Advice from AcctTwo's Chief Technology Officer
Part of our customer success methodology is to conduct a project close interview with project stakeholders at the end of every Intacct ERP implementation. Along with capturing a quantitative customer satisfaction score that contributes to our overall Net Promoter Score, we also ask qualitative questions about how the implementation went and whether we provided the necessary leadership, communication, and training to make the project a success. One response I too commonly receive is: "The implementation went really well but there are some reports and dashboards we still want to have built."
Intacct's reporting and dashboard functionality is one of the most powerful features of the product. (To see the power of Intacct's reporting functionality, take a look at this on-demand webinar.) We want customers to take full advantage of these powerful tools, and we'd like for that to be a part of the implementation of Intacct. Why do reports sometimes get pushed past the project go-live date, and what can be done to reverse this trend?
Start with the End in Mind
Think about the perfect end result of your ERP implementation: reports and dashboards that meet compliance requirements and give insight into the business. The goal of a good system implementation is to make sure the data is accurate and accessible, so focus on the reporting requirements at the outset. Often our customers don’t consider their reporting requirements until after go-live, and without proper planning, reporting data may not be captured at an appropriate level of detail, or that data isn’t clean enough to report on in the way you want.
We always ask the customer what reports they want or need and what metrics they'd like to track, but often customers don't know exactly what they want. This might be because they're new to the company – a common situation, and sometimes the very reason that they've decided to move to a new system. Or the customer might be moving to Intacct from a less sophisticated system, like QuickBooks, or a legacy system like Microsoft Dynamics GP that doesn't have the dimensionality of Intacct or requires a complex and cumbersome reporting system that the finance team was unable to take full advantage of. If you've never had access to metrics it's hard to know which ones you want or need.
While you want to plan for your reports as early as possible, be cautious about trying to track too much. With a blue sky system, it's tempting to say yes to everything! If you try to report on too many metrics, then the reports can get unwieldy and the implementation can get mired down in building reports and dashboards to track metrics that might not be necessary for the business. The more detail you leave open for tracking in reports and dashboards, the more complex the implementation can become and the more complex the resulting data entry requirements become.
Good Reports Start with Good Data
If data entry becomes too complex, reports lose their accuracy. To capture and track metrics, you need data, and that data has to come from somewhere. Generally data is captured as input fields within the system, which can make logging transactions cumbersome for users if there are too many fields to track. Even if you try to automate and ensure good data with required fields, controls, workflows, and limiting data entry options, users still need to be trained and trusted to choose the right options. Even if the data is coming from outside systems, or you’re combining operational data with financial data, the more you try to capture the more likely you are to get bad data.
It can add a great deal of effort both for you and the implementation team to source data properly. Reporting, after all, is only as good as the quality of the data. Even though tracking a lot of information might sound like the way to go, it's important to understand whether the data is trustworthy and what impact it can have on the implementation cost and timeline.
What are the Essential Things to Track?
This is the key question, and one that should be considered fully before the implementation begins. What are your business' Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). What does each manager want to see on a dashboard that will tell them, at a glance, how the business or their department is doing? Don't forget that there is a cost (time and accuracy) associated with tracking each piece of data, so start with what is truly important to the leaders of your business.
Your ERP Should Help
Modern sophisticated ERP systems like Intacct can help with the time required to implement the reporting your organization needs and with capturing accurate data. Intacct provides user friendly report wizards that allow finance and operations departments to create new reports as their requirements change without requiring development or IT resources. Intacct also allows you to create dimensional relationships. If you select a vendor, for example, Intacct can auto-populate the right department, or limit the department choices available to the user based on the business logic you create. This shortens the time for the end user to complete tasks and increases reporting accuracy.
Intacct allows for a combination of operational and financial data via statistical accounts. You may decide to invest up front in an automation or web integration and pull data into Intacct automatically using Intacct's powerful APIs. Often the upfront implementation cost of automation can result in ROI based on both time saved rekeying information and reduction in errors. If data is uploaded via an import file, be prepared to put in the time up front to ensure that file is formatted properly and is accurate. Intacct can then present that operational data alongside financial data, make calculations, and provide any necessary dimensional relationships.
The Reporting Graveyard
The last piece of advice I have for you here is to try to limit the number of reports you request, especially in the early stages of implementation and go-live. We often see requirements change or people change jobs, and instead of understanding what reports are available, or modifying the existing reports, new reports are created. The number of reports eventually becomes large enough that it's difficult for users to find what they need. They then create even more reports. Eventually you end up with a graveyard of unmanageable reports in the system and a cleanup project is required, costing precious time and resources. Intacct helps here by providing users with the ability to create a central reports center where users can filter for a list of favorite reports, by module, custom versus standard, as well as reports they built or scheduled.
In summary, the key takeaways I would focus on when it comes to reporting and your ERP system are:
- Start your reporting planning and requirements gathering early, even before starting the implementation.
- Try to keep it simple: what are the KEY Performance Indicators for your business? Don't try to track everything under the sun.
- Make sure your data sources are accurate and manageable.
- Choose an ERP, like Intacct, that provides the controls, configurability, and integration capabilities that will make your reports accurate, valuable, and easy to use.
- Limit the number of reports you create, at least in the beginning, in order to avoid a mess someone will have to clean up later on.
I hope this helps you and your organization as you move to new ERP technology and prepare to gain powerful insight into your business via financial and operational reporting. If we can help in any way, don't hesitate to contact us.