Online first - The future of annual reports?

by Reg Pauffley
Download as PDF There's currently a lot of lively discussion about whether the online report will replace the printed report. Whilst there doesn't seem to be any definitive answer, one thing is certain: more and more companies are now providing an html online version as well as the printed version.
So is this the happy compromise that is the way forward for the foreseeable future? Or will more companies embrace the use of the web as the primary delivery channel for their annual report, in the way that the companies I'm going to talk about here are doing? Each has created and developed the annual report from a web first perspective, in other words treating the annual report as a website from the start, and not just simply producing an html version of a printed copy. They're all impressive and it's really worth spending time looking at each of them in detail.
You could well be looking at what will soon become the norm.

Wärtsilä -
Wärtsilä is a Finnish company that describes itself as a global leader in complete lifecycle power solutions for the marine and energy markets.
When you log on via the investor tab on the main site home page, it's clearly stated that the electronic annual report is Wärtsilä's primary report for 2009, and that the Financial Review is an abbreviation of it. Once you're on the home page of the report, which is very clear and inviting, you click onto 'About this Report' to access an easy to read set of instructions on how to use the annual report website. There is a strong overall theme of 'Questions and Answers' which uses video with great effect to engage with the viewer throughout all the sections of the report. There is also a very helpful 'Quicklinks' box on the home page that is split into three sections; 'For Investors', 'For Customers' and 'For Media'. I also like the inclusion of a Sustainability section within the site.
If this their first attempt, I can't wait to see next year's report.

TNT is one of the leading companies in the global transportation and distribution industry, with its head office in The Netherlands.
The viewer is welcomed to the site by the Group CEO, Peter Bakker, via a simple but engaging talking head video. The video provides a clear introduction to the site and what to expect from it.
Overall the site works hard, although I found the navigation a little confusing and I would like to see more links to additional information. I would also like to have seen more use of video, it could explain and show the business in action in a very compelling way.
The site perhaps doesn't quite live up to the CEO's introduction, but it's certainly a great step in the right direction. Keep it up TNT.

Sonaecom -
Sonaecom is a leading Portuguese communication services provider which has been producing a web first annual report for 3 years now. They're probably amongst the very first, if not the first to go down this route. It's an extremely user-friendly site, with a clear, easy to use menu covering six sections in addition to the Home page - 'Our year', 'Our business', 'Our shares', 'Our management', 'Our governance', and 'Our performance'. Each section has a further drop down menu with its own landing page. The highlighted introductions here work very well.
Overall, the site creates an excellent user experience, provides a good level of content and includes many links to additional information.
It's a shame however that the site doesn't use video or charting tools, and the downloadable pdf is a very simple and functional piece of print.
This aside, it's a great role model for other companies.

Ahold -
Ahold is an international group of quality supermarkets based in the United States and Europe, and like TNT, it is headquartered in The Netherlands. Both the annual and CR reports have been produced on the basis of web first with a basic print pdf offered as a download. Both are similar in look and feel - clean, crisp, bold and colourful and both have easy to use navigation, which all results in an excellent overall user experience.
The site displays a very good use of tools, including comprehensive charting, a 'build your own report' and 'compare to 2008'. Each would benefit from using video, but overall another good example of a web first approach.
Ahold has just changed agency, so it will be interesting to see how it develops next year.

Network Rail - CR Report -
Network Rail runs, maintains and develops Britain's tracks, signalling systems, rail bridges, tunnels, level crossings, viaducts and 18 key stations.
This is an innovative piece of work that I've talked about before as a great example of a web driven approach. The site uses a number of interactive information graphics to introduce each of the key areas of the report. Each image includes a number of pop up text panels when you scroll over, which in turn provides you with an in-depth review of that particular section. It's been embedded into the main Network Rail website under the Community & Environment tab.
I feel sure a web first main annual report must be just down the line for Network Rail.
Network Rail - CR Report

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