At the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), we have 188,000 members and 480,000 students in 178 countries comprising our global body for professional accountants. Because of our large user base, it’s no surprise that we have a lot of reporting needs and require our data to be easily transformed into knowledge that drives decisions and actions.
Data overload and technology processes can slow things down, not to mention limited functionality. In 2005, we implemented Oracle E-Business Suite and used a mixture of Oracle, GL Wand reports, and SQL extracts. To our dismay, we found that this combination was slow, inflexible, and didn’t provide us with real results. Moreover, the Oracle 11i solution we were using didn’t offer robust reporting capabilities that met our business needs.
When Reporting is Slow, IT and Finance Teams Suffer
Because of all this clunky technology, we couldn’t easily access high-quality monthly and ad-hoc reporting. This lack of readily available reporting was felt organization-wide, but particularly by our accountancy and IT teams.
In order to build a legible, somewhat intuitive report, these teams had to run a number of extracts, then upload the data into Excel and play with pivots and develop macros. Performing these steps whenever a report was needed made it difficult to identify concrete answers from our data, and our accountants were getting exhausted by having to follow this time-consuming, tedious process every time our budget holders asked a question of our data. Our IT team was also required to help with every report process, as the steps were too complicated for anyone without deep IT experience.
While basic functionality was difficult to attain, customized reports were even more so. Our accountants weren’t able to execute customized reports within a reasonable amount of time, and the IT team was called in to help gather information for requests from our financial and customer service teams. On average, these in-depth report creation requests were taking up to a month to complete. And once they were finally delivered, these reports offered the financial team only limited drill-down functionality.
When Reporting is Lacking, a Change is Needed
Needless to say, we desperately needed accurate, real-time reports that could be done quickly, and those requirements were only increasing as time went on. Our current solutions’ real-time reporting proved insufficient because they only allowed access to a read-only database, which refreshed every 24 hours. This lag time made it difficult to run ad-hoc reports for executive-level inquiries for online transactional reporting. Compounding all these negative elements together made our reporting tools too restrictive.
We wanted to empower the business user and deliver true ease of use, and we wanted to liberate our IT team from having to constantly engage in creating these reports. But most importantly, we wanted to be able to convert our data into knowledge that would help us and our end users make informed decisions based on robust reporting.
Making the Change to Better Reporting Tools
To meet all of these goals, we created a forward-thinking strategy to drastically improve our reporting processes by 2020. As true accountants, we took a systematic approach to finding an alternative solution by performing an audit of a few vendors and evaluating them on categories like security, reliability/integrity, drill-down functionality, and flexibility.
We began using this new solution in December 2014. With no hardware to install and easy integration with our existing enterprise resource planning software, we started using the new solution in a matter of days. Post implementation, the ACCA has experienced 80 percent time-saving when creating reports, and we have reduced reconciliation time from a half a day to approximately half an hour.
With Better Reporting Tools, the Whole Organization Benefits
Our financial and IT teams immediately benefited from this new reporting process. The finance team’s day-to-day processes became a lot less hampered by slow technology. They were able to create custom hierarchies, design custom templates with tables, and allow calculations for certain modules made accessible to everyone. What’s more, the team had three-way drill-down capabilities within the software that allowed complete access to Oracle financial modules without any security issues.
In essence, our finance and IT teams were finally freed from the sluggish solutions they had to tolerate in the past.
With this new solution, separate from Oracle but still integrated, we finally found a way to empower the end user while liberating the IT team and financial teams. The financial team was able to have pertinent information at their grasp and use it how they wanted, and the IT team was able to focus on development testing instead of troubleshooting frustrating reporting problems.
We finally achieved the goal the ACCA wanted all along: to allow end users to interrogate live data however and whenever they pleased, and from that data, make smart decisions that ultimately improve the trajectory of their business.
About Paul Slowey
Paul Slowey is a financial systems accountant with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.