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How Many Trees (and how much rent!)?

July 13, 2012

By Jane Clifford

Look around your accounting department.

Do you see lots of paper reports?

Did you ever stop to wonder…. are these paper reports useful and functional?


How much time does it take to review them?  How many trees are consumed to produce all of this paper?  How much ink is used to print the reports?  How much office space is utilized (and rent paid) for the storage of these paper reports?

You get the point.

I was recently working with a client that had been printing and saving a hard copy detailed sales transaction report of at least 1,000 pages (nearly two boxes) each month.  Two senior accountants would each spend around 16 hours during the month-end close process to review the paper detail, identify unusual items – and IF there was still enough time in the close calendar – research, document, and possibly correct erroneous transactions.

Needless to say, this was a very frustrating experience for all involved.

As part of this company’s project to accelerate their month-end close, the Assistant Controller met with the IT department and requested a change in the delivery method of this report.  Rather than printing a hard copy on paper, he wanted the information exported to Excel and delivered to a shared folder.  This was not a significant effort for the already overworked IT department as the report was already being produced.  In fact, it made life easier as IT no longer had to tie up a printer for several hours each month!

And guess what?

These senior accountants could now use basic Excel features to identify unusual transactions for them.  By simply adding a few columns and utilizing the sort functionality, the report quickly calculated and identified the material transactions that the accountants should focus upon.  This was a transformation of the accountants’ time from slowly and clumsily identifying potentially unusual items to efficiently resolving and correcting significant errors in the same month.

The savings?

32 hours per month and perhaps 1-1/2 trees per year*

…and most importantly, more accurate and timely financial results from a happier staff.  This improvement was accomplished very quickly and at virtually no time or cost to the IT department.

Now it’s your turn.  Look at all of the paper reports that your department uses or prepares each month.  And ask yourself…do you really need it?  If not, stop producing it.  If yes, would it be more efficient to have the report delivered and saved to an excel spreadsheet?

*On average, one tree can produce 8,000 to 100,000 sheets of paper.

One Comment leave one →
  1. John Chuu permalink
    July 13, 2012 9:02 am

    Nice article. Maybe IT can design exceptions reports on discrepancies based on accountant’s requirements so that there won’t be a need for data manipulation in Excel? I am a huge fan of Excel but working with financial data in Excel is prone to human errors and risky.

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