directors, their role has historically been viewed as that of recorder, scorekeeper, and information provider to corporate decision makers. By relying on traditional accounting, enterprise resource planning systems, and spreadsheets for legal and management information, they have struggled to support rapidly changing business needs.

That may be changing with the advent of financial decision-support software, and CFOs are set to play a more pivotal role in modern management.

Traditionally, financial employees focused on operational systems -- those that collect large amounts of data and facilitate operational and process efficiencies. The problem is that these operational systems are not optimized for business reporting and analysis. Some of the heralded strengths of ERP -- enterprise resource planning --, or ERP, are precisely the barriers that prevent them it from being effective for decision support.

For example, processing transactions efficiently requires designs and linkages that severely hamper reporting functionality in business applications. In addition, ERP systems are limited in their ability to get and integrate disparate data from other software and systems. Harnessing information for report-compiling across an enterprise usually entails cross-referencing information from among a variety of ERP and accounting software, data bases, spreadsheets, and hardware platforms.

CFOs often inherit these compatibility headaches, frequently having to reenter noncompatible statistical summaries manually.

The most significant reason, though, for the failure of management reporting systems is that vital enterprise data are not deliverable in an efficient and repeatable way to business users' desktops.

"Data should not be controlled by the ERP vendor," says Wayne Eckerson, analyst at the Data Warehouse Institute. "You want to use a data warehouse as a lever to maintain control over your data resources to keep your systems open."

Despite the enormous volume of data captured daily and stockpiled throughout the organization, financial and nonfinancial performance indicators are often inaccessible, trapped in various software packages and hardware platforms that may be scattered around the globe.

Financial managers require an interactive, personalized view of the business by customer, product line, market sector, or geographical boundary, in any currency. Such flexibility is missing from most financial systems.

With integrated, multidimensional data warehouse architecture, a remedy exists for viewing such information as product profitability, branch performance, consolidated financial statements, and budget-versus-actual comparisons. This can be achieved via on-line analytical processing, or OLAP, a category of software that transforms data from a variety of sources into a multidimensional perception of the business. It breaks information into its various dimensions, such as product line, geographical zone, sales channel, market sector, or time period. A user can synthesize any combination of these dimensions to do an in-depth analysis or create an ad hoc report without needing support from other staff or information technology resources.

Though many corporations have data warehouse capabilities, their systems lack financial intelligence. They are unable to recognize differences between account types, perform rule-based journal entries, handle currency conversions, or see key performance indicators. OLAP, with its built-in financial intelligence, takes care of these functions.

For example, CFOs can easily view business performance in local currency terms, or any translated common currency, to see real local growth versus consolidated growth. And analysts, freed from data management tasks, can do more in the way of in-depth analyses.

Integrated decision-support software supplies comprehensive security and rapid creation of corporate financial reports that conform to internal and external standards, though remaining flexible enough for each business unit to dictate a degree of detail and specify reporting formats. This enables each part of an organization to analyze the company from its own perspective.

Financial statements can be produced that comply with corporate standards and rules, though allowing individual departments, subsidiaries, or divisions to use their own reporting preferences. State-of-the-art financial management software offers complete end-user control, reduces the reliance on technology departments, and enables rapid delivery of information to key decision makers. With such tools at their disposal, CFOs can move from the scorekeeper's desk and take their rightful places in the boardroom.

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