Insider Business Club: software special – getting the numbers right

Who needs to take responsibility for large companies’ failure to agree on
their numbers internally?

John Smith, associate partner, IBM Global Business Services

It is an organisation-wide responsibility. I don’t think finance, putting it
bluntly, can stand on one side and watch the traffic go by. They have to be an
active participant in addressing this very real and very tangible problem. If
they fail to get involved, how can they stand on the sidelines and then chuck
eggs and rotten fruit at the problem if they disagree with a number that is
provided, for instance, by operations or by sales?

That’s the hub of the problem. Finance has to get engaged in what could
loosely be described as data governance or data management. In most instances,
the CFO delegates it to somebody in his organisation.

Now the challenge with delegation means that they don’t necessarily have
authority, they take the responsibility for the problem in terms of engaging and
managing financial data management. The real issue then comes in terms of their
ability to address the problem. If they are a junior then clearly that is going
to be a challenge for them in a major global institution.

The other point I would bring up in connection with that is that this is not
a project. This is a way of living within the institution. If you treat this as
a project, you are going to be back at this in five years, six years, three
months ­ who knows when it will be time again to address it in a different part
of your business? So there is a persistency question about this as well.

What is the holy grail?

John Tate, IT analyst and consultant

I think the vision is quite clear. Capture information at source, feed it
once through all your transaction processing systems, reconcile as appropriate,
manage period ends etc, etc. Then the aspiration is to have a place you go on
your computer ­ some sort of intranet perhaps ­ where every piece of information
is available to you to cut and slice in any way you want. What you want is
access to all of your information from one place at a push of a button.

The problem, leaving aside all the issues about what information you want, is
what the meaning of it is.

Apart from all of the arguments the board is going to have about KPIs and
getting the information, there is an enormous amount of work to do behind the
scenes refining your business processes, getting your people trained up and of
course putting in the technology to deliver what you require.

So actually these big bang projects where you try and do all of that
concurrently are
almost bound to fail.

You have to get the balance right between the big picture vision and then a
step by step approach to getting there.

And if you take that approach you have a chance of succeeding ­ but it is
going to take some time.

Can there ever be one single version of the truth?

Grace McGill, IT director, ICAS

One of the problems here is accuracy. What does that mean? Are we talking
about the numbers themselves or the interpretation around the numbers? Are we
talking about the understanding of adjustments that may be processed and arising
out of the numbers and making them visible? Are we talking about visibility?
About assumptions and projections? Are we talking about being up-to-date as a
definition of accuracy?

There is a whole range of possible factors that might influence whether one
person regards information as accurate or not accurate. It depends whether you
are talking in a historical context perhaps, or whether you are looking at the
accuracy of information in terms of being a pointer for reliability for the

One thing that is helping is that relationships between finance and IT have
got better. Tools like end user reporting have helped to bring the two groups
Users will need at some point to be able to interpret information and IT has to
get a feel for how users want to interpret information.

All this can be done proactively in providing more opportunities to collect
the right information, to structure the right information and to provide the
right information.

So I think it is improving, but I think inevitably size and structure of the
organisation, pressures on individual departments and business units from a
performance management focus all have an impact on how successful that is and
can be.

Chaired by Damian Wild

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