Nowadays, with our access to cloud accounting packages designed for real-time reporting and ultra- efficiency, it’s easy to forget how it used to be.

When I started out in accounting, my first job was in the insolvency division of one of the Big Four firms.

During this six-year period, it appeared to me that many good businesses failed. While there were numerous reasons for this, a common thread was that the business owners had no idea what was happening in their businesses.

There was no reporting, no measurement, no feedback, no KPIs. In fact, there was nothing except looking at sales and cash (or lack thereof) in the bank.

Any business still operating in the dark like this is asking for trouble…

Preventing crises with real-time reporting

In 1991, I joined the Poole Group to set up a Business Management Division with the goal of improving the reporting and management of our clients.

Over the years, we helped businesses avoid liquidation, bankruptcy, and other crisis situations by implementing real-time reporting to monitor the performance of their businesses.

The approach was simple: we provided reporting to identify under performance or problems within the business; this would allow the business owner to focus energies on addressing these specific
issues.

There was no magic wand but, by providing the reports regularly and promptly, the owners were able to take action quickly, before issues grew to threaten the existence of the business.

Real-time: what does it mean to you?

Different business owners have different needs – and different views of what ‘real-time reporting’ actually means.

Many in the hospitality industry require weekly reports whilst others require daily reporting, to allow them to be kept abreast of project costs, for instance.

In some cases, even monthly reporting can be considered ‘real-time’, as long as the information is provided in a timely manner. To me, this means within the first 3-7 days of the following month. Anything delivered after the first week of the month will already have lost relevance and be considered out of date, as clients are already focused on the current month.
So ‘real-time’ should mean ‘timely’. By that I mean that if you need daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly reports then they need to be prepared and delivered on time.

Another consideration is that different reports may have different ‘real-time’ requirements. For example, one report pack may be prepared for daily/weekly reporting on project costings whilst a second monthly report may serve as a high-level management level report on overall business performance.

4 steps to effective real-time reporting

The biggest single factor in delivering real-time reporting is the availability of the data. To make the data available, there needs to be a consistent approach to processing it – rather than waiting
until the end of the month to enter all the data in one go.

As someone recently said to me, bookkeeping is like mowing the lawn: do it little and often.

By undertaking the bookkeeping functions on a regular basis (i.e. at least twice a week), the information is always relatively up to date. When it comes to preparing the reports, the bulk of the information is then available and ready to be utilised.

Follow these four simple steps to deliver real-time reporting in your accounting system:

  1. In consultation with stakeholders, put in place processes to ensure data is always being processed and is up to date by using cloud accounting packages such as Xero and ReceiptBank;
  2. Adopt a reporting package best suited to your requirements, such as Spotlight reporting or Futrli and then customise the reports to suit your clients needs;
  3. Put in place milestone dates, such as cut-off dates for suppliers and delivery milestones for the reports (e.g. the 5th day of the following month; daily by 10am, etc.); and
  4. Ensure there are resources committed to delivering the reports as agreed: this may be through internal resources or by outsourcing to an external provider.

If you opt to outsource, the white label reporting services provided by Zerobooks can help you deliver effective real-time reporting that tells you what you need to know when you need to know it.

To discuss how Zerobooks can help you deliver real-time reporting to your clients, contact Greg Tuckwell here for more information. Book a demo with Greg.