CFO Series: Five Foundational Steps Toward Automated Reporting (5 of 6)





I was recently advising a company that downloaded its AMEX business card data into MS Excel each month, sent it around the organization for coding, and then uploaded it into the general ledger rather than coding the transactions as they occurred throughout the month. Another client I recently advised would take the entire trial balance, export it into MS Excel, and perform “sum-if” functions in excel to create balance sheet and income statement reports for the organization.


These organizations crippled the amount of time it took to create organizational reporting through poor data processes and report generation while increasing the risk of error.


Automating your business’s financial reporting actually starts with some foundational elements before embarking on the final task. Without doing these items, you’re reporting will suffer from “garbage in, garbage out.”


  1. Define the KPIs: Your organization must first the key performance indicators (“KPIs”) that you want to monitor. Getting everyone on board in the organization with these decisions is critical to future execution. Are your KPIs: bookings per day? Gross margin percentage? EBITDA vs. Budget? Day’s sales in AR? Is it billed revenue? Return on advertising spend (ROAS)? Finally, how will those KPI’s be calculated?

  2. Data Governance: Once the KPI’s are determined, you must ensure that the data governance around each the inputs into those metrics is properly controlled. No changes should occur without the input and approval of a Data Champion who understands the intricacies of the data in the organizations systems. For larger organizations, this may take the form of a committee instead of a single Data Champion – but don’t let bureaucracy burden the process.

  3. Data Collection: Once those key inputs are determined, then you must adequately train the individuals responsible for entering the data. For example, you must ensure controls exist to avoid duplicate data entry. These individuals should understand the importance of the data and how it impacts the organization. Ideally, the data is collected once at the “point of original entry.”

  4. Integrated Systems: Businesses should integrate critical organizational systems. For example, health service organization should appropriately integrate its practice management (“PM”) software should be appropriately integrated to the general ledger. This way, total revenue is the same when viewed in the PM and the general ledger. Without this integration, it can lead to significant amounts trying to simply “tie-out” data between systems with zero value add.

  5. Automate Recurring Reports: MS Excel has it’s place in organizational reporting but that should be for ad-hoc analysis not recurring monthly reporting. Once you complete the monthly processes, there shouldn’t be any time spent in the organization to pull data, create data mapping, and then create the reports. That is wasted time for the organization when you can easily automate those reports with various BI tools (NOTE: There is a distinction between MS PowerBI and MS Excel – though they look similar).

There are excellent system integration tools today that are cost effective. General ledger financial statements are easy to create particularly with general ledger systems like Sage Intact and Net Suite that allow for multi-location, multi-entity and multi-dimensional reporting. Finally, business intelligence tools such as Tableau or Microsoft Azure / BI are relatively easy to implement.


Stop burning time and organizational energy compiling data and reconciling data sources. Use your human capital wisely to drive strategic decisions with analysis and insights.


Contact Thurston Advisory & Consulting - jim@thurstonadvisory.com

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