From the April/May 2010 Issue
Accountants should spend the majority of their time analyzing numbers, not generating and formatting numbers. For you public practice accountants, how much extra value does your client see for your efforts in making a report pretty? Sure, you don’t want it ugly, and the final work product the client sees and pays for is your report, but isn’t it the content that really counts? Once the journal entries are complete, shouldn’t the reporting be virtually automatic? How much profit is wasted getting the final reports out? For those accountants in industry, think about the amount of time spent preparing financials on a monthly basis or on demand that could be much better spent helping consumers of the data understand the issues and taking action!
A fundamental issue for most systems is how to easily get flexible, accurate reporting. Most of us today use Excel as a universal reporting tool, and each version of Microsoft Office provides new features to improve reporting. This year’s version of Office 2010 is no exception. Historically, we have received universal reporting through tools like FRx, F9 and Crystal Report writer. CaseWare tried to automate report writing with CaseView, and CCH’s Engagement used Excel formatting. Both made some progress on easier reporting. However, many of these tools took more advanced skills to use effectively, and many accountants did not take the time to learn to use these products well.
Repetitive reporting from QuickBooks has been fairly static until recently with tools like Adagio FX from Softrak and Intuit’s QuickBooks Financial Statement Designer (FSD) and Statement Writer (ISW), and the integration these products bring to Excel. Write-up pack-ages like Thomson Reuters Write-Up CS or Trial Balance CS or AccountantsWorld’s Accounting Relief have gotten us the closest to having tools that would allow production of financials including income statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements that would be produced with very little intervention from the supporting numbers. We could standardize the formats and get consistent results with minimal manipulation. However, flexibility is still limited.
WHAT IS NEEDED?
The vision for reporting can be pretty simple. However, each of us sees the need through a slightly different set of glasses from a slightly different angle. And that’s what makes it so hard for publishers to create easy-to-use products that are flexible. In my ideal world, a reporting tool would have the following:
- Report formatting with Excel. The idea here is that any
report could be generated automatically with refreshed data, but the fine
touches could be done with a formatting tool that most of us know —
Excel. Several recent report writers are headed down this path including ISW
from Intuit, BizInsight from BizNet Software, and to a lesser degree Crossfire
from Rivet Software and NeoClarus. Reasonably acceptable is to have the formatting
tool act and work like Excel or be supported with wizards. Stonefield Query,
Adagio FX and Xlerant’s BudgetPak are examples of products with these
- Extreme repeatability. A design issue for most reporting
products is the compromise between ease of use, end-user error trapping such
as leaving out a range of accounts, and integration. Generating reports is
time consuming and costly, and it should be fairly automatic. Once reports
are defined for a client, there should be minimal intervention month after
- Distribution mechanism. There has to be a way to secure,
control and distribute reports with minimal intervention to all of the right
recipients. Like it is said in distribution, the “right product, right
place, right time” is needed. Formats included should be flexible: Excel,
PivotTables, PDF, via email, publish to a portal, and delivery to a handheld
in addition to the traditional printed pages.
- Ability to read and transfer data. Native or extended
purchase support for most common formats, including Excel, CSV, ODBC and Intuit
QuickBooks should be available. For more complex practices and businesses,
it is important to have the ability to access data from other formats such
Microsoft SQL and RDL, DB2 and proprietary accounting software databases.
Available either built-in or as an option would be data access similar to
what can be done in Monarch Professional from Datawatch, AuditWatch, Mapper
from eBridge Software, or KnowledgeSync from Vineyardsoft.
- Easy to use. Some learning curve is acceptable, but requiring programming skills is not. The product should be so intuitive that either existing skills, wizards built into the software, or a visual editor will allow for easy manipulation of the report.