Automating the production of your tribal information through a dashboard presentation can help facilitate communication of key information to the tribal council and free up finance employees to conduct more analysis.
At a minimum, the finance function for tribal governments and their enterprises are tasked with providing financial results to tribal council, management, program employees, internal committees, and its membership. They also typically oversee that federal grant or contract funds are spent appropriately. Traditionally, this information is compiled from disjointed Excel spreadsheets and accounting system generated reports, which can be time consuming, lead to numerous version control or data integrity issues, and mostly serve the purpose of presenting historical information.
As tribal council members are appointed to support the future viability of their tribe and its members, they’re tasked with identifying opportunities for economic development. They should evaluate these decisions on the basis of factors including:
- Viability of alternative funding sources
- Sensitivity analysis for future operating results
- Establishment of baseline reserves or a safety net
Financial Dashboard Elements
A dashboard is a visual display or presentation mechanism. It doesn’t refer to a particular technology and isn’t solely a software product.
This data visualization allows users to understand complex data in less time than it takes to read a full report. Unlike PowerPoint, which assists in making presentations, the dashboard itself is the presentation. It can be thought of as containing predefined conclusions relevant to its objective, which relieves the reader from performing their own analysis.
Functionality benefits of dashboards include the capabilities to:
- Consolidate data from other operational systems that presently don’t communicate with each other
- Save money by reducing the need for internal staff to be creating and monitoring costly reports
- Provide fact-based, real time data—limited in quantity and quality only by your customization—that support timely and well-informed decision making
Financial dashboards come in different forms, but typically are compiled within an Excel template as most finance employees are familiar with Excel. Excel can be effective, but Power BI is a low-cost and more efficient way to generate reports. It also provides a more visually appealing platform. Once the design phase of the dashboard is complete, a finance employee can be trained to update the model each reporting period.
In terms of their use, dashboards can be one of three types:
- Operational, for monitoring in real time
- Tactical, for analysis and benchmarking
- Strategic, for tracking achievement of strategic objectives
Ultimately, good dashboards can make their users more effective, but a bad one can have the opposite effect. An effective dashboard can’t simply contain historical or present data, and too much information can distract the users. As you contemplate whether financial dashboards are right for you, it’s important to consider that:
- Data quality is key to the credibility of dashboard performance measures
- Performance measures should reflect organization goals
- Dashboards are only tools and effectiveness depends on how they’re used
The selection process consists of making judgments regarding several potential outcomes based on available quantitative and qualitative data. Collecting and analyzing the data can be a tedious process, and the lack of availability of data in the right form at the right time can result in a delay in a decision or an ill-informed decision.
Tribal councils should include these key metrics as part of a healthy decision-making process:
- Minimum target reserve balance, cushion, or safety net
- Future revenue streams and debt obligations
- Current cash balances
- Economic development opportunities to be evaluated
- Budget to actual results
Advanced analytics and dashboards are helpful tools, but it takes the commitment of the organization’s leadership to help identify key questions, foster collaboration across functions, align incentives, and insist that insights be used. An organizational directive can help improve information quality, facilitate the decision process, and track the right performance measures for those decisions.
Financial dashboards require an upfront investment in time and resources, but once in place are highly valuable and, most importantly, help tribal council be more actively involved in the decision-making process because they have better information to evaluate and make decisions.
We’re Here to Help
To learn more about how your tribe can use financial dashboards, contact your Moss Adams professional.