Apologies to those who like Scottish folk songs.

My bonnie makes hundreds of entries
My bonnie runs lots of reports
My bonnie is ready to jump now.
The company announced a reorg.

Restate, restate, restate the earnings, again, again.
Faster, faster, I need those numbers by 10.

This little ditty always amuses finance people. Maybe they need to get out more. In any case, I’m clearly not the only one who suffers from requests for ?just small changes? to reports. Changes which need to be done yesterday if not sooner. Changes which ignore the rigid structures that seemed to make so much sense just yesterday.

I’m not complaining. Writing reports, financial and otherwise, is a large source of revenue for my firm. But it strikes me over and over again that no matter how hard people labor over setting up their new software their design is often out of date within months. Indeed, the more complicated their coding structure, the faster it dies. When they go live, they?re so proud that ?Just by looking at that number, I know the line of business, region, counter party, and manager?s mother?s maiden name.? Years later, new employees are amazed that those same numbers mean anything. As someone said to me, ?I was confused because I was trying to figure out why our entries are so convoluted. Now I know that I should be confused and I feel better.? At one client, 150 initial cost centers were setup. Within two years, only five were being used and the client was using entirely different ways of getting key information to management.

There are two lessons in this. First, KISS: keep it short and simple.* Whenever you design a new way of numbering anything, it needs to be simple. Sure, expensive systems are very flexible. It’s so tempting to think that if you get the setup just right, you?re reporting will be so much easier. And this is true?until the boss wants something different or the first reorganization. Remember, pythons are flexible too and are very good at strangling you.

Next, whenever you buy software, keep serious money available for reporting tools. Too often people spend a fortune to automate order process but then have a ridiculously hard time determining how much money they?re actually making on their products. Given that things change so rapidly in many businesses, you want tools that allow you to make those ?small adjustments? quickly and easily.

Now back to work before my bonnie calls again.

*Those of you who know me might have expected a different version but I’m trying to be a nicer person this year.


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