Managing Holistically: A soft System Approach to Tackle Complex Financial Reporting Aspects at Volvo Cars Corporation
Financial reporting became more intricate during the past few years. This is due to the amount of information/data that should be disclosed by organizations. Such disclosure excesses and complexity have caused a problem for the governing bodies’ members and individuals who utilize financial reports including customers. These may find understanding and interpreting the information or the reports and making appropriate calculations as well as other adjustments tricky. Similarly, such complexity implies that customers and organizations need help from outside to prepare as well as to understand the financial reports. This external aid attracts extra costs which must be met by clients and organizations.
Still, this represents just a small portion of several potential problems and challenges that are likely to be encountered during financial reporting (George 2010; Johns & Finley 2011; Merrill Lynch n.d.). Volvo Cars Corporation’s case offers additional examples of challenges and problems. It ought to be noted that this case happened before the acquisition of Zhejiang Geely Group of China by Volvo Cars Corporation (VCC) in 2010 (Wujian & Anguo 2007; Olessen 2012; Huihui 2012). Nevertheless, this paper uses present tense as if the problems presented are present with a step-by-step problem solving process.
For sometimes, VCC has been encountering several challenges in its financial reporting. For instance, a number of clients have shown dissatisfaction with the duration taken by the entire reporting work. Clients feel that financial reporting process of VCC takes unnecessarily more time. Therefore, they think that current reporting fails to add any value to this firm especially in terms of the time spent by each buyer to complete the reporting process. Buyers have also expressed concerns about 3 different reports that the company used within three varying instances. Simply put, the reporting does not have a holistic approach that is aimed at enhancing efficiency in reporting. Users also lack support that they need to make appropriate calculations in the provided reports. Additionally, VCC lacks a specific financial reporting system. It solely depends on spreadsheets that have standardized templates and many users find them incapable of meeting individual reporting demands and needs.
A solution to the problem of VCC is proposed in this paper. The focus is specifically on the purchasing department of VCC especially electrical purchasing. These problems are analyzed using Soft System Methodology. This informs the changes and improvements of the entire reporting process. This will eventually add value to the reporting process of the company.
Justification for Using Soft System Methodology (SSM)
The paper may have used other methodologies in addressing the problem including Business Process Reengineering (BPR). However, SSM approach is chosen for two major reasons.
One, the report processes and structures that are being used in VCC should be understood properly. Reporting templates are easy to find. Therefore, they are not the main focus. Instead, the objective is to inquire how the templates are utilized by various clients as well as how clients use the provided information.
There are several possible scenarios of the way templates are used by the clients. For instance, clients may format numbers after which they perform calculations that fit their report template. Nevertheless, such cases require clients to recalculate numbers as per the exact data that they need. Unfortunately, this creates a room for systematic error. For sometimes, SSM has become a properly established methodology in academics whose emphasis is identifying the demands of the major figures that are involved (Molineux & Haslett 2003; Checkland & Poulter 2006). Therefore, SSM is considered as the most appropriate methodology in this paper since it allows for a systematic determination of the current circumstance at VCC.
Additionally, SSM is seen as the most appropriate tool for solving and analyzing situations that are non-linear (Guastello, 2002) just like the case that this paper is analyzing. Apart from identifying the current process, it will also determine the way the process ought to look like so that it can accommodate all the needs of the clients and the organization.
Second, it is important to identify different IT systems that can suit both the current as well as the future needs of the client and the organization after identify the current report processes and structures of VCC and the look of an ideal system. SSM offers the best approach for addressing the issue properly instead of merely providing a solution. An appropriate strategy for managing risk is taking a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach. The former appears to prevent the potential risk from the beginning while the latter focuses on responding to the risk after it has already occurred. Nevertheless, a proactive approach calls for understanding of the root cause of a problem and every aspect involved instead of just knowing the solution to an immediate problem.
The premise here is that understanding a problem comprehensively makes preventing it in the future possible. As such, SSM embraces a comprehensive approach in devising a solution to the problem (Williams 2000; Gibbons et al. 2012).
According to the researcher, SSM remains the most appropriate model for addressing this problem. However, other models may also be used. Such models include the Business Process Reengineering (BPR) as well as other models whose orientation is software development (such as SCRUM, Agile and XP). Nevertheless, SSM is still the most appropriate option. For instance, although models that are oriented towards software development may be used, establishing credibility may be difficult. Defining the problem from the beginning would also be difficult. Beside, to define a problem, a ‘problem’ is required.
VCC’s Purchasing Department
The purchasing department of VCC mainly buys materials that are used by the production plants in producing Volvo cars. Production plants need different products from different suppliers. This is complex than it appears. For example, everything is not assembled in the production plants. For instance, there are several subcomponents of the seat of a car’s driver that must fulfill various demands and needs of the customer including heating and electrical motors that are necessary for adjustments as well as the memory that enhances the remembrance of different seat adjustment profiles of the driver. However, the final product that is purchased is a single component that is assembled with other parts that the car has.
Although this enhances efficiency in the process of producing a car, it makes the buying process complicated. First, VCC does not have full control over the entire driver’s seat quality especially if the supplier has sub-suppliers. Second, determining whether the appropriate price is being paid for the products that VCC purchases is difficult since the company does not know the exact price that sub-suppliers are paid by the suppliers for sub-components.
There are cases where VCC buys sub components of its assembled products with instructions that require sub-suppliers of suppliers to directly ship products to them. This enables VCC to negotiate and bargain prices and also to determine the sub-components’ quality before they are shipped. Nevertheless, purchasing department engages in not only buying production materials but also buying non-production materials. Non-production materials are the necessities that are not parts of a car but they are important for the production process. They include machinery, buildings and office supplies. These make the entire purchasing process complicated for this department. This description provides just an overview of the exact happenings at the purchasing department of VCC.
SSM Solution to VCC’s Problems
- Rich Picture
The goal of this section is to capture a good picture and feel of a problematic situation that is being investigated. Here is a simple overview of a problematic situation.
The problem entails the communication channel that VCC uses to communicate with Ford Motor Company (Ford or FMC) which is its parent company. VCC is owned by Premier Automotive Group (PAG), a subsidiary of FMC. PAG is the one that at some point owned Land Rover and Jaguar before Tata Motors bought them. To own the brands successfully, Ford has/had to ensure cost-effectiveness in its operations. One way of realizing this is reducing the cost of acquiring materials from suppliers. Consequently, Ford set targets for every brand that it owned. For instance, it set the cost of materials that VCC should cut down such as by a specific percentage on the basis of every car that it sold. Therefore, VCC takes appropriate measures that provide a better overview of the ongoing process of cutting down the cost to the management. The measures also address possible problems. Simply put, for Ford to accomplish this goal, proper communication across the ranks is necessary (PAG to VCC and FMC to PAG). This facilitates the collection of all the required data. Although the finance manager at VCC denies it, the implication is that, opinions from FMC do not leave room for opinions from the company’s subsidiaries.
Secondly, conflict is likely to occur between the Purchasing Departments and Product Development Departments. Such conflicts may involve determining the department that should benefit from the money that is saved by reducing cost in difficult cases or situations. In simple words, a general conflict in determining who should be credited for the savings exists. Perhaps, allowing every department to accomplish its own cost saving targets would be the best option. Nevertheless, this may not be suitable because it shifts the focus from VCC as one entity to multiple departments. The emphasis should be that each department ought to save costs for VCC as an organization rather than for their benefits. Splitting cost between departments leaves a room for a systematic error to occur (Crawford 2004). This is bad for both FMC and VCC.
Thirdly, it is possible for conflict to occur between the purchasers while gathering data (which includes Business Plan) on one hand and financial department while gathering data on the other. Despite the fact that most of the information that both processes use comes from the ‘SI Plus’ system, the involved entities are allowed to collect data from other sources that seem suitable. However, this can cause discrepancies more so, when the business plan is being cross-checked against financial reports. This problem arises due to the complexity of determining where at a given time and how the numbers should be measured since they keep changing over time due to different constraints.
This process also entails a score card which is a management report as well as an IOS/PAG management summary in PowerPoint (PPT) format. Both PPT summary and management report are simple presentations and reports. They convey information from customized reporting sheets that are designed for their recipients. The summary and report are additional tools for reporting which do not provide new information.
Here, the first step is deciding the appropriate intervention steps that should be taken. The taken steps should address the problematic situation’s political and social implications (Checkland & Pouter 2006). In this case, there were no noteworthy political and social implications.
- Making Activity Models
- Root Definition
Addressing these issues requires the employees of the firm’s purchasing department to discuss their root definition. Nevertheless, the discussion ought to focus on the modification of root definition in order to save the spent time. This would ensure that the definition fits the electrical purchasing’s worldview instead of beginning from scratch. To understand SSM method that is being used properly, a group meeting of the purchasing department is necessary.
A fact that ought to be clarified is that one of the most important factors of the system is finance. In fact, reporting cannot cause a reduction in price itself. Therefore, reporting only indicates the taken actions that include price reductions while making the process of tracking progress easier. Below are the details that show the outcome that group discussion should have.
CATWOE is a technique whose focus is the definition of the necessary elements which together form a system of human activity from a specific perspective (Bergvall-Karenborn 2004, p. 55). The identification of these elements and stakeholders assists in the selection of the intervention processes and tools. Some customers (C) refer to leading positions (the management at PAG Brand, sales and purchasing department), actors (A) who include cost estimators, purchasing department’s individuals and buyers and owners (O) who are the directors of the VCC board. Here, Estimation (E) includes buying head count, PAG Brand, FMC policy, exchange rates and raw material.
In this regard, starting with W and T is the best approach. The goal here is to determine the transformation process of PQR to undertake. As such, the idea is to minimize cost of every produced car (P) by reducing the bought car’s parts costs (Q) because this may increase the contribution margin for every car that is produced and eventually assist in making the process cost effective (R).
In regards to the Environment, three E’s exist. The emphasis of E1 is the essence of staying close to the TMC/CE’s created estimation. The focus of E2 is on minimization of the administrative costs. The emphasis of E3 is the essence of tracking GAP to a zero estimate. For instance, VCC is measured by the costs that it lowers against the costs that Ford may have spent in acquiring parts without cutting the costs further. Nevertheless, the measure remains simplistic and blunt. Measuring GAP would be a better option than ensuring that it is consistent or slowly reducing. There is a possibility of this ensuring long term and better profitability.
Being part of the transformation process, ‘sales’ should not be a customers’ aspect. Instead, they should be replaced with Product Planning (PD) and management of Research and Development (R&D). As such, the outcome was a new list of customers that comprised of: PAG Brand buying, Product Planning, management of research and development as well as purchasing management.
While dealing with actors (A), a narrower PQR’s definition should be adopted. This is a definition that focuses on demonstrating the saving progress that is distant from a broader focus of demonstrating cost reductions. As such, the report ought to depict savings of every car that is produced. Additionally, this ought to be included in the details of the saving progress of acquiring materials.
The current process and structure of reporting allows different techniques to be used by different people while reporting. This wastes time. Actually, it takes time against the goal that customers wish to accomplish with reporting. The objective of the customers is to achieve cost saving targets and to enhance profitability. An answer to this problem that arises from the adoption of different receivers is using a common system. A common system would prevent unnecessary confusion and time wastage. Hence, profitable growth would be achieved. This is an ‘R’ aspect in PQR.
PQR transformation refers to what this case will use. It is suitable for a non-linear case like this (Lee & Blaabjerg 2005).
This is a problem’s context. In the past cases, the whole organization (VCC) has been viewed at as a problem’s context. Nevertheless, such a general consideration has a problem because it can veil problems of smaller departments of the organization. Additionally, this broad definition implies that departments face similar problems. It also assumes that similar solutions can apply to these problems. Nevertheless, every department faces unique problems depending on what it focuses on. Thus, finance or human resource department among others have their own problems. Therefore, the answer is narrowing down the worldview. The idea here is to have a narrowed down worldview from VCC or the Car industry to the electrical purchasing department.
Directors at VCC’s Board are the initial owners. Although this might not apply in all purchasing cases of this company, electrical purchasing ought to be under the Board of Directors at PAG Brand.
This case has several elements that have a relationship with the environment. For instance, the Development and Design (D&D) charge has always had a different account. To most buyers, this is annoying and cumbersome. Rather than having a separate account for D&D charge, the organization should place it in article price so that it can impact on the productivity goals of article price.
Team Value Management (TVM) Cost Estimators (CE), Production Development (PD) and Total Cost Management (TCM) also ought to be discussed. CE entails the estimation of the costs of the articles material, the focus of TCM is on the improvement of the articles manufacturing process. TCM and CE makes TVM which operates alongside the other aspects that include sourcing the emerging markets in order to achieve the goals of having a specific production target that is placed at the emerging markets while maintaining reduced production costs. TVM remains the best choice when compared to TCM because the latter is an element of TVM that operates with the calculation of numbers in different ways of reporting them.
Three E’s are another factor. There are several issues that ought to be addressed such as the issue of whether the provided numbers in financial reporting can be used in a business plan going by their reliability. However, this should not be the exact case since the provided numbers are personalized to meet current needs. Additionally, financial reporting uses spreadsheets. As such, it is highly possible that typing a wrong formula can occur. Human errors may also be committed because error checking does not occur in most cases. This affects historical outcomes as well. Since these numbers are utilized for business planning purposes, historical consistency of these numbers is crucial in order to make results comparable with time and enhance economic forecasting. An economical and solid forecasting can be done only when variation in different parameters that result from the variation in the environmental constraints has been sorted out.
More support is needed from the organizational reporting system when it comes to personalizing base data in order to suit varying reporting needs and reducing or removing the manual work which makes interfering with figures possible. Currently, SI+ system is used by buyers to manage various materials purchased and articles. This system stores voluminous information. Nevertheless, the system is not connected to reporting spreadsheets and the necessary information’s transactions. A major disadvantage of this system is lack of the capability to produce reports without support from the other sources of data. As such, avoiding the use of administrative work in verifying outcomes, which implies taking away the time of buyers in major tasks of negotiating and communicating with suppliers is important.
Leadership and Management in Financial Reporting
The discussed VCC case is just an example of many challenges and problems that organizational managements and organizations have encountered in their financial reporting. Among the common problems encountered include:
Financial reports’ complexity
The contemporary ethical business demands require businesses to disclose voluminous information. As such, modern financial reports are larger and complex. This excessiveness and complexity causes a problem to governing bodies and individuals who use financial reports such as customers and managers. These encounter difficulties in understanding and interpreting information in these reports. For instance, complexity of these reports has necessitated seeking external assistance in preparing, understanding and interpreting financial reports. This implies additional cost (Herz 2013; Merrill Lynch, n.d.).
The major essence of financial reports is to provide an account of how funds have been used. This helps in the prevention of fraud as well as increasing profits for an organization. To realize accountability obligations, financial reports have to be straightforward and clear. Therefore, they should be simplified to make them practical. As such, financial statements ought to have less exposes in their notes.
Disclosures of underlying profits
Commercial entities like VCC include comments on underlying amounts of profits in their yearly financial reports. This is different from the profit that is usually included in financial declarations. This is because the standards of financial reports do not define it and it does not include implications of changes in accounting value in the financial instruments and one-off transactions (Sinnewe & Harrison 2012).
Bushman et al. (2004) note that in reacting to the intricacy of the contemporary financial reports, modern commercial entities disclose such information. The feeling of these entities is that the standard of modern financial reports requires them to recognize fair movement of value and this is complicating financial reports. As such, they opt to ignore the impact of this movement.
Equally, restructurings, impairments and one-off costs are as a result of economic downturn. Therefore, the belief of commercial entities is that removing these movements and costs enhances their financial reporting. Nevertheless, there are dangers of disclosing the underlying profits (Bushman et al. 2004; Sinnewe & Harrison 2012). They include:
- No guidance is provided for the vital proceeds or how the earnings are arrived at by the entities. This leaves a room for inconsistencies.
- There is a tendency for underlying profits to have noteworthy prominence. Therefore, this can eclipse the financial information provided from the standards of financial reports that the governing bodies outline.
- Finally, there is no a clear mark for underlying profits as the supplementary information that is beyond what the standards of financial reporting requires.
Setters of standards internationally are currently reconsidering the best proceeds of financial proclamations. Nevertheless, whether this will work in providing information that gives better financial performance which necessitates the disclosure of underlying revenue (by completely eliminating or reducing that need) remains unclear (Sinnewe & Harrison 2012).
Service performance reporting
Service performance reporting or SPR is now part of most modern financial reports. SPRs are considered as a vital part of the accountability documents more so within the public sector. This is viewed at as the efforts that enhance the realization of efficiency and effectiveness and further increase of money value. As such, SPRs ought to work with the financial declarations in transmitting coherent and consistent portrait of the performance of every unit (Coy & Dixon 2004).
Income taxes accounting
Among the aspects that have had a significant impact on the commercial entities that possess buildings and other permanent assets for which they pay tax is tax subtractions’ elimination for downgrades on their permanent assets. Consequently, there is an increase in tax expense and deterred tax that is recognized in the financial statements of these entities. According to Graham et al (2010), many people with those who come up with financial statements included have criticized standards of financial exposure that require the recognition of liabilities for large deferred tax. According to these critics, increasing liability for deferred tax is not a representation of the economic reality that underlies tax deductions’ removal for buildings’ depreciation (Graham et al. 2004, p. 17). Nevertheless, unlike with other standards of financial reporting that entail other responsibilities and assets, the requirements of these standards on the proceeds tax are not inclusive of the discount of the balances of deferred taxation. This absence of aptitude for discount is what is at the center of the issue (Ayer et al. 2009).
Modern demands for variation in standards of financial exposure
Modern demands for variation in standards of financial exposure have influenced financial reporting in all aspects including presentation, recognition, disclosure and measurement. Although the essence of aligning the standards of financial reporting for profit entities has motivated these changes or variations, there are a number of the proposed changes that has affected the other units unintentionally (George 2010). Herz (2013) notes that these proposals, more so those affecting presentation, measurement and recognition have not emerged from the interest of providing quality financial information to the users of financial statement (p. 21).
Leadership and Management of Financial Reporting Process
Financial management entails financial reporting. The former entails collection of data, production of financial reports as well as solving short-term issues of finance. According to Bell & Schaffer (2005) however, financial leadership is not the same as financial management since it entails guiding the organization so that it can achieve sustainability. Nevertheless, both are necessary and important aspect of modern financial reports.
Financial reports are not stand alone entities. They provide a summary of the minor financial things that the organization has done over time such as bi-annually, annually or others. Leadership and management may not participate directly in the preparation of these reports. Nevertheless, they are held responsible for the development and maintenance of business models that produce exceptional mission effect and sustained health of an organization financially (Foster & Fine 2007, p. 46). Nevertheless, their activities can make efficient and effective preparation of financial reports hard or easy.
First, the departmental or organizational leadership and management should know the possible challenges whether environmental or conceptual that organizations face in financial reporting (Mail et al. 2006). There are eight principles discussed by Barr and Bell (2006) that financial leadership ought to use as a guide. However, this paper focuses on risk management and financial reporting only. The former is based on financial reporting premise and it is an important aspect in risk management.
Organizational administration and leadership should focus on several areas in regards to financial reporting. The management serves as a link between the board and the workforce. The management and directors ought to ensure that financial reports are designed in a thoughtful manner. The focus of the board is on long-term and short-term planning while that of the manager and leader should be on ensuring that these plans bear fruits that include effective resources’ utilization and prevention of misuse. As such, it is important to remember that members of the board are not the organizational accountants. Therefore, financial reports ought to focus on the interpretation and analysis instead of numbers. The reports ought to communicate certain information about the structure, complexity and size of the program in a manner that the board knows and in relation to its role (Bell & Schaffer 2005).
Nevertheless, for the board’s needs to be satisfied properly, it is important to understand the way financial information is used in making decisions. The content and format of the financial reports ought to be dependent on the purpose for which the reports are needed. Boards use the information of financial reports for four different purposes.
The first purpose is compliance with the set financial standards and this is related to the legal fiduciary responsibility of the board which entails knowing the amount that the organization expended and received (Barr & Bell 2006, p.13). As such, audits and financial reports are common reports. The second purpose is planning. This enables the board to project the future changes and needs and also to develop guidelines for organizational budget. Financial report should enhance the understanding of the entire picture that includes the history of the organization, financial and external environment drivers. It should also enhance taking of actions and evaluation of their effectiveness.
Third, financial reports can be used by the board while taking action in reacting to sudden changes, implementing a strategy or responding to opportunities. In such cases, financial reports ought to offer background information on scenarios and situations on the basis of possible actions that can serve as alternatives. As such, the format of a financial report ought to ask about different actions or decisions that the board should make. Therefore, the report should offer right and appropriate amount of analysis and information that fits the format. Finally, the report ought to offer different information so that it can facilitate evaluation of the uses of financial resources by the board. Comparisons are important in measuring progress towards objectives and goals, assessing financial aspects of the programs and considering financial strategies.
Being an aspect of risk management, financial reporting discussion emphasizes on the importance of leadership to assess purposes and risks of the organization holistically as well as deciding the role to be played by financial reporting in any scenario. This entails enterprise risk management or ERM which is the process of evaluating the risks being faced by the organization with concrete, enterprise-wide view as well as deciding the best risk management approach to take (Foster & Fine 2007, p. 47). As such, ERM considers the risks that are currently evident while anticipating the ones that are likely to emerge later while implementing operational and strategic plans.
Ultimately, for leadership to be effective it must know that financial reporting poses challenges and then take proactive actions that prevent potential problems from affecting the operations and activities of the organization.
SSM has not been proven whether it works in solving the problem of VCC or not in this study. As such, the assignment can be seen as a trial field that illustrates SSM application step-by-step in solving a difficult non-linear problem. Justification for how SSM is used stands in this case. Nevertheless, SSM benefits in handling difficult issues in financial reporting are not realized automatically. It depends on the level of seriousness of the leadership in taking the initiatives as well as whether the leadership adopts the right interventions, tools and crucial attitude while taking these initiatives. Thus, the management and leadership help the organization in achieving efficient and effective solution to the problems of financial reporting.
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