Utility Company Powers Its FP&A with Wdata
Each quarter close, the analysts at one large energy utility were faced with a tough trade-off: Do we give the data the analysis it deserves, or do we meet our deadline?
"And the answer would be, 'Well, we're actually going to have to reduce the quality of our analysis because we don't have the time to invest in waiting for the system to allow us to possibly input the information,'" said one analyst for the company.
That's a scary proposition for any FP&A team, but slow, disconnected systems also raise greater questions around accuracy. The manager of the finance center of excellence explained, "Because we have so many different systems, someone might say, 'I rely on those systems to give me accurate information,' which is I think a reasonable response. But to an auditor, that's a red flag that you're relying on something but you didn't verify it."
When it came time to reconsider how the utility handled analysis, leaders first looked to the utility's experience with Workiva in other areas. According to the controller and assistant treasurer, "We know what our pain points are, and we have faith that the Workiva solutions are going to work as advertised."
The utility company was already seeing success using Workiva for SEC reporting. "We had really good results. In fact, we had such good results that we were looking for other use cases. I think we found awfully great workflow applications that supported the SEC documents, and then, in the last year or so, we came up with more ways to shore up the analysis behind those disclosures," said the controller.
The utility began using Wdata to connect its data, perform analysis, and build trust in the numbers and narrative in reports.
Connecting analysts to data they need, when they need it
The utility company's record-to-report process is like many other organizations. "Our data gets created in our primary ledger, then goes into the business intelligence platform, and then it gets reported from there to users. But the other platform just took too long to make changes," explained the controller.
Time that should've been spent on insight was instead dedicated to technical troubleshooting, trying to write code, and manual data management. "We saw real performance degradation. The quality of the analysis suffered because time was not given to the analyst because they were actually just trying to manage data and information," added the finance manager.
The issues didn't stop there, according to the controller. Before they could create their reports, they would perform analysis based on the data. "Our primary use is monthly and quarterly variance analysis that supports how we look at financial results for the company. And it's just a line-by-line financial statement analysis. Every line has an individual user, and it is happening all at once. Everyone is in there in the same few hour window, and that caused the program to break. The Workiva platform doesn't have those problems," the controller said.
Now, at any given time, there may be 50 people working on reports in Wdesk and 20 working with data in Wdata.
The familiarity of the platform and connectivity between Workiva products also makes everything easier. "You don't have to have special programming language to get comments in. It's just transparent and flexible while still providing the same data security and the same workflow management that you need to be sure you have SEC-ready information," he said.
Plus, the controller added, "This functions just like Excel®, with extra features and better interfaces, which is just really great."
Control without compromise
As controller for a large utility that oversees the energy needs of more than 50 cities, it's no surprise that one of the greatest benefits he found with Workiva is—you guessed it—control.
"The ability to give people the right flexibility and right visibility without losing control of the document is what I think Workiva has put a lot of energy into thinking through," he said.
"We had that [data] in another business intelligence platform, and it just was not flexible. I mean, it took professional developers a lot of time to make changes in that system," said the controller. "I think as an accountant and as the controller, your concern is going to be you need the right governance—but because your team is the one who knows how to do the work, you're also going to need something that doesn't require advanced programming skills."
With Wdata, they found a completely different experience. "It's not cumbersome to make changes, which is great," said the controller. "It's a flexible platform that still allows the right level of control over data, over access, and over rules."
Variance analysis is just the beginning
Based on their success so far managing the monthly and quarterly variance analysis, the utility company is already looking at bringing other FP&A activities into the platform. Finding efficiencies like these is a team effort, said the controller.
"Honestly, we are big fans of Workiva, and increasingly so as we have expanded our use of the platform. We have a group in the company that just says, 'Hey, can we use Workiva for this?'"
So what does the company have on the horizon for Wdata? According to the controller, "We have visions for what to do next and what other analysis we can do in there. We're looking at moving the cash flow in there, and we've got other internal reporting that we can move into the platform, too."
As the utility continues to explore ways to use Wdata, they are excited about what the future of connected data may bring. The controller said, "I think that one other benefit of Workiva is there's an entrepreneurial spirit. I've seen new functionality added because we were testing it, and that is not something that would happen if I was working with another provider. I'm really enjoying the space where we can actually effect change in the program."
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