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Financial data management tool eases compliance pain

Financial data management software vendors claim to reduce compliance costs via workflow and data quality tools. Users say the software helps them save money -- and sleep soundly.

Even after Fifth Third Bancorp automated its financial data management process, it was expensive and time-consuming to support.

So the Cincinnati-based residential and commercial bank began looking for alternatives, according to Bret Furtwengler, vice president of financial systems. The bank wanted to replace its heavily customized data collection and validation platform. The platform integrated data from several systems and validated it for financial reporting processes. But it was prone to breaking, expensive to maintain, and often required late-night support from his small team, Furtwengler said. Employees were burning out.

Consequently, the team was optimistic when an employee learned about UpStream Software's financial data management tool during a Hyperion user conference. The software vendor has since been acquired -- in April -- by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Hyperion Solutions Corp.

The UpStream tool had all the capabilities the team needed for data transportation, integration and validation -- and then some, Furtwengler said. It's allowed the team to create and manage repeatable processes, and enabled impressive audit trails -- a Sarbanes-Oxley compliance requirement, he added.

The "semi-technical" group was also glad to find a tool that it could support without high-priced consultants, Furtwengler said. The financial systems group is made up of "part-technology, part-business" specialists and reports to the chief financial officer -- not to IT, he explained. They were hemorrhaging money to consultants for specialized technical assistance with their first platform, he said.

Fifth Third implemented the UpStream tools about 18 months ago. The software works well with its applications, which include Hyperion's enterprise, planning and financial management tools. After its acquisition, the Upstream tools got a new name to drive home that point: Hyperion System 9 Financial Data Management. But the product name doesn't matter as much as the results, Furtwengler said.

Financial data management software has saved Fifth Third $200,000 in consulting fees over the last 18 months and caused an unexpected 60% reduction in system administrative time, Furtwengler said. The team used to have to babysit the batch data transformation and loading process, but it's now more of a "lights out" process, he said. And, using the new tool, the team was able to develop a new financial process in six weeks -- less than half the time a consultant estimated it would take to develop the process with another tool.

This year, companies such as Fifth Third will spend more than $6 billion on compliance efforts. Automating these expensive and time-consuming processes with technology is a priority for many companies.

"Increasingly, companies are facing tighter financial statement deadlines and rising costs in meeting compliance requirements," IDC research director Kathleen Wilhide said in a statement. "There is a need for greater transparency in financial and compliance processes that makes the delivery of tools to integrate information and ensure data quality critical."

What does financial data management software actually do?

Hyperion System 9 Financial Data Management is very similar to the former UpStream WebLink DM software, with some additional features for managing tax data added in the new release, according to John O'Rourke, senior director of product marketing with Hyperion. The software, released on June 26, manages financial data collection and validation processes. It has workflow management and data quality features to assist with collecting, mapping, moving, validating and reporting on financial data.

Finance offices within an organization can use the tool's Web-based user interface to upload data, or data can be batch loaded, O'Rourke explained. The software automatically checks for data-quality errors, such as missing or duplicate data or the wrong currency format. Then, data can be prepared, mapped and transformed for reporting or loading into another target system. Hyperion's announcement also touted the potential advantages of coupling the new financial data quality management product with its master data management product.

Fifth Third's Furtwengler and other users say they especially like the way an audit trail shows the history of each data point, including transformations and validation all the way back to the data source.

"Every number that is loaded is verifiable back to the source and person who loaded it. This helps ensure we are meeting internal controls and external compliance requirements," said a statement by John Heid, director of finance systems, automation and control solutions at Honeywell International Inc.

Other approaches to financial data management

Others combine data quality applications with a data integration platform to automate their processes, sometimes coupling that with a business process management or workflow tool. Redwood City, Calif.-based data integration vendor Informatica Corp. acquired its data quality tools from Similarity Systems and, as a result, has lots of experience with financial data quality projects, according to Karen Hsu, senior product marketing manager.

With financial data, rather than customer or product data, the data management platform itself doesn't need to be any different, Hsu said. It's just the business rules that change. During implementation, Informatica provides customers with specialists to help customize these kinds of financial business rules, she said, adding that Informatica's tools could be complementary to a workflow tool like Hyperion's.

"Data fragmentation is the biggest contributor to data quality problems," Hsu said. "So [Informatica's] approach would be to address data integration holistically -- across the entire organization."

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