Digital technologies reshaping the way companies report

Carryn Tennent, Deloitte Finance Transformation Leader – Africa

Carryn Tennent.JPG

Imagine a future where executives no longer rely on binders of static data to inform their decisions, and where reporting – both external and internal –  is intelligent, interactive, and real-time. Deloitte’s Crunch Time 7 – Reporting in a digital world, recently launched in the South African market, shows that this is not far away from being realised as we are seeing signs of a shift in how businesses are reporting.

The potential savings companies can achieve as reporting evolves will be real and sustainable. Companies will be reducing human labour significantly and delivering reports vastly more efficiently. The potential for value creation from improved reporting is even more promising. Finance is supposed to help the business uncover insights and this can’t happen when people are bogged down in spreadsheet farming, reconciling data between systems, or assembling massive binders. There are few leaders that can say that Finance has had a significant and consistent impact on the quality of their decision-making and rapidly changing customer demands that businesses stay ahead of trends in order to capitalise on them. 

Deloitte’s report also looked at how companies are using today’s digital tools to upgrade their reporting processes to get better information distributed faster at a substantially lower cost. The findings show that companies today are applying point solutions to traditional reporting processes in order to help improve specific capabilities. Sales, marketing, and HR, for example, are all deploying new technology to help people use information more effectively and drive better decisions. Their digital workhorses are automation, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

When data becomes democratised, often in the cloud, any stakeholder can get a piece of the action. Finance is no longer the exclusive arbiter of who gets what performance information when. The talent pool in Finance will expand to include business people with finance backgrounds, data scientists, and storytellers—all collectively enhancing Finance’s ability to support the strategy of the company. 

CFOs are beginning to see how things might eventually work. They’ve even begun experimenting with different pieces of the reporting puzzle but no one has put it all together. For example, some are programming chatbots so smart devices and assistants can answer common performance questions. Others are using artificial intelligence (i.e., natural language generation) to write the first draft of narratives about basic financial data—without human intervention. Still other companies are moving to a continuous close and eliminating latency. 

There are five digital technologies impacting and coming together to help reshape how companies can do digital reporting:

  • Robotic process automation (RPA) software which shortens the time companies spend on data manipulation by automating routine tasks.
  • Chatbots. These dedicated virtual assistants enable users to interact directly with data using voice or text queries.
  • Visualisation: These tools allow people to display and play with data dynamically making it easier to understand and interact with.
  • Artificial intelligence which is a collection of technologies that includes natural language tools that can read and write, as well as machine learning.
  • The statistical technique of predictive analytics uses algorithms to execute forward-looking analysis—especially routine financial forecasts. See Crunch Time 6 – Forecasting in a Digital World

These are not pie in the sky ideas, they are all possible and are already beginning to happen. The main challenge is to combine different technologies across the entire end-to-end reporting process to ensure that both the external financial reporting and internal management reporting processes become intelligent, interactive, and real-time.   

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