Companies may well be taking on sophisticated information and analysis initiatives in stages, investing first in systems and processes for historically oriented reporting activities and postponing investments to support forward-looking activities such as planning, budgeting, and forecasting, ad hoc decision support, and internal reporting to decision makers.
Survey data on stakeholders’ satisfaction with their access to timely and accurate performance data shows, on one hand, a largely satisfied community of investors, executives, and managers within finance and business units. More than 70 percent of top executives and external users of company performance information are somewhat or very satisfied with their ability to get timely and accurate performance data, say survey respondents (see Figure 2).
Less satisfied, says the survey data, are those who rely on such information — and seek to build on it with additional analysis — to make day-to-day operating and investment decisions. Financial systems end users and the finance and general management teams of business units are consistently less satisfied with their access to high-quality information. Thus, those who are most likely to be called on to work with information to create plans, make decisions, and do other analytical work — rather than reviewing the work of others — are least satisfied with the information at their disposal.
In an effort to understand which pieces of management reporting and analysis are most in need of improvement, we asked finance executives to rate how well their processes and systems equip them to meet a broad array of reporting and analysis objectives. A majority of survey respondents say their processes and systems to allow what-if scenario analysis and to give end users flexible desktop access to additional information needs improvement (see Figure 3). Tools for static reporting on business performance and even on line-item details in budgets and results were rated more favorably.
In a separate question on broader finance system issues — including security and access privileges and performance tracking against plans — analytical, ad hoc analysis capabilities emerged again as a source of dissatisfaction. While a majority of respondents say their systems maintain suitable security and 44 percent give high ratings to their control over end-user access, a solid majority give poor performance ratings to both their what-if analysis capabilities and to their access to non-financial performance information (see Figure 4).
A majority of respondents call for improving the timeliness of information, and more than one-third say broader sources of information (that is, more types of information) is a top area for improvement that would deliver business benefit (see Figure 5). But respondents’ call for easier analysis again comes through loud and clear in the data, as 71 percent say improving the ease of analysis of their performance data would yield the greatest business benefit.
This article is excerpted and adapted from ”Performance Reporting and Analysis: Finance Executives Seek Better Applications to Dig Deeper.” Cartesis and Microsoft funded the research and the publication of our findings; at CFO Research Services, Sam Knox and Celina Rogers conducted the research and wrote the report. You may download a copy of the full report by filling out a brief form.