Online annual reports take up the 10 year challenge and beyond…

We are in the midst of yet another social media storm – the 10 year challenge! While the challenge is being criticized as a vain exercise by some, it serves as inspiration for a discussion on the whirlwind developments in the world of online annual reports.

Since there were those who were brave enough to extend the challenge to 20 years, we decided that we would too.

20 years ago…
A storm brews

Indications of the digital revolution that has now taken over the world were hinted at during the turn of the century. Annual reports during this decade served the purpose of plainly stating the financial standing of institutions and sometimes the allocation of resources. The document merely consisted of a few pages and was only read by the handful who could decipher the incomprehensible mix of numbers and tables that populated the publications. Nevertheless, brand visibility was also gradually becoming important to institutions and being incorporated into annual reports.

Having always adopted a futuristic outlook to annual reports, we at Smart Media were experimenting with annual reports and already dabbling in online annual reports. The first online HTML report we produced in 1999 for a client was in keeping with the technology of the times and could be considered a pioneering initiative in the field.

10 years ago…
The storm draws near

As the pace of digitisation picked up on a global scale, it was apparent that the way people consumed information had changed. Corporates were also considering more effective ways of presenting and distributing information. These changes were soon reflected in communications strategies and eventually influenced the way annual reports were perceived.

As the stakeholders of corporates multiply, should other mediums be considered for the presentation of annual reports?

This was the central question that preoccupied report preparers and resulted in the presentation of annual reports as PDFs, interactive PDFs, flipbooks, and even hybrid HTML reports which provided part of the information online while directing readers to the printed or the PDF version for further information. As most stakeholders had now gained access to their own digital devices, access to annual reports presented through these mediums became more popular. This also helped report preparers re-think their approach towards annual reports. The annual reports of this decade were experimental in structure and design. What’s more, the road was being paved for the mainstreaming of online annual reports, but corporates were reluctant to invest in them.

We too explored these mediums further while perfecting the art of producing online HTML reports for a couple of our clients.

A downpour of online annual reports

Today, digitisation and a growing demand have caused the sprouting of ever larger numbers of online annual reports. After all, the technology is not beyond the realms of possibility as it was 10 years ago. This encourages report preparers to re-think their approach to annual reports once again.

Today’s online annual report is cohesive and details the performance and strategies of the company. The architecture of online annual reports is mind-blowing in its innovativeness. More importantly, the medium also encourages corporates to take into consideration SEO in order to ensure that the corporate story doesn’t get lost in a sea of information.

The future…

While the future will bring about unprecedented change, it’s important that we don’t merely get swept away in the current of possibilities that technology presents. At Smart Media, we first identify the central narrative of the corporate and distribute the information that’s gathered prudently across the mediums that will be used. It could be through online, mobile or video formats, but it’s crucial that a cohesive story is told across and through multiple mediums.

Will you be sinking or swimming when the storm of online annual reports is upon us? Share your predictions for the future of annual reporting.

[Check out our pioneering efforts in our Archive Highlights.]

Naleen Wijesinghe
Creative Director at Smart Media The Annual Report Company

© Copyright February 2019
The ideas discussed here may be used, adapted or built upon for academic or commercial purposes provided due credit is given to Smart Media The Annual Report Company as the originator of this work.