Automating data collection and improving data quality to improve group reporting

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As a supplier of software and services in the field of corporate performance management, Sigma Conso is daily confronted with the most recurrent challenges in group controlling and consolidation processes. Although new technology enables many new features for the automation of certain tasks, we often see that:

  • Data collection still requires a lot of time and is error-prone,
  • The quality of the data is not optimal,
  • Deadlines are not being respected.

Does this sound familiar to you? A professional consolidation software should endeavor to make the process as smooth and efficient as possible. How can your software application help you to tackle the above-mentioned challenges?

Automating data collection for fewer manual interventions and reduced risk of errors

The collection of data is often a task that requires a lot of time, even before the consolidation process starts. There are different possibilities to gather data. Many groups are still using a manual data entry via online or offline bundles. Besides the fact that this is a manual and thus time-consuming process, it is obvious that this is the most error-prone solution.

A second possibility is to import a flat file (.xls or .csv). Although this choice is less error-prone than the first option, the files are too often manipulated before import into the tool, which jeopardizes data quality. Make sure that your CPM software provides the necessary functionality to adjust to the flat file that is generated by the accounting system. We hereby think of functionalities regarding file structure, conversion tables, … Try to set up ‘smart’ mapping tables (use of wildcards) between the local chart of accounts and the group chart of accounts in order to minimize maintenance.

As a third option, an automatic connection can be built with the current ERP-systems via VPN or LAN. This direct link between different databases is of course the most automated choice that ensures fewer manual interventions and a more reliable process, which will eventually lead to a faster close. Logically, the data can be visualized but not manipulated before import into the database. In the next step, it will become obvious how controls can be set up to ensure the quality of the data.

What about organizations using cloud-based applications? Does my cloud provider enable to set up direct links with systems that are not in their datacenter? To make advantage of the same benefits regarding automation, the use of an OData connection is recommended, for which no VPN or LAN is necessary. The connection between different systems can be done via the web, without having to set up a direct link between the two databases for the import and export of data. The image hereunder shows this process with one of Sigma Conso’s CPM solutions.

Conclusion: automating the process as much as possible is key!

Sigma Conso ERP system

Optimizing data quality using validations and controls

Data quality requires attention for many groups. Improving data quality will lead to a better understanding and the possibility to make a profound analysis on the numbers, which will lead to better decision-making.

How can software help you? The consolidation and reporting application of Sigma conso includes numerous controls and validations, which will help you to improve the quality of the data and which can be adjusted to your specific needs. A distinction must be made between real “errors”, i.e. data that is not correct on accounting level, and “warnings”, data that needs to be checked by the user. Make sure that validations are also customized to the type of reporting (e.g. different for legal consolidation and management reporting).

Depending on your reporting processes and purposes, you should be able to choose whether the data can be validated before all controls and validations are corrected. Therefore, it is important that the software application allows to make a difference between warnings and errors, so that you can decide when a specific action must be undertaken.

A drill-down function to the imported transactions can also be useful in the control phase. Moreover, the validations need to be visible for both the users of the tool and the group controller, and clear guidelines should exist to make sure that this step does not compromise the closing deadlines.

Respecting the deadlines through better communication and streamlined processes

Although an automated data collection and an optimized quality of data are essential prerequisites, we would like to draw attention in this last step to processes that can be implemented to help you meet the deadlines.

Because there are several parties involved in the process, it is crucial to plan proper communication regarding the processes. The processes themselves need to be clearly streamlined, as well as the responsibilities of each party and the deadlines. A clear workflow is of great importance. In most cases, the process is being followed up by the controller: he or she should have a clear overview of the process at any time!

To facilitate this step, certain functionalities should be available within a professional application to make it possible to see at a glance which person needs to do something. Moreover, automatic e-mail notifications can be sent to the people involved for smooth communication and efficient process monitoring.

Data gathering, data quality, deadline compliance… Those remain challenges for many companies. Sigma Conso is a supplier of CPM software and services and has as mission to simplify group reporting and planning processes. The group uses the most recent technology and has implemented a continuous innovation process to automate the tasks as much as possible. This results in a new version of our software every 18 months (latest release on June 1, 2018), always considering an improved user experience and innovative features that meet the current needs of the market.