5 vital features your cloud reporting tool needs to have

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 2.31.54 PMWorkiva sponsored post for Venture Beat

Late nights at the office. Dark circles under the eyes. Anyone who’s lived through it knows, business and compliance reporting can require massive amounts of work and sacrifice. SEC documents alone can be hundreds of pages long and incorporate thousands of data points.

Fortunately, cloud-based reporting solutions can simplify the process with features like centralized data storage, collaboration tools, and more. But with so many SaaS reporting options on the market, how do you sort through them to choose the one that’s right for you?

Not all products are the same. What’s right for one company may not be right for another. Look for a platform you can customize, and make sure it includes the following critical capabilities.

1. Collect, store, and manage disparate data types

When it comes to reporting, you’ll need to draw information from a plethora of different business systems like enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, and others.

These systems store data in neat rows and columns as structured, relational database formats. But according to often cited statistics, up to 80 percent of the information you will need for reporting purposes consists of unstructured, text-based files that are difficult to process.

You want to be able to collect and manage all your information in a central place, so you can reuse it in multiple reports. Look for a cloud reporting platform with tools that allow you to bring in and incorporate data from any source, structured or unstructured, including email, spreadsheets, word processing documents, and presentations.

2. Collaboration and workflow

You’re in New York, the rest of your team is in London, but you are all working on the same project. A single report may require input from a dozen or more people. Those contributors can be in different teams, different departments, and different offices spread across the globe

Real-time collaborative authoring is also essential so that multiple contributors can work on different parts of a particular report at the same time. You’ll get more done in a shorter period of time, and it will save you the hassle of passing items back and forth through email, thumb drives and Dropbox-style sync tools.

Workflow is also key. So deadlines never get missed, your chosen solution should orchestrate the reporting process for you through task assignments, reminders, and notifications.

3. Robust permissions

When working on reports, there’ll be times when you need input from people outside the company, like auditors, who don’t require and should not have access to the full report.

Permissions are a simple way to restrict those areas of a document your contributors and staff members have access to — what they can see, edit, and even comment on. Don’t let your information get into the wrong hands. Information that leaks too early can lead to disastrous results. A platform with robust permissions will give you granular control over your reporting documents.

4. Version tracking and audit controls

Audit trails are important. If you’re in a position where you have to manually compare documents and consolidate everyone’s edits, there is no audit trail. You have no way of knowing who made what change when, unless you take time to manually add comments to a revision.

You’ll need to be able to store and share documents in the cloud with features that allow you to see the complete history of every document — information necessary for compliance purposes.

The ability to link and synchronize data is also a key consideration. To reduce errors and increase efficiency, when you make a change to one set of data, you want to make sure those changes propagate in every instance where that data is used.

5. Easy to deploy and use

People expect their systems at work to be as easy and simple to use as the ones they have at home. Make sure your cloud application provides a consumer-like user experience for your entire team.

A system that is easy to deploy and use means you’ll get off the ground quickly. And when employees can grasp a new technology easily, they are more likely to embrace it.

As part of that, you’ll want to check that your solution has common functions for multiple report types. This will free up your time and allow you to focus on what really matters: the report.

With business regulations today becoming increasingly complex, a cloud reporting system is a no-brainer. The only consideration is choosing the one that’s right for your business.