BlackLine Blog

December 10, 2020

The Secret to Better Visibility: Gaining a Competitive Edge with Reporting & Analytics

Modern Accounting
4 Minute Read

Michael Shultz

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This article originally appeared in FEI Canada. It’s a 6-minute read.

What are the critical components of a leading accounting organization? Accuracy. Efficiency. Visibility.

They’re the hat-trick of the department, the key to closing the books and maintaining corporate integrity. Accuracy is critical to an organization’s reputation and longevity. A focus on efficiency makes sure time and money are used wisely to deliver continued gains in process and people.

These qualities are all important to the financial health of any organization, but visibility might be the most critical. After all, without visibility accounting teams struggle to evaluate accuracy and efficiency.

Case in point, how do we know if the books are accurate if we can’t see the errors? And how can we continually improve efficiency if we lack insight into workload bottlenecks and variances?

While automation has enabled organizations to reduce human error and free accounting and finance teams from rote, mechanical work, it hasn’t yet had the same effect on visibility. Accounting organizations struggle to produce reporting that delivers relevant information without requiring an extraordinary amount of effort compiling it.

Why Is Real-Time Visibility Still So Difficult to Achieve?

Data is critically important. What water is to the human body, data is to the modern organization. If you’re a business competing in an ever-changing global economy, you won’t survive long without it.

Yet the problem today isn’t a lack of data—it’s the deluge. As the amount of information generated grows exponentially from year to year, making sense of it requires increasingly more resources.

Decentralization. Business isn’t just local, it’s global. But while expansion is good for business growth, it’s burdensome for business processes. The close is a complex compilation of checklists and work steps—and that can be difficult to manage even without multiple currencies, disparate systems, and multiple locations.

While shared services is becoming a popular approach for centralizing processes and data, centralizing functions can’t eliminate the difficulties of capturing macro views of the entire business. Processing may be more efficient, but a cohesive story and perspective are still missing. Accounting teams are still stuck closing last month’s numbers rather than fueling the business forward by highlighting real-time trends.

Not enough time. Even if an organization has embraced reporting, how much time does it take to compile meaningful views? How many hours are spent finding, wrangling, aggregating, and perfecting raw data into actionable insight? Too much.

Even with the latest and greatest tools and a team focused on decision-driving insight, reporting still gets pushed down the priority list, as month-end close activities take precedence. Tracking KPIs and metrics may be most important on an accountant’s list of things to do, but it’s often the last thing to get done.

Technology designed for a different decade. Thanks to automation, the close is becoming less painful by the day.

Finance transformation platforms can match millions of transactions automatically, freeing staff from hours of manual work. The same solutions can also automate, streamline, and simplify recurring processes such as variance analysis, journal entries, and close management.

This is a huge win for accountants who’d rather focus on the most technical, high-risk, and value-added areas than trudge through repetitive and error-prone tasks in spreadsheets.

Want Better Visibility? Start Using Better Solutions.

How can accounting organizations improve visibility? By changing our technology. Visibility would be far simpler to manifest if today’s reporting solutions were:

  • Embedded within the finance transformation platform where tasks are performed, so reports can be run synchronously with accounting processes

  • Easy to use, saving time and ensuring ongoing access to information for everyone from accounting teams to the CFO

  • Visual, providing deeper graphical insight in less time and delivering not just data but a story

Better reporting solutions ensure unparalleled visibility into the close. But the benefits don’t end there.

Improved visibility also delivers organization-wide benefits, from improving decision making and motivating managers to reduce fraud and staying ahead of changing compliance regulations.

Real-time visibility helps organizations:
  • Identify and act on key opportunities faster. Business moves at light speed, and organizations must be ready to seize the right opportunities. But the ability to act quickly requires real-time business and financial intelligence—not once a month or once a quarter.

    Real-time business intelligence ensures that organizations can take advantage of marketplace changes, competitor snafus, and other opportunities as they happen.

Increase trust and market value. Organizations that are considered trustworthy have better access to business opportunities and partnerships and, according to research by Trust Across America, “[outperform] the S&P by 1.8 times.” Take it from the Dalai Lama: “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”

  • Detect fraud sooner. Real-time visibility helps accounting organizations identify fraud, drive accountability, and ensure integrity faster.

The Power of Advanced Reporting Solutions

Advanced reporting solutions bring much-needed visibility to the data and processes that influence business complexity. They enable finance and accounting professionals, from accountants to the controller and CFO, to interact with and analyze data where, when, and how they need it, unlocking previously inaccessible business insights.

The right solution delivers so many of the capabilities you’ve come to lean on for manual accounting processes—such as aggregations, pivoting, and data visualizations—but in a faster, more flexible, and more controlled environment. More than just a way to look at data, it enables F&A to spend more time interpreting data and less time extracting and converting it for analysis.

The Future of Finance

A world where the CFO can walk into any meeting and provide real-time—not only up-to-date, but up-to-the-minute—financial intelligence is achievable. Modernizing legacy record-to-report processes is not an option, and any company that avoids transforming its finance function is putting itself at risk.

The best performing finance teams know that success means always adapting, innovating, and improving. This shouldn’t be discouraging. It’s inspiring. Every day can be better than the last.

According to EY, the number one priority most cited by CFOs is “improving data and analytics capabilities to transform forecasting, risk management, and understanding of value drivers.” Which confirms that there’s never been a better time to begin.

Watch this on-demand webinar to learn how your executive team can run reports and track the progress of a decentralized close.

Watch now

About the Author


Michael Shultz