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Financial Reporting Software

In June, we presented “Liars, Outliers and Dubious Data: The Role of Data Analytics in Internal Controls” at MRLUG (the Metropolitan Region Lawson User Group). Click on the link to get a copy of the presentation. For those who want the condensed version, it comes down to remembering the three keys of internal controls: P/T/D. That is, people, transactional systems and data analysis. People – For those of you who work in a Sarbanes world, this is all about proper segregation of duties. The same person shouldn’t have the capability to create a vendor, enter invoices, approve payments and print checks. While this is the obsessive focus of many auditors, it’s often limited by practical realities. Work needs to get done. While segregating duties is valuable, sometimes it feels like auditors want to restrict you to the left side of your keyboard. Which is why it’s important to take a balanced...

I'm generally a big advocate of making your software go as far as possible, even to the extent of using your general ledger as a simple data warehouse. But sometimes, trying to make your packaged software do everything doesn't yield the best result. Here?s an example: A client of mine sells their products through wholesale distributors. These distributors are (hopefully) going to start providing my client with information about their products? final customers. Now that my client's sales are going up, tracking this information is becoming ever more important. Their initial plan was to find an ERP system that would allow them to upload all this information. I advised against it, for a few reasons: 1) They can't control the data they?re going to get. In this case, the distributors are doing them a favor by providing the data. My client only really needs the basics ? customers, quantities, items and (maybe) price....

CFO magazine has a good article titled No Employee Left Behind in its April issue. The article describes how insurance broker Marsh is training its entire firm in the basics of finance. As in everyone. As noted in the article, this isn't uncommon in the financial sector. But Marsh differs in the effort it's putting into it ? using internal resources as opposed to canned content and making financial education mandatory, not optional. Education is clearly an important part of getting people to pay attention to data. I wondered for a moment whether it should be included in my list of 7 Ways to Make Data Work For You. If your people don't understand finance, is there any chance they'll pay attention to your numbers? After some consideration, I'm holding off. Because while formal education is great, I think that successfully getting people to pay attention to financial data is more the...

In my last post, I discussed the problems of old code when it comes to training. Today, I'm going to talk about how old code becomes problematic when it comes to maintenance. In spite of the common use of the term ?software engine,? programs really aren't like engines ? you don't need to add oil or replace sparkplugs. More importantly, engines don't need to change through time. If your truck engine is working now, you'll want it to keep working in the same way for years to come. With software, that's often not the case. What works today may not work as well as your business changes. So you need your software engine to change and adapt. Which brings us to refactoring, or cleaning up, what's already working. Here?s an example: We have a client that uses Lawson?s activity module to bill customers for individual jobs they perform (such as events, professional...

I spend a lot of time with a large variety of software. Some of it is really specialized stuff most people have never heard of, and the complexity required to use it borders on elaborate voodoo rituals. So it's a rare breath of fresh air to discover an app that Just Works™, such as SQL Server Reporting Services. Except when it doesn't. Sometimes, SSRS refuses to do what you want it to do. Thankfully, it does have "under the hood" access for the adventurous software spelunker. And, to be fair, I've only had one cause to descend into its cavernous depths: repeating a header on every page (instead of just the first page). Here's how you do it: At first it seems obvious and simple: go to Tablix Properties and check the box that labeled "Repeat header rows on each page." But when you do that, it has no effect on repeating header...

Full disclosure: This blog post is somewhat self-interested. In it, I argue why you need to invest continuously in reporting and cleanup even when things are good enough. As a consulting firm specializing in report writing, this is perhaps not surprising. But in my defense, I can tell you we take pride in doing no unnecessary work. Read on and draw your own conclusions. This is a story of two clients. Client One is client ?good enough.? Client One has lots and lots of reports. They work with what they have and never really want anything done if there?s no immediate need. Things like report reviews, existing report cleanup, duplicate version elimination, and documentation improvements just don't happen. There?s no spending on reports unless there?s a direct ROI. Client One is generally pretty happy. Until they?re not. Client One quickly moves from happy to unhappy when the boss drills into a report...

I'm all about reducing things to three major points. In fact, the "three" in our name, Red Three, represents this philosophy. Recently, I've been training people in reporting and thinking about what makes a great report. So here, for your reading enjoyment, are the three key things your reports need if they?re going to be good. 1. It ties out Creating a report that prints something out isn't that hard. Getting a printed report you trust is another story. Often at Red Three, we're asked to check out reports. When we ask, ?How do you know the report's right?? ?How can you check?? No one really knows. This is not good. For every report, you should be able to answer the following questions: What screens can you check? If it's a financial statement, does it match with the ledger? If it's an old list of employees with certain statuses, can you confirm the...

One of my clients ran into a problem this week. Their auditors asked them to run a sales journal report. It isn't a report my client uses regularly, but they ran it and gave it to the auditors. They soon discovered two problems: 1) One column wasn't calculating correctly. The report hadn't changed in three years and one of the parameters was never used. 2) Over time, my client had changed how they posted transactions and the report didn't reflect these changes. Fortunately, the error was discovered early and could be corrected. But there are a few lessons we draw from this experience: 1) If you don't use something regularly, you can't trust it. Data changes. Processes change. The reason people use things change. Something that worked years ago, but hasn't be used since, probably won't work now (even if the report was properly designed). 2) It's dangerous to have reports with numbers that don't...

Every time I open an IT magazine, I see article after article about how important it is for information technology professionals to be business focused. To understand the data and process needs of the business so they can build the right technical solutions. To accept that a focus on infrastructure ? servers, networks, PCs, etc.?is not an adequate value proposition in a world that's moving to the cloud. Then I visit clients and prospects, and see large departments of IT people who know little about the business. Moreover, I see business users who expect nothing more. They?re so tired of their network not being reliable or their servers not working that they just want an IT department that can keep the connections going. They don't expect one that actually focuses on the business. I won't generalize from my experience to the state of IT in general. First, I have clients who hire...

I'm a reporting and data guy. So while I often think about other aspects of cloud computing (from cost to ownership to cheating the budget process) my biggest concern is, ?Will I have full access to the data?? To confess, I messed this up for my own company a few years ago when I implemented a cloud software called Autotask. Only after we signed on did we realize we couldn't get the data we wanted. I wasn't happy. In general, what you'll never get is complete and unfettered access to your production data. Meaning that even if you can find a field on a screen, that doesn't mean you can get it on an operational report with live data. There are technical reasons for this, but things will get better with the development of multi-tenant databases. But before you even think about the cloud, you need to understand the difference between live...