from multiple systems have to be brought together. There are different approaches to consolidating information. Large ERP vendors suggest you consolidate everything in one database. This is the case for SAP or Oracle, for example. This is not a bad approach; all departments, all functions, and all business processes can generally be consolidated into a master database.

The downsides are the cost of managing such a system, the infrastructure required, and the overall cost of licensing and maintenance. Additionally, many of these systems do not specialize in data analysis and reporting. They are very good at managing transactions, but less than best in class when it comes to performance management, which includes Budgeting, Forecasting, Reporting, and Analysis. Cautionary notes include cost, implementation time, and the consolidation of data to a unified system even if there are only a few legacy or sub-systems. Additionally, investigate the reporting systems carefully. Many ERP reporting systems are not best in class, and ultimately, you will end up in “Excel Hell.” Best-in-class reporting systems can connect many databases and ERP systems and don’t necessarily copy all transactional data across, but instead simply report on the transactions at a roll-up level with drillthrough capability to investigate the transaction details. Why build a large data warehouse when you already have the data in many systems. Instead, create only a data mart with the ability to access the data at its source.

The best reporting solutions are also quite user friendly. Many of them feature an Excel-like look and feel, giving users instant familiarity and the comfort level required for a high adoption rate. Another key tip: make sure that reports can be created quickly using the reporting solution. If IT is required, you automatically have a bottleneck. Finally, remember to look for a solution that doesn’t just create reports, but creates a reporting system—one that’s interactive and allows the report consumers to do more than just look at static numbers.

  • Good benefit for value
  • Data warehouse not necessary
  • Strongest reporting and analysis
  • Extends to other Performance Management functions
  • Rapid implementation
  • User friendly
  • IT not required
  • Expensive
  • Single or super database
  • Weakest reporting and analysis
  • Poorest Performance Management
  • Poor benefit for value
  • Data warehouse may be required
  • Complex reporting, good analysis
  • Generally poor extension capability
  • Long implementation
  • Often complex reporting
  • IT required

2. Manage distribution of your reports to key stakeholders

Another issue that often arises is the delivery of reports and statements. Often there are differing report requirements by different entities. Or, perhaps there are security issues that do not permit everyone to see the same reports. The result is that multiple reports are required to deliver the same information to different levels of the organization. Again, with a “reporting system” as opposed to a report, best-in-class solutions handle this automatically. These systems allow you to create a security hierarchy that automatically determines the required information on reports for specific users. Solutions, such as PROPHIX, expedite the report creation process by generating one report, then automatically distributing the reports—and during the distribution process, automatically strips the data that is not permitted based on the recipients access rights.

3. Tools and tips to analyze your reports in a timely fashion

Once a report has been delivered and reviewed, a natural question may be “how did we get that number,” or “how did we compare to last year,” or even, “how does this compare to plan.” These questions are so common that in fact it’s probably part of the report package. However, if there are other questions, they are usually sent back to the report generator, which is generally the finance department. One tool that helps you answer most questions quickly and easily is an OLAP-based reporting tool. It’s basically a giant pivot table that allows you to change around the rows and columns as well as perform multi-level filtering. Filter by any item and then present the data across rows by any other dimension, for example, time. This is hard to visualize, but the end result isn’t. Simply put, you can arrange the data however you like by dragging and dropping any item such as Product in the row, and Time in the column, Revenue in middle and instantly you can see revenue for all products across all times in your database—a giant product revenue table. Add Region as your page filter, and viola, you have revenue for all products across all time by region. This is a very simple example of OLAP’s power. A simple tip is to ensure your reporting and analysis solution has OLAP capability. Another helpful feature is to ensure your tool also has drillthrough functions. This allows your reports to be generated quicker, yet provide the consumer the ability to connect to the source system in order to see the actual entries in that system.

The solution should also provide this level of functionality to the report consumer. This bypasses the need to contact the finance department for interrogation of data. This idea can be taken even further if the solution is right. Some reporting and analysis solutions are so easy to use that you can permit the end user to not only interrogate the data but also generate a snapshot of the values that are being viewed on screen. This is in fact allowing the end user to create his or her own reports when formatting capability is added to the feature list. Don’t go overboard; many very good reporting solutions are complicated to use and resemble a software developer’s tool kit for writing code. The tools might be there to create reports, but no one will know how to use them, nor will they want to learn.

What to look for in a good reporting and analysis solution:

  • OLAP-enabled
  • Drill up, down, through and across capability
  • Report snapshot capability from analysis views
  • Easy-to-use user interface
  • Analysis capability for all users

4. Analyze the impact of your first quarter performance

Analyzing the impact of your first quarter performance depends on how your business is run. However, built-in features that come with good reporting and analysis solutions such as Variance Reports and Trend Reports is a good start. These are common reports, but the real trick is generating these types of reports on the fly. Most reporting and analysis solutions have standard Variance and Trend reports, but when a report consumer decides to investigate behind the initial report numbers, he or she may choose to do a variance at a lower level of detail provided in the standard reports. Having a best-in-class reporting solution allows this type of functionality at any point during the investigation process.

Again, use a system that allows you to start at a report, and make sure you can follow the trail or breadcrumbs that ultimately get you to the details you need. Then have the ability to generate a new report, a trend chart, variance analysis, or simply step back one level. This sort of functionality marries browsing through reports, like using Internet Explorer, with powerful sorting, filtering, charting, and other functions well beyond Excel.

Often, the tools we use limit our imagination on analysis as it would take too long to manually create these types of views with the data that we accumulate. Here are some questions you may ask your vendor that will aid your ability to analyze data quickly:

  • Can we create a trend report on a piece of data?
  • If a number looks odd, what was it last year? How about the year before that? How about the last 5 years?
  • Based on history, what will the future projection be?
  • What about quickly comparing to other products, regions and so on?

The system should have the ability to quickly change any of these dimensions, and also to do a comparison against each other

5. Perform variance analysis against plan and scenarios

The discussion in this section is similar to the above, but in this case, we can also look at versioning, as well as scenario management. When creating forwardlooking projections, a critical component is versioning. In this case, during the planning phase, the finance department can create multiple forecasts or plans based on different assumptions. As the results are reported, one can easily create a variance report to see which assumptions were correct, which in fact reinforces the methodology used to create the scenario associated with the assumption. Taking it one step further, the solution should support re-planning capability at any phase in the reporting and analysis cycle.

6. Prepare multiple re-forecasting scenarios

Forecasting models or the latest term “Predictive Analytics” can be as complicated as the ones used to predict the weather or as simple as the dragging function used in Excel. Basically, you collect data, look for trends, or make assumptions based on the data, and use your assumption or trend to predict a future outcome. These can be confusing, and a whole science exists that covers predictive modeling, predictive analytics, and so on. Many businesses don’t need it. Basically, once you have your actuals and compare it to plan, you may need to make some adjustments to your plan. However, when you decide to adjust your plan, your solution should support the ability to quickly change the values in your plan. Automation may come into play here, as well as a “process management” function that permits you to change data en mass and also allows you to perform procedural calculations or changes to the plan—or even develop multiple scenarios.

Simply stated, the solution should have the ability to make changes to one aspect of your business to see how it affects your overall business, as well as various planning scenarios you may have saved at the planning phase.

7. Distribute re-forecasted plan and finalize approval

Once a new plan has been decided on, the system should support the distribution of the new plan much in the same way reports are distributed; that is, the appropriate parts of the plan should be distributed to the appropriate person, with security intact. Many solutions store the plan centrally, allowing report consumers to compare actuals, a version that is secured and stored in one place. Others may distribute the new plan to all users allowing them to compare their data locally.

8. Track ongoing results using scorecards and dashboards

Another growing trend in the Reporting and Business Intelligence world is the use of dashboards and scorecards. This is no different to what businesses have been doing for many years. The only difference is that the solutions are now within reach of smaller to mid-sized companies, are easier to use, and are more distributable. The basic components are the ability to generate a key performance indicator, the ability to compare or calculate values against that indicator, and finally a visualization component that presents the indicator in a graphical format. Many projects fail when they are focused on the visualization aspect of reporting and analysis. At the end of the day, if the right questions are not asked or the right KPIs are not generated, then it doesn’t matter how visual the metric is. Basic analysis is key to generating value-added investigation. However, having the ability to present the findings with stunning visualization tools is a nice to have, and does make it easier for everyone to communicate.

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