Transforming Accounting — One Spreadsheet at a Time
Modern analytical tools like Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, Qlik, Looker and others are literally transforming the accounting profession — enabling CPAs to use advanced technology solutions to transform their company’s internal operations. These new tools are powerful, easy to use and flexible enough to give individual stakeholders the information they need when they need it. There are several ways these tools are being used to change the CPA profession.
It’s ironic that most organizations have not stopped using spreadsheets as the primary means of communicating financial performance even though most have modernized their backend financial systems. Even in this time of advanced computing and cloud technologies, spreadsheets are still the most common way companies internally report on financial performance. As CPAs, we see this all the time. Everyone complains about using spreadsheets but breaking this dependency has been difficult. They are easy to use, and most systems create reports in comma-separated values (csv) format which is easily ingested by Excel. A report can be created from the general ledger and the output saved in csv. So, what’s the problem?
The biggest issue with spreadsheets is that the data is out of date pretty much as soon as you hit save. Data is flowing in and out of backend systems all the time, but the spreadsheet is a snapshot of something that happened in the past. While that may be good enough, many companies want to base their decisions on current data. Accuracy is also a big problem. Once the spreadsheet is created, the information is then sliced and diced for consumption by different stakeholders. The same spreadsheet is often emailed around and modified to create meaningful views for each department, stakeholder group or individual.
So, what is the solution? How are some companies doing things differently?
Leveraging Analytics Tools
It’s very common for companies to take those old spreadsheets and create interactive, visually appealing web-based representations of them using tools like Power BI. In fact, that’s a great first step; it lets the CPA get familiar with working with interactive web-based tools using the spreadsheets that everyone is comfortable with. However, the underlying issue of stale data is not addressed using this approach.
So, what’s next in this evolution? The next step is to connect directly to your company’s financial system or some sort of data repository that is updated directly from those systems. This data, coupled with interactive analysis tools like Power BI, lets each stakeholder have their own view of fresh data allowing for direct, interactive analysis via the web. What’s even more interesting is that this approach lets business users create their own reports and dashboards. Now they can get exactly what they need when they need it. In short, everyone gets what they need and always see up-to-date, real-time information.
This is a huge step forward; decisions can be made with actual information instead of educated guesses made from stale information. More than ever, financial performance can be understood, shared and acted upon. This is truly transformative and a huge step forward from basic Excel and text-based reports.
Dale Tuttle is a partner and practice leader for Withum Digital. He operates the firm's data analytics and cloud transformation businesses and can be reached at email@example.com.
This article appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.