There’s a computer-world phrase for it: Garbage in, garbage out. We’re all familiar with what it means; the quality of information we can get from a piece of software depends on the information it was given in the first place. But it’s a little more than that. It’s about the way data can be interpreted once it’s been uploaded that can yield nuggets of financial gold…
A colleague recently took over financial control of an organisation from someone who’d been running it for years.
The electronic records within the management information system, although apparently accurate, were contained in a convoluted series of spreadsheets, rendering any kind of financial analysis time-consuming and labour-intensive.
And that’s the problem with any ‘legacy’ system. As created, they worked; but over the years it was easier to make slight modifications on a ‘least effort’ basis, rather than start again using the latest available systems. The result is that opportunities can be overlooked, and in a worse-case scenario could mask financial failings with far-reaching long-term consequences.
We examine below three of the major problems with legacy management information systems, and how they can be overcome.
- What rather than why. A list of numbers is, well, a list of numbers. In an outdated management information system, it’ll show you overspending has happened, but won’t tell you why. Take expense management. With an old system, the raw numbers will tell you expense claims are too high. Using cloud based expense management software, you’d be able to interrogate the data and find out why the claims have burst their budget. The spending pattern could highlight a flaw in the company policy about the way certain tasks must be undertaken. Revision of the policy would eliminate the inefficiency and make the company more profitable. Without effective data interrogation, you’d never identify the root cause of the problem.
- Data collation. Are all of your departments or subsidiary companies singing from the same hymn sheet? If there are discrepancies in the reporting methods used, that were tolerated simply because it was the most expedient solution at the time, then time and management effort is being wasted in bringing them into line to facilitate even the most basic analysis. Furthermore, there’s every chance that the legacy system is based on spreadsheets, and that builds in the opportunity to add errors to the data collation, which would render the whole operation pointless. Take the expense example again; assuming that entries are made diligently (and failure to do so takes money from employees’ pockets, which is why it’s in their interests to get it right) the accrued data can be manipulated much more easily than with ‘old fashioned’ spreadsheets. It can also be exported to wherever you need it to go, both internally and externally, and can be interrogated in several ways.
- Changing is an expense we don’t have a budget for. Then it’s time you wrote in an extra line. The cost of using new systems effectively should never be looked at in isolation, because that’s not how it works. Any new system must earn its corn, and there’s every likelihood that your expense management system will probably pay for itself every month. Those savings will come in two ways. Firstly, there’s the simple saving achieved by more effective and non-duplicated claiming; secondly there is the management time saved in processing claims and collating numbers. Add to that, you’ll be able to calculate the savings you’d want to achieve to make the investment in business expense software worthwhile.