Sustainable Integrated ReportingLisa Flanders
How Exxaro built a sustainable Integrated Reporting process
Exxaro, one of the largest diversified mining companies in South Africa, is committed to making a positive impact on the world. Social purpose sits at the heart of the brand, as they’re proud to be one of the first Black-owned companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. They’re also addressing their environmental footprint with a plan to gradually phase out coal operations and produce cleaner, more renewable energy. It’s an impressive goal. And, with a transformation and growth mindset at the heart of everything that Exxaro does, it’s one that they’re well-positioned to meet, Mzila Mthenjane, Executive Head Stakeholder Affairs explained.
“Our transition from coal will not be rapid. In the meantime, we are launching two new strategies to drive our growth into renewable energies and minerals of the future. The company has always been dynamic and forward-looking, so this evolution feels like a natural progression for us and will help us scale up the impact that we have in society. It’s an exciting period.” – Mzila Mthenjane, Executive Head Stakeholder Affairs, Exxaro
|Disconnected Challenges||Connected Results||Why They Chose Workiva|
|Version control issues added risk to the integrated reporting process||All teams, both internal and external, are able to collaborate within one central workspace, decreasing potential for human error||Exxaro’s lean and focused reporting team works alongside partners to create integrated reports that its investors and stakeholders can trust. They needed a solution that enabled them to collaborate, that they could mould into their own, and that created consistency of data. They found it in the Workiva platform.|
|ESG added more functions and stakeholders to the process—they needed a single source of truth for all data||Workiva’s easy-to-use and easily navigable platform has greatly simplified ESG reporting|
|Exxaro needed to be able to seamlessly collaborate with their external partners||The platform can scale according to the team’s needs—so they’re future-proofed for any expected or unexpected disruption|
Exxaro’s integrated reporting plays an important role in communicating the impact of their transformation initiatives. The reporting process involves more than 90 contributors and relies on the contributions of multiple teams and partners. Together, they need to collaborate with a single version of truth to create reports their investors and stakeholders trust. They need consistent data, strong design and the ability to communicate an impactful story.
Exxaro believes in partnering via ecosystems—or working with partners that have capabilities Exxaro doesn’t hold internally. This strategy plays a central role in the wider business’ sustainability journey and enables them to work more efficiently.
“Having a lean organisation requires us to think carefully about how we work,” Mzila explained. “Part of this means that we work closely with our partners—they’re an extension of the team and strong collaboration is critical. And another part is that we need to be smart with the digitalisation of data and organisational processes—we started using the Workiva platform because we wanted to drive efficiency.”
The need to communicate a clear, coherent and compelling story through data, words and a strong visual identity is a constant motivation for Exxaro and their partners. And, with the Workiva platform, all 90-plus contributors are able to collaborate with ease.
“Our team here is comfortable sharing statistics and data,” said Mzila. “They’re not so comfortable telling a story in writing. That’s where we see value in having Alchemy Creative Studios on board as partners and editors. They’re able to help our colleagues make the link between data and story. And our production partners, Bastion, help to make our corporate narrative more accessible through great design. It’s thanks to the process that we have and the partners that we work with that we can always show the big picture in our integrated reports.”
For the integrated reporting team, effective collaboration forms the backbone of this strategy. And it’s enabled by the Workiva platform.
“The biggest benefit is the collaboration on the platform itself. We can communicate with one another without having to email 50 different people. It’s easy if I want to draw anyone’s attention to specific data. Collaboration really, really is a standout feature. And it helps that the platform is so secure—we don’t have to worry about data becoming available to anyone who shouldn’t see it.”
Desiree Jones, Director, Alchemy Creative Studios
Despite having a lean reporting team, Exxaro needs to manage a lot of data. “Each function has its own reporting system. So, from an integrated reporting perspective, we’re still on that journey and we always need to be conscious of minimising the risk of data errors. This used to be a major concern for us, with what felt like 50,000 different versions of Word and Excel documents needing to be proofed and validated during our annual reporting process. There was too much room for human error.”
They are also contending with ever-increasing complexity. Their integrated reporting now includes ESG, a tax report, UNGC report, consolidated minerals resource and reserves report, climate change response strategy report and annual integrated report as well as the annual financial statements.
“We face continued pressure to report with transparency so that we can build on the strong relationships that we have with investors,” Mzila explained. “Particularly now that there’s so much attention being given to our ESG report. And this hasn’t always been straightforward—the number of people from different teams across the organisation now involved in the integrated reporting process has grown over the last few years. We knew that we couldn’t continue to work in silos. With too many documents being passed around, there’s too high a chance of error. We needed confidence in the consistency of our data.”
With Workiva, Exxaro was able to establish a single source of truth for its data. And by working in one central platform, they have minimised version control risk.
“We are all working on one document,” Mzila said. “That, for me, is the biggest value. Risk is inherent when we’re extracting data from multiple management systems, but it’s a pleasure to have one single tool where everything lives. Data is consistent, we can easily track changes, we’re on top of all the inputs people are making and we can see people making edits in real-time. We love its ease-of-use.”
The platform also gave them confidence to future-proof their integrated reporting process, the capability to scale and the flexibility to adapt to disruption.
“The adoption of the Workiva platform was well timed. We obviously couldn’t foresee the COVID-19 era, but having it on board has been a lifesaver. Everyone involved in the integrated reporting process has been able to work and collaborate from anywhere. We were able to mitigate risk and minimise the impact of disruption. We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re hopeful our collaborative effort and continued use of the Workiva platform will support us.”
Mzila Mthenjane, Executive Head Stakeholder Affairs, Exxaro
“The fact that we’re able to directly engage with Workiva’s development team has been very refreshing,” said Danielle-Marie Kruger, Project Manager at Alchemy Creative Studios. “We are always looking at how we can continually make improvements to the process. One example: we wanted to install a one-click button that could quickly restrict everyone’s access to different parts of the report and to show that planned cutoff points would really end up being cutoffs.
“Having control authorisation and the lock editing function really helped increase accountability and get buy-in from people across the business to drive the success of the report from the very beginning. That wouldn’t be possible without a platform that is so easy to access and navigate. We know it’s simple for everyone to use, and that helps us to maintain control.”
The team has full ownership of how their process should be run in a way that makes sense for their business, both now and in the future. For Mzila and the reporting team, this is critically important.
“We can make improvements in real-time that help us to better manage the process and tailor it to our needs as and when they arise. We are in control.”
Having full process ownership and visibility is critical to the success of Exxaro’s ESG reports. This is a process that requires the collection of both structured and unstructured data. It pulls in business managers from functional areas that haven’t historically been aligned with the financial reporting process.
According to Mzila, there are practical challenges to achieving this, which raise complexity and increase risk.
“For ESG, there’s a much more diverse team. A lot more people are now involved or engaged with the integrated reporting process. By keeping all work on one central platform, we can achieve a source of truth for all information. We don’t have to manage hundreds of different documents from different people across the business and then worry about inconsistencies. Everyone, regardless of their previous experience with financial reporting, can collaborate and work together. It’s an element of simplicity that makes our lives much easier.”
Mzila Mthenjane, Executive Head Stakeholder Affairs, Exxaro
With ESG, collecting data is only one part of the story. Being accountable and embedding trust within the report is another. And it’s a key priority for Exxaro.
“We need to be accountable to our stakeholders,” Mzila said. “The Workiva platform facilitates that accountability and, therefore, contributes to the wider organisation’s sustainability journey. It enables a focus on ESG metrics. It enables us to distribute accountability across the organisation. And, importantly, it enables us to tell our story.”
For Brandon Liebenberg, Senior Account Executive at Bastion, Exxaro’s design agency and a 2019 Workiva Partner of the Year, the collaboration that takes place before the last mile of the reporting process makes his job easier. But he’s been able to help Exxaro strengthen the impact of their reports by integrating design with the reporting process.
We used to work by taking a document, proofing it and making it look nice,” he explained. “We’ve moved it on quite a number of steps up from that. Now, we’ve brought some of the functionalities available within InDesign into our proofing system. It’s important for us that people aren’t just working with, or seeing, a plain document.”
“By designing pages within the working document, people understand what the look and feel will be when they’re compiling the report. When execs see it in progress, they understand how it’s going to look in the final report. There are no surprises. It really helps to speed up the approvals process.”
Brandon Liebenberg, Senior Account Executive, Bastion
The reporting team has a strong commitment to bring about change within their business and the wider industry. Committed to working with honesty and authenticity, all elements of the integrated report need to have full transparency at all times. It’s thanks to their collaborative mindset and partnership with Alchemy Creative Studios and Bastion, alongside their drive for continual improvement through digital transformation, that they’re able to meet and exceed stakeholder expectations.
Their motivation is backed with action. They are able to take control, innovate and drive the business forward because of their entrepreneurial drive, which is something that Desiree, as a partner, values.
“One thing that Exxaro does exceptionally well is that they’ve accepted the challenge of digital transformation. They haven’t looked at it as a daunting task— they’ve embraced it 110%. And by committing to using the Workiva platform, everyone involved in the reporting process has been able to collaborate with ease.”