Workiva’s TEC 2016 user conference kicked off today, and I have the good fortune to be on site here in San Diego. Today’s main sessions hit on themes of technology power and flexibility—which compliance and audit executives certainly need as they confront the modern regulatory and reporting climate.
Workiva started by announcing a flurry of enhancements to its flagship Wdesk data platform, including new spreadsheet and formula capabilities that will allow better control over company data. Users will be able to build more complex spreadsheets, working with others in real time, using an advanced formula editor. That will lead to stronger data linking, better audit trails, and easier collaboration. (Word that Wdesk will now be able to synch cross-sheet formulas was a particular applause line with the crowd this morning.)
Still, the bigger picture is how Workiva is trying to fit Wdesk into the larger technology and regulatory landscape. So let’s get into it.
Breaking Up ERP
The shift that’s happening is this: modern advances in IT such as cloud computing and mobile devices are making collaboration among finance, compliance, and risk employees much easier to do—if your business software can keep pace. That can be a tall order for large on-premise software vendors with a long history of slowly delivering mega-suites of software, given today’s rapidly changing regulatory world.
John Van Decker, research vice president at Gartner and an opening speaker Wednesday morning, called this the “post-modern ERP world.” Big vendors can’t provide mega-suites of software fast enough to keep pace with cloud specialists, he said, who constantly change and upgrade.
What comes next, he said, will be “loosely coupled ERP solutions” that work in the cloud. Corporate controllers and chief accounting officers will still drift toward applications for financial control process management (FCPM), while operations or risk executives will want IT for strategic corporate performance management (SCPM). And kudos to Van Decker for bringing two more acronyms into the financial compliance vocabulary.
Van Decker’s analysis is spot-on. More and more companies are getting swept into the “highly regulated” category, where your reporting obligations are extensive and can change often. And even if your specific business has dodged that world so far, you still face a high-disclosure environment, where any number of parties (external auditors, investors, senior executives, an inquisitive public) might want to see precise data quickly about the company’s performance. Clunky software applications with poor visibility into where the data comes from are not what you want in that world.
Wdesk Users Speak
Workiva also had a panel of customers talk Wednesday morning about how they use Wdesk to confront all these compliance demands.
One common theme was enhanced productivity. May Hng, for example, talked about her role as head of internal audit for Bel Fuse, a maker of electrical components that went through two mergers in 2014 that doubled the company’s size. Needless to say, Hng’s internal audit team did not double in size along with those moves—so she used Wdesk to simplify her SOX compliance audit work, rather than ask the CFO for a $500,000 budget increase.
Anita Chakravarthy, senior vice president at Wintrust Financial Corp., uses Wdesk to help Wintrust (a bank holding company based in Chicago) manage its Dodd-Frank stress tests. Stress tests are, well, stressful for financial companies, where departments across the entire enterprise need to submit data to show the Federal Reserve how the bank might fare under various economic scenarios.
In Chakravarthy’s case, the challenge was more about data management, as the data went across many different eyes in the bank before the final report went to the Fed. “We provide all the scenario results [to regulators], and you tell how you got from one point to another,” she said. “It all has to come together… That’s very difficult if you don’t have a place to go and review what [business units] have given you.”
That ability to show your homework is only going to get more critical in the future. In corporate accounting, for example, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has pushed through a major overhaul of revenue recognition that will drive companies to use more judgment about when exactly when they can record a transaction on the books. In anti-money laundering, banking regulators have been clear that financial firms cannot “de-risk” away from whole classes of customers, such as legally operating marijuana businesses. In both cases, companies will need to be able to demonstrate why they made the decisions they did.
Version control, tracked changes, and the like—that’s the documentation of your judgment and data accuracy over time, really. The need for it will only grow in the future, and the need for flexible IT to deliver it quickly is already here.