If Gee Publishing had launched its Finance Fact Finder in any form other than a combination of CD-Rom and Website, users would have been wrestling endlessly with ring files and loose-leaf updates. Indexing would have been a nightmare, and searching for that specific piece of knowledge that you need now would have been almost impossible. But, with the magic of hyperlinks and a little organisational flair, all these issues are solved.
After starting up the Fact Finder, the first thing that greets the viewer is a screen split into a left-hand section, with nine broad topic headings, and a right-hand display section. This has six tabs along the top margin, four of which have to do with accessing ever more detailed views of the subject selected, and two of which are what we might call ‘added value’ generators (‘trouble shooting’ and ‘key questions’). The user interface on the CD is intuitive for anyone who has ever used a piece of Windows software; anyone who hasn’t will soon point and click their way around quite easily.
The nine topic headers are worth giving in full, since they are the heart of what the Fact Finder has to offer. They are: finance and management strategy; asset management; information management; taxation; auditing and accounting regulation; company law; human resources issues; commercial trading; and protecting property rights and data.
The aim is to provide a coherent, intelligent briefing for finance professionals in each area, and this is where the structure comes into its own. Clicking on finance and management strategy, for example, automatically opens the topic up into its further sub divisions (which in turn have their own divisions). It also brings up the ‘quick view’ tab, which launches head-first into a high-level briefing on management accounting.
If that is the level at which the reader wants to stay, fine, but the beauty of hyperlinks means that each and every term, technical phrase or topic of interest (such as ‘the myth of true cost’) can be allocated a full discussion in its own right. Hyperlinked words and phrases are in bold blue text and clicking on them opens further levels at which the information can be viewed.
Ultimately, excellent organisation to one side, a work like this stands or falls on the richness of its information. No one will ever please all the people across such a huge range of topics, but Fact Finder quickly asserts its right to be regarded as an essential reference and/or training publication.
Because the CD is linked to the Web, clicking on the WWW icon automatically fires up the user’s Web browser and sets up a link with Gee’s Finance Now web site. This has free material, plus a full addendum to the CD with newly breaking information on any of the sections. As Robin Waghorn, the editor at Gee responsible for the Finance Fact Finder points out, in the past the process of rolling out updates to a publication like this would have taken months. Now, as soon as the author of a topic has completed the revision, it is posted to the Web immediately and is available to all subscribers.
About the only downside to the Fact Finder is its price, which, at £650, sounds high, although this follows a long tradition of overpriced publications aimed solely at the corporate market. However, as a cure for ignorance throughout a department or even in non-financial departments, this is probably a price worth paying. There are many worse reference volumes – and few better.