Monthly Archives: April 2014

Performance indicators and systems used by Icelandic CFOs

Extract from a paper presented at Manufacturing Accounting Conference, 11-13 June 2014, Copenhagen Denmark by Pall Rikhardsson, Throstur Olaf Sigurjonsson, Audur Arna Arnardottir, School of Business, Reykjavik University

The use of performance measures and performance measurement frameworks has increased significantly in recent years regardless of company type or industry. Performance measures are defined here as measures used to support decision making by managers and thus do not include e.g. externally oriented financial measures. The type and variety of performance measures in use has been researched in various countries and linked to different variables such as the external environment, performance measurement frameworks, and management characteristics. However, this has not been researched to any extent in Icelandic context. This was the focus of a study carried out at year-end 2013 by a team of researchers form the Reykjavik University. We surveyed 82 CFOs in large Icelandic companies and asked them about their use of performance measures in various categories and the characteristic of their performance measurement systems. The companies surveyed covered a wide spectrum in size, ownership structures and industries.

Iceland is a small western society, with good access to top-level managers for data gathering, and with strong educational system on all levels. Iceland was one of the countries that was hit the hardest by the financial crisis in 2008 with the 3 largest banks collapsing, a subsequent intervention by the International Monetary Fund and a host of court cases, bankruptcies and political and regulatory changes in the years following. Iceland is therefore interesting in this context as environmental uncertainty has been relatively high surrounding and following the collapse, which could have impacted on the design of Icelandic companies performance measurement systems.

We asked about the use of in all 59 different performance measurements. These are shown in the list below. We also asked about what information systems were used to collect, process and report the performance measurements.

Customer & Service performance
Market share
Sales volume
Customer satisfaction
Customer retention
Reputation and image
Sales & Marketing performance
Account management
Public relations
Marketing campaigns
Media use
Finance & Accounting performance
Budget variances
Operating profit
Return on investments
Return on assets
Cost development
Contribution margin of products
Contribution margin of customers
Contribution margin of company
Cost of goods sold
Labour cost
Material cost
Indirect costs (overhead)
Manufacturing, Purchasing & Maintenance performance
Production volume
Labour Productivity
Machine productivity
Material usage
Setup efficiency
Supplier performance
Outsourcing partners performance
Product or service quality
Facility maintenance
Operating asset maintenance
R&D and Innovation performance
New product introduction
New product design
Patent generation
Supply Chain, Inventory & Logistics performance
Inventory turnover
Inventory value
Order fulfillment
Warehouse management
Information Technology, e-Business and Social Media performance
IT availability
IT service levels
Social media use
Company web site impact
Human Resources performance
Employees satisfaction
Employee skills
Employee training/education
Employee loyalty/turnover
Compliance, Governance & Legal performance
Regulatory compliance
Governance standards compliance
Risk assessment and management
Internal audit and control
CSR, Sustainability and Health & Safety performance
Occupational safety
Employee health
Climate change
Waste management
Human rights
Code of conducts compliance

The figure below shows the importance attributed by Icelandic CFOs to financial and non-financial performance indicators on a scale from 0 (not important) to 3 (very important). It seems that Icelandic CFOs are well aware of the importance of non-financial indicators although financial indicators are rate as more important.


Among the 82 firms surveyed, the number of total performance measures used ranged from 14 to 59 measures. The average performance measurement system (shown in the figure below) contains about 11 out of 13 financial measures (81%), and 29 out of 46 non-financial measures (63%). The most frequently used non-financial sub-category were Human Resource measures (83%) also with the highest mean importance rating of 2.08. Customer & Service performance measures (77%) with mean importance rating of 1.89, and Compliance and Governance (76%) with mean importance rating of 1.87. All responding companies use a combination of financial and non-financial measures and all seem to use a high number of the measures asked about, with the exception of R&D and innovation where only 31% of the companies indicated those kinds of measures being in use. It thus seems that the average Icelandic performance measurement system uses a relatively large number of different indicators both financial and non-financial.


The most important financial indicators are operating profit, sales revenue, variances, labor costs and company contribution margin. ROI, ROA, material costs, indirect costs, and customer contribution margin are not given as much importance.

We also asked about what information systems mainly support the processing and reporting of performance indicators. The answers from the 82 CFOs are shown below.


It seems that Icelandic CFOs – like their counterparts in other countries – rely heavily on Excel as a tool for processing and reporting performance information measures with almost 90% of the companies using Excel for this purpose. Microsoft BI (which is a combination of SQL, Excel and (sometimes) SharePoint) seems to be most widespread of the BI vendor’s solutions with Wise (an Icelandic BI solution) and Cognos following.

When asked about how performance measures are communicated to managers a rather strange picture emerges as shown below. While self-service and dashboards are relatively widespread there is still much use of the good old paper report and e-mail distribution of reports with almost half of the companies using printed reports and more than 80% sending reports by e-mail to managers.


In summary it seems that the respondents use varied financial and non-financial performance measures extensively. Looking at similar studies from the US and from Europe the impression is that Icelandic companies use performance measurement systems with more variety of performance measures and give more importance to non-financial measures. If this is true then a possible explanation – applying contingency theory – is that the crash of 2008 has prompted managers to develop more comprehensive performance measurement systems wowing never again to be caught unawares like many companies were during that time.

Looking at the information technology used in performance measurement a more schizophrenic picture emerges. Icelandic companies use similar technology as other companies and have relatively more focus on e.g. dashboards end end-user self service than studies from abroad show. But also seem to place much emphasis on printed reports and e-mail distribution of (Excel) reports.

The Data Wars

Talking to a BI manager the other day I saw that there might be a war brewing in many companies – well, maybe not a war but a competition. It’s the competition between various analytical information suppliers.

Centralized IT departments have had a long standing monopoly on implementing and operating the systems necessary for delivering high quality analytical information for decision makers. They still do. However, technological advances in integration technology, data analytics and data visualization is eroding the platform on which this monopoly is based.

IT departments are more often than not internal cost centers charging for their services. When managers need to gather data, clean it, merge it, process it and present it, it will cost them money. The IT department will guarantee that the data is as valid, reliable, accurate and complete as humanly possible. But this comes with a price tag that some managers are unwilling to pay. It also takes time to ensure that the data is of a quality that conforms to the aims and standards of the IT department.

Today, other departments are acquiring the means to process and analyze data as well. Accounting departments, risk analysis departments, internal control departments, logistics departments, and planning departments are all engaged in gathering data, processing it and presenting it for decision makers. These departments have access to databases, can integrate data to some extent and prepare it for presentation and analysis.

These departments are capable of servicing their own managers with ad hoc “good enough” data gathering and analysis at a much lower cost than the IT department will charge them. They are also capable to supply other managers in the organization with analytical services at a lower cost than the IT department. This data and analysis might not based on the data quality processes performed by the IT department, might use departmental tools (read: Excel) and based on the access levels to databases this department has. But to many managers the result might seem “good enough” and give them the information they need.

Is this a problem? Or is it a natural step in the evolution of the “democratization” of data and end-user empowerment? I think it at least merits a thought regarding the future structuring of IT departments and the services they offer. Top heavy IT departments with cost performance requirements, fixed cost markups, and rigorous complex administrative procedures seem out of sync with the development of the analytically savvy end user, user friendly integration and analytical technologies and increased access to data.

Continuous monitoring and auditing: The difference

For some years continuous auditing and monitoring has been the subject of number of articles and white papers mainly from academia, consulting and accounting firms. Deloitte, PwC and KPMG have for example published excellent whitepapers on continuous auditing and monitoring.

However, looking at other sources and reading debates about continuous monitoring technology, there seem to be various definitions of what continuous monitoring and auditing are and how they can be used. Sometimes they are even used interchangeably as if they are the same thing.

Continuous monitoring is a management tool. It is uses information technology to – in real time – review functional or business process performance and effectiveness to ultimately improve decision-making. It is based on governance and risk assessment processes and enables managers to detect deviations from targets, errors and risks sooner than would be possible with manual control procedures. Continuous monitoring can be applied at the transaction level to e.g. monitor data transactions and at a process level to e.g. monitor delivery processes and production processes.

Continuous auditing is a tool for internal auditors mainly and to some extent external auditors to continually gather audit evidence to support auditing objectives and activities. This means collecting data on processes, transactions and accounts to establish compliance with regulation, procedures and policies. The aim is ultimately to minimize the cost of control and compliance as well as increase the effectiveness of audit activities compared to audit objectives. There are several different types of CA technologies such as embedded audit modules, ghosting and monitoring control layer that also can be utilized by external auditors.

Currently there are different CM and CA technologies on the market either as part of popular ERP systems or as stand-alone solutions. ERP market leaders such as SAP and Oracle are integrating monitoring and auditing technologies in their solutions and stand-alone solutions from ACL, CaseWare and Expectus can be integrated in a variety of solutions and industry settings.

The CA and CM technologies are fast becoming more sophisticated, the integration easier and the interfaces more user friendly. This will mean more diffusion of CM and CA approaches to e.g. small and medium sized companies and NGOs. It will also mean that real time control will become even more prominent than it is now. It also means that external auditors might have to re-think parts of their business models and the actual business value of auditing hours sold.