Trends in presenting annual reports online.

Observations from our yearly online corporate reporting research including more than 500* big cap companies in North America and Europe ( DOW30, TSX60, FTSE100, DAX80, AEX50, CAC40, SMI48, MIB40, OMX40, ATX20).

What is interactive?

There is still no consense on how to name the different ways of presenting Annual Reports online. While browsing these 500+ corporate websites we found a vast spectrum of terms, ranging from interactive, online, weboptimised, Website and HTML to symbols that direct users to a more or less useful online version of their Annual Report. Most of these descriptions don’t tell you anything what to expect. This can be either a fully-fledged HTML report websites with possibilities to shape the report according to your needs, or just a simple image based click through shows with no interaction. Even simple PDF blobs are sometimes advertised as online report.

How Weir Group anounces their Annual Report turn-page solution:

How Weir Group (FTSE100) anounces their Annual Report turn page solution.

Weir Group 2010 turn-page solution:

Weir Group 2010 turn-page solution - called online Annual Report?

Divide and conquer

It seems that we still need to separate the wheat from the chaff before users will ever understand the value an online version of a corporate report adds. Following our market research, it seems that there are 3 respectively 4 categories established in the corporate reporting world:

1. PDF

The Annual Report is downloadable as PDF. Enriched with bookmark and crosslinks this can be a cost-effective way of presenting, especially for small companies! But in fact PDFs are originated from print documents and are not primarily produced for web usage.

2. JPG (also called image based)

The pages of the printed report are converted into JPG/images. A HTML framework allows hardly more than just flipping through the gallery.

3. HTML

The content of the report is converted into HTML. This allows the user to copy/paste, search through the report and use a hugh varity of tools to enhance the user experience. IMHO this is where online reporting starts to make sense, as this adds value compared to a print version. Within this category we further distinguish between hybrid HTML reports, where parts of the report e.g. the Notes section are incorporated as PDF for download, and full HTML, where the entire report is converted.

First findings from nexxar research 2011

Within our research universe of 505 companies, the share of HTML reports is still on the rise. With 42% (2010 40,5%) of all companies HTML stays to be the first choice. The share of companies that solely offer a PDF of their Annual Report rebounded slightly to 38,2% from 37,3% last year. With 19,8%, the stake of JPG reports dropped to the lowest level since we have started our research in 2003! Separating full HTML from hybrid HTML we see that the increase of the last five years is entirely caused by hybrid Reports. The reason is that converting only the front half of the Report into HTML is a major cost reduction. I see this with mixed feelings: On one hand hybrid HTML is certainly a door opener into proper online reporting. On the other hand they damage the image of HTML reports as they sail under the same flag but not offering the same value: Tools like crosslinks or full text search are of limited use when the Notes section is not included.

HTML well established as first choice of format for Online Annual Reports:

HTML well established as first choice of format for Online Annual Reports.

Regional differences remain strong

Regarding national differences, the leading markets in HTML reporting remaining the same: UK, Germany and The Netherlands have a share of more than 50% of HTML reports. The Swiss SMI increased extraordinarily strong, the HTML percentage was more than doubled to nearly 23%. Other rising markets are UK, US, Scandinavia, The Netherlands and Canada whereas Germany and Austria declined. Overall regional differences in HTML reporting are staying high in 2011, ranging from a almost 70% stake in UK down to about 5% in France and Italy. The importance of hybrid HTML reports also varies significantly. Whereas in Germany hybrid HTML has almost no importance (2.5%) in the UK rather as many as companies offering hybrid HTML reports (31%) are offering full HTML (36%) reports.

Strong regional differences in stakes of HTML Reports:Strong regional differences in stakes of HTML Reports.

Interactive charting

More and more reports incorporate useful features to compare key figures. I would like to highlight two charting tools that enrich the user experience:

#1 Interactive table at SAP

The five-year summary table in the SAP Annual Report 2010 offers charts for each line on mouse-over.

he five-year summary table in the SAP Annual Report 2010 offers charts for each line on mouse-over.
SAP Annual Report 2010.

www.sapannualreport.com


#2 Chart Generator at Henkel

Chart Generator at Henkel CSR Report 2010
Henkel Sustainability Report 2010
Disclaimer: this is a nexxar tool

http://sustainabilityreport.henkel.com

“There are features in Henkel’s chart generator which analysts’ dreams are made on (whether investors or corporate responsibility professionals): a five-year data span, the underlying numbers available in a format, Excel, they can import into their own systems and – rarely glimpsed – an export image option to help populate presentations. But whether the dream will be realised depends on how awake they are to the richness of the control options, especially given how unusual and therefore unexpected they are.”

Quote taken from BC Tip by Bowen Craggs at www.bowencraggs.com

Use of iPad

Obviously the appearance of tablets, like Apple’s iPad, is one of the hottest trends in the corporate reporting industry. Tablets may become the killer application for mass production of printed Annual Reports. It is not only easy to use and very trendy, but combines the strenghts of an online report (search facility, crosslinking of content or inclusion of multi-media) with those of the print side (offline use or privacy of personal comments). The use of iPads for Annual Reporting is still in its infancy. The current apps are all just starting to play with the possibilities. And its not yet decided whether other tablets will gain significant importance beside Apple’s iPad.

A powerful new way of presenting Annual Report information

A powerful new way of presenting Annual Report information
Legal & General Annual Report 2010 iPad version
Disclaimer: produced by nexxar

Most Apps I have found in the AppStore are using the PDF of the printed report as the content resource. We at nexxar followed a different approach, using our full HTML reports. This implies that we are more flexible on using our brilliant online tools like relevance search, online glossary or crosslinks.

For me, the six key questions for iPad Annual reports are:

  • Is the complete report available, not just a funny click dummy?
  • Is there a search tool that helps me to find what I am looking for?
  • Can I link to more detailed information e.g. click on an image to enlarge or click on a Note at the Balance Sheet?
  • Is the navigation intuitive, helping me to use the huge content of an Annual Report?
  • When zooming, does the content resize and stay clear?
  • Is multimedia content used to engage the audience, like video or animation?

Summing up

We see the market for online reports maturing in terms of vendors, tools and interactive options. Within HTML reports, interactivity stays the main driver. There are still huge regional differences and ignorance in terms of what is an online report. Whether an investment into a fully-fledged online report makes sense or not, largely depends on a companies communication mix. But I am convinced that we will see a further rise in online reporting, as the decline of print runs will continue to shift interest into online. And mobile devices like iPads will play an increase role.

Comments.

Add a comment.
  1. Some interesting trends here but your approach once again highlights the shortcomings of a features and functionality approach as opposed to a user goals and objectives one.

    The emphasis you put on charts and ‘interactivity’ is for the wrong reasons. In fact this entire article stays well clear of user experience and the most important advantage that an online approach affords – the ability to use online experiences and the medium to tell the corporate and investment story clearly and bringing it to life for the audiences companies care about.

    Yes, annual reports aren’t the most exciting documents but this skew to modular, proforma functionality is disturbing and hold back otherwise brave and ambitious corporate reporters.

    Let’s be clear that ‘interactivity’ on it’s own is not a driver from a user perspective, thats a simplistic way of viewing it. Usable, engaging, and user centred solutions should be the focus to make otherwise compliance and regulatory documents actually useful to tell a compelling narrative and likewise be a useful corporate communications tool.

    As someone who’s worked on many online corporate reporting projects for the FTSE100 I feel like it’s the duty of agencies who work with corporate reporting teams to raise the bar and not solely focus on widgets and tools but on better storytelling and the user experience. I personally hope more corporate comms agencies follow in this approach.

    Kalpesh

  2. Thanks Kalpesh for your comment. I would love to learn more about your insights into user experience! What is compelling and what do you think users are looking for in an online report?

    From the stats of our reports we learned that around 25% of users look for the Notes section. Great story telling, yes of course is very important. But personally I see the bigger threat in current trends that agencies only focus on the front, glossy half of the report and miss out the reporting character of an Annual Report.
    Best,
    Thomas

  3. I have to agree with Kalpesh. As a User Experience Consultant myself, I’m increasingly troubled by the focus on specific functionality as the variable for benchmarking instead of the overall experience and storytelling of the report.

    In my opinion, the benchmark should be set by an annual report that successfully manages to not only convey the year’s financial progress with as much clarity and ease as possible, but that also engages with and communicates directly to the company’s specific stakeholders via a strong and consistent narrative.

    To use a cheesy analogy, it’s like measuring new cars by their nuts and bolts rather than by how those component parts come together to define the cars’ overall driving experience and relevance to their target market.

  4. As UX experts you need to have a specific view on this. This is ok, and you are completely right with your opinions. The overall experience and the storytelling is very important. On the other hand most users do want to get the information they need, and they know very well about what they need in advance, as fast as possible. It is very interesting to see such developments in the statistics over several years. An average user views less pages and spend less time on the report than a few years ago. Thats why our approach is driven by functionality and ease access to information.

    I’m pretty sure that “the perfect report” is anywhere in between our different approaches.

  5. I agree that it is very important to provide the information users are looking for quickly and with ease, but this is just a part of the experience. One should not come at the expense of the other. The question we SHOULD be asking is “how can we combine usability, and quick access to compliance information, AND supplement it with an engaging narrative and experience (budget and appetite considered)”.

    “Experience” doesn’t mean “extraneous fluff”.

  6. The annual report has always been about communication with stakeholders, or at least it should be for those companies who have real communication requirements!

    This does not change depending on the delivery medium.

    The focus will always remain on how best to help the client tell their story, but the web offers additional tools to make this happen and these should be welcomed, especially as web-users have a different mentality – they are there for information, not so much for a story-telling journey.

    Unfortunately, most of the traditional annual report design agencies do not realise this. They still focus on the printed report first and foremost and simply consider online ‘conversion’ at a later stage. These agencies then typically go overboard with the interactive/engaging/extraneous fluff to try and disguise their lack of focus in terms of the online delivery and how to make the most out of the medium.

    The good agencies are ahead of this curve. They consider the delivery requirements in tandem, online and offline, and they are willing to develop both solutions in parallel. They also understand the need to differentiate each delivery, tailoring it to the medium and ensuring the messages are read in a consistent manner in the way the respective readerships wish to digest information.

    Getting this balance right takes extra effort, foresight and insight but the end results speak for themselves!

  7. Interesting discussion…

    We have arrived at the following construct:

    Users will treat the AR site as a “Destination” (in via Google and out in 3 mins or less) or as a “Journey” (an exploration of up to 15 minutes).

    It is those users (a smaller but important high interest group) who are on a Journey that need to be lead on a path of exploration, story telling, video, interactive diagrams and data design…

  8. Interesting Simon; do you suppose that more readers initially start off on the “Journey” and then turn into “Destination” referencers?

    In the construct of an annual report I would assume that most users are initially interested in many aspects of the report. But I would expect them to change their habits after just the first visit or two, when they come back to the site to simply referecence some facts or figures.

    I’d be interested in your views here.

    Pete