Business graphics – how do accountants stack up?

One of the features of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been the daily news briefing. The presentation of the latest data relating to the situation has been accompanied by a series of slides that use graphs to visualise the data. This is only one example of how charts have become far more prevalent as a means of communicating numerical information. Many standard business accounting packages now include charts and dashboards, and the size of mobile phone screens makes a move away from number-packed reports towards graphical visualisations increasingly necessary.

Looking at the supply side, there is now a wealth of visualisation tools available, many for free. For Excel users, Excel 2016 saw the introduction of several new chart types, while the introduction of the ability to create graphical filters allowed those with basic PivotTable skills to build an interactive dashboard within a spreadsheet. The free Microsoft Power BI desktop application, built around a trio of features first included in Excel, allows for the inclusion of greatly increased interactivity and a vastly more comprehensive set of visualisations. A recent post in the Tech Community covered a range of free and paid for data analytics packages.

With increased public exposure to graphics and with sophisticated tools readily available, there would seem to be a significant opportunity for accountants to play a key role in ensuring the effective use of business graphics. Perhaps, this is most important for ICAEW with its large number of members advising multiple businesses through accountancy practices, as well as those members working directly in all sorts of organisations. If business graphics really can promote timely and correct business decisions then, by promoting innovation and best practice in the field, ICAEW will be helping and supporting a number of business organisations far in excess of its own direct membership. Accordingly, it is really important that the Institute has shown leadership in the area with initiatives such as the ICAEW Chart of the week/month: Certainly, as an organisation renowned for the strength of its commitment to thought leadership, this is an area in which it can play an important part and achieve significant impact. It is also hard to think of an area that is more relevant to the key skills of accountants: the understanding and communication of the messages behind financial data.

Over at the Excel Community, the presentation of financial data is a subject that we cover frequently. There is a recent series on ‘Exploring Charts in Excel’ and many individual posts on a range of Excel presentation topics. Recently, the community has delivered a webinar on the presentation aspects of Power BI together with a follow-up blog post.

It would be very interesting to read your comments on this subject:

  • How well do you think that, as a profession, we use charts and other visualisations to communicate?
  • Which applications or resources have you found to be particularly useful?
  • What training, formal or otherwise, on the use of graphics has influenced the way in which you communicate financial information?
  • Perhaps most importantly, how have organisations reacted to more graphical presentations of their data and has there been a change in expectations in recent months and years?

As usual, any practical examples of how changes in the way that reports have been presented have made a difference, whether positive or negative, would be particularly welcome.

This blog is brought to you by the Excel Community where you can find additional blogs, extended articles and webinar recordings on a variety of Excel related topics. In addition to live training events, Excel Community members have access to a full suite of online training modules from Excel with Business. There is also an online forum where you can ask questions and share ideas with other community members.