Research and survey data can serve as useful benchmarks for assessing your performance. So when I wonder what other financial leaders are concerned about, I turn to a select set of reports to learn from. This week, I reviewed the latest Ernst & Young survey data and got this disheartening feeling when I saw that of 1,000 CFOs at companies with revenues of more than $500 million:

“Only 55 percent of CFOs express confidence in their ability to meet reporting requirements, compared to 84 percent a year”

19 percent is a pretty noticeable drop. With quarters ending and earning announcements well under way, it may be time to reconsider some of the traditional processes that have long been associated with these responsibilities. 

In fact, it doesn’t have to be this way. With today’s arsenal of better technologies at their disposal, modern finance executives struggling to meet reporting requirements and expectations can move away from the old way of doing things, and attack the problem head on. Here are three steps they can take right away:

1.      Streamline consolidation. If compliance regulations were a poker hand, many public companies would be holding half the deck. EY found that effectively half (48 percent) of businesses surveyed must comply with at minimum 10 reporting standards, from IFRS to local GAAP, often exceeding that number.  As a result, these companies employ a constellation of reporting procedures, with nearly one in three (32 percent) using 16 or more reporting systems. Does battling complexity with more complexity equate to the best strategy?  

A better approach is to streamline and simplify consolidation and reporting. But that’s hard to do with traditional approaches. Even companies that have invested heavily in consolidation efforts, including establishing a dedicated consolidation department, still find themselves gathering and sharing crucial data via manual, error-prone tools like email and spreadsheets. A new generation of cloud delivered consolidation and reporting solutions connect directly to financial, operational and transactional systems, and even social and mobile platforms. Unlike old legacy platforms, these new systems import and integrate data from cloud and on-premise management, ERP, CRM and sales systems. Users of all kinds then access a single platform that allows them to automatically see the impact of any adjustments made to key performance indicators (KPIs) such as operating profit, sales by product, sales by region and more. 

2.     Communicate more effectively with board members. Fewer than half (48 percent) of CFOs say their reporting has earned the confidence of the board – a sizable drop from a year ago, when 71 percent felt board members were confident in their reporting. This is understandable, since corporate boards are under increasing pressure to scrutinize the numbers companies report, with 84 percent of EY survey respondents saying audit committees and boards have intensified their focus on reporting in the past three years, with 34 percent noting that attention has increased “significantly.”   As EY notes, the better relationship CFOs have with audit committees, the more confidence their reporting instills.

Building those relationships becomes much easier when board members can quickly investigate costs, revenue and net income in any business configuration and at any level of granularity. And it’s now possible for them to visualize key metrics, review highlights in an intuitive, infographic-style interface, and drill into financial, operational and transactional data to appreciate the impact of changes, trends and adjustments. The result is a vastly more collaborative process that delivers insights and results faster, and that allows board members to be confident in their numbers.

3.     Be ready for changes in recurring revenue reporting. Any business with a subscription or “as a service” business model, which is becoming increasingly popular for many industries beyond software, will eventually find their already complicated reporting framework to become even more convoluted.  That’s because these companies face fundamental changes in the way they recognize recurring revenue and associated expenses. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) have decided to align their respective accounting standards, with the new “harmonized” framework set to go into effect for annual reporting periods starting after Dec. 15, 2017.

The new framework represents a real sea shift for organizations that have added recurring revenue models to more traditional transaction-based models. To tackle that complexity, CFOs should consider platforms that integrate business planning, analytics and reporting into a single environment so all stakeholders can collaborate using one system. Currency conversions and other time-consuming tasks can all be automated, and decision-makers can easily keep track of subscription-based KPIs like annual contract value (ACV), annual recurring revenue (ARR) and total contract value (TCV).

CFOs wishing for more confidence in their reporting environment should take steps to simplify it. That may well be the answer they – and their boards – are looking for.