Intelligent view

Of all the many advanced technologies thrust upon businesses by eager vendors, the humble spreadsheet remains one of the most popular. Undoubtedly, this has much to do with its simplicity and usability: people know where they are with a spreadsheet. But Frank Buytendijk, an analyst at research company Gartner, has accused many users of "hiding behind spreadsheets" because they know how to "manipulate the numbers to satisfy the politics of their organisations".

In today’s regulatory environment, such a practice is no longer simply misleading to managers – it is potentially criminal. Buytendijk recommends compliance should be the trigger to an overall improvement in data accessibility and quality.

Most companies use business intelligence (BI) tools to monitor their operational data, provide insights into corners of information and generate reports on specific business functions. But applying these tools to individual problems or blind spots as they arise gives management a piecemeal view of the company’s business data.


Legislation driving CPM adoption

  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act
  • Basel II
  • Data Protection Act 1998
  • International Financial Reporting Standards  


With data stored in silos and reports generated by different systems unique to different departments of the enterprise, the immediacy and precision of governance and auditability demanded by pieces of legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley is not always possible.

For instance, if a corporation’s group CFO is presented with a report from a departmental financial controller and the company’s infrastructure does not allow the CFO to look at the process behind the generation of that report, he may not be able to vouch for its authenticity. While a decade ago this may have been acceptable, Sarbanes-Oxley places the responsibility for maintaining adequate financial controls over the business’ financial reporting squarely on the shoulders of the CEO and CFO.

These kinds of pressures have contributed to the rise of ‘corporate performance management’ (CPM). More of a code of practice than a technology, CPM establishes performance and governance processes that leverage business intelligence’s traditional query, analysis and reporting tools and core financial analytical applications for planning, budgeting and forecasting.

When done well, CPM dissolves the barriers between technological and organisational compartments in the organisation to provide a platform for flexible, fast and all-encompassing self-governance. It gives executives the ability to retrieve any report or item of data from the company’s entire infrastructure that enables sustainable compliance, rather than a quick fix to address a single piece of legislation.


Compliance laws/standards impacting business continuity

  • Query, analysis and reporting tools
  • Analytic applications for planning, budgeting and forecasting
  • Data warehouses ETL (extract, transform, load) tools
  • Data quality tools
  • Online analytical processing software  


In addition to smoother and faster reporting of results, as stipulated by Sarbanes-Oxley and International Financial Reporting Standards (see article in the New Rules section of this Technology for Compliance Handbook), CPM can make a company much more responsive to the direct demands of auditors and regulators. With properly implemented business intelligence technologies, explains John Kopcke, CTO of BI vendor Hyperion, "the CFO of a fairly large international operation can drill down into any specific transaction." Anything less than this complete access to all transactional data makes the regulatory requirement to come up with reports on demand all but impossible.

Immediate compliance requirements may be the principal driver for much investment in business intelligence platforms (and vendors are certainly making the most of the current rush to achieve auditability), but achieving a 360 degree view of operational data also affords strategic benefits. Such close scrutiny of business functions can help eliminate inefficient operating practices.

In all, the rigour instilled by a CPM system forces a more ‘truthful’ financial reporting culture, giving companies the tools to self-govern beyond the demands of current legislation.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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