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AAA exec: Workday financial reporting software improves accuracy

Finance leaders at AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah are all using Workday reporting, but the office's branch managers are slow to adopt the software.

Workday's financial reporting tool offers some powerful functions, including viewing live data, and providing automatic security settings and fast production of reports, said a top finance executive for AAA.

Dustin Cramer, director of financial planning and analysis at AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah, said that in January, the auto club rolled out Workday Composite Reporting to the 15-member finance department.

Cramer said the financial reporting software has reduced by three weeks the time it takes the finance department to compile month-end reports and push them out to executives, such as the CFO.

It's also dramatically reduced the time for reporting to the CEO and the board of directors, he said.

"We complete a lot of these reports within 12 hours of closing the books," Cramer said in an interview.

The finance department produces an array of reports, including profit and loss, budgets versus actual spending, head-count analysis, actual spending versus the quarterly forecasts and main key performance indicators, he said.

Cramer shared some implementation lessons during a session about the financial reporting software at Workday Rising in Las Vegas.

Composite Reporting steers clear of Excel

Composite Reporting is the standard reporting tool for both financial and operational reporting across the Workday platform. The financial reporting software provides automated, multidimensional reports, such as income statements, balance sheets and cash flow.

Composite Reporting replaced an older version of Workday financial-report writing. The previous version still involved a certain use of Microsoft Excel, which is prone to error because it requires manual manipulation and aggregation of data, as well as manual audits to ensure data integrity, said Rajan Misquita, director of Workday on Workday, who helps oversee the vendor's use of its own technologies.

Because we are not data dumping into Excel ... we now have the ability to lower our error rate.
Dustin Cramerdirector of financial planning and analysis, AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah

With Composite Reporting, Cramer said the finance department pushes out reports to executives in PDF form. The production of the reports is a data dump from Workday into a PDF to allow for no manual intervention, he said.

"Because we are not data dumping into Excel and sending reports off to people, we now have the ability to lower our error rate," Cramer said.

Another advantage is that the financial reporting software automatically updates security settings for access of users, such as branch managers, he said. It also includes controls to allow him to determine who can view certain types of data in a report.

With Composite Reporting, he said he can easily and quickly run a query report. The tool gives him the flexibility to combine multiple data sources into a report, he said. The software also allows him to drill down into data, such as supplier information, and understand transactions in real time.

Some users show resistance to the new software

All 15 members of the finance department are using Composite Reporting, but adoption has been a challenge for many of AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah's 254 independent managers, including 100 branch managers, he said.

These managers get access to Composite Reporting to look at their budget versus actual spending on a monthly basis, but it requires them to run the software themselves to get the report, he said.

Brown University is also starting to use Workday Composite Reporting for reports on grants and better management summaries.

Brown is taking a slower approach during implementation than AAA (see the main story), and is still in the middle of transitioning to Composite Reporting, Susan Howitt, the associate vice president for budget and planning at Brown, said during the Workday Rising conference.

Brown went live with Workday HCM in 2012 and with Financial Management in July 2013.

The old Workday version for financial reporting was a "whole new world" for Brown, but it was limiting in the design of rows and columns on financial reports, for example, Howitt said.

However, with Composite Reporting, she can configure rows and columns using multiple data sources. The software also allowed Brown to develop its own design guidelines for the reports. For example, Brown created separate ledger account summaries and hierarchies for management reports versus financial statements.

Another bright spot: A report on endowment income fits on one screen, she said. The report includes the names of different endowments in rows and financial data in columns. The financial data contains a balance, any activities, annual yield, other additions or deductions and expenditures -- all fiscal year to date.

Managers can find restrictions on the endowments to determine how the money can be spent, she said.

"From a management perspective, this has just been unbelievable," she said of using Composite Reporting.

-- Dan Ring

During the first month in January, 35% of managers began using the tool, but the number has slowly declined because of a lack of continuing training and the finance department's decision to still provide reports in Excel, Cramer said. At this point, the tool is not being used in a proper manner by AAA, he said.

Eventually, the finance department will stop sending reports in an Excel file to the managers.

"We are doing work that we don't need to do," he said. "It is a big issue for many."

Also, the tool will eventually be placed on the dashboards of managers, who will also receive new training on how to run the reports.

"It is just a matter of what you want to do with this tool and how do you adopt it," he said.

Composite Reporting was provided as a free upgrade to users of Workday Financial Management and Human Capital Management software, said Betsy Bland, vice president of financial management products at Workday.

Currently, 70% of Workday Financial Management customers use Composite Reporting, Bland said.

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