Taking Finance Teams From Spreadsheets to Boardroom Seats

A finance team is only ever as effective as the systems they have to work with. Outlined here are the substantial benefits of revamping your outdated analytics software.

Finance teams are still spending too much time in ‘excel hell.’ Every hour spent grappling with spreadsheets, pivot tables, and pie charts are hours that could be spent helping make better business decisions. And yet, astonishingly, top finance functions are still devoting 75% of their time to data analysis, according to a recent PWC study. Eugene Hillery, Senior Director of International Operations at Tableau, offers Finance Monthly his thoughts on the issue and why it should be turned around.

Spreadsheet drudgery isn’t just frustrating and inefficient, it’s outdated. There is a huge range of intuitive, interactive and highly visual data software available – what some call ‘visual analytics’ – designed to help knowledge workers see and analyse the data that matters to them, faster.

Delivering insight from data should be the core competence of finance – not spreadsheet navigation. Yet, research from Sage shows two thirds of CFOs (64 %) are still unable to make data-driven decisions to drive business change. Here are five reasons to kick-off an analytics overhaul:

1. You Can Work (And Collaborate) From a Single Source of Truth

Conventional spreadsheets are capable of handling many tasks, but real time collaboration has never been their strongest suit.

Inconsistent version control, restricted server access and unnecessary duplication are a drag on far too many finance teams. When there are multiple sources of ‘truth’, hours of time are needed to make sure conclusions are built on accurate and up-to-date data. The longer this process takes, the less value you can claim from any time-sensitive data.

With more advanced analytics products, finance teams can bring diverse data sets together from across an entire organisation, allowing everyone to work from a single source of truth. This offers a holistic view and saves time especially when everyone, whether from AP, AR, Tax or Purchasing can collaborate on the same data in ‘real time’.

Inconsistent version control, restricted server access and unnecessary duplication are a drag on far too many finance teams.

2. You Can Get Insight Overnight

More than ever, the ability to connect to offices around the world is a business necessity. The power of a rolling international handover between knowledge workers using accurate, up-to-date data, is tremendous.

For example, if daily sales or staff performance data is be collected at the close of a business day in London, it can be turned into insight by teams in the US literally overnight. This means recommendations for action land on desks at the start of the next day in the UK, and issues can be resolved faster.

If a coherent view of your accounts means drawing information from data sources in China and the US, for example, trying to reconcile them through different spreadsheets will only bury insight. Quick answers are critical for teams operating across different time zones, as for any business that needs an accurate overview of what’s going on in a hurry.

When diverse data sources are unified in a single interactive dashboard, drilling into the numbers can be done by anyone, wherever they are.

3. You Can See Both Granular Detail and the Big Picture

Managing business expenses is a never-ending task, but it’s another area where working smarter beats working harder.

Data analytics software helps uncover the kind of hard to spot correlations that can be invaluable in finding new ways to keep costs down. Dashboards should make it easy, for example, to see which employees are in the habit of booking flights well in advance (saving the company money) and those who rack up huge bills by making last minute purchases.

A faster understanding of data outliers is also valuable in the quick response to business challenges that may exist. Instead of questioning ‘what’ is happening, conversations are led with ‘why’ it is happening. Data analytics makes it easier to uncover cost drivers and make predictions about cash flow. This equips finance teams to identify the source of a challenge faster than ever and help drive the solution.

 4. You Can Put Your Focus on the Future

Access to an organisation’s accounting full history means the finance team is best placed to offer predictions for its future. In general, the richer and more diverse the data that underpins those forecasts, the more accurate and useful they become.

With data analytics, finance teams can use a cash flow summary dashboard to help management understand the outlook in aggregate. They can ask useful questions like “what are our balances by currency, subsidiary, country, banking partner or geography?” The ability to reveal and answer these is fundamental to supporting other financial processes like preparing for audits and SOX compliance.

Combining effective data analytics and artificial intelligence support allows teams to compile and comprehend far bigger data sets, and even help present larger, more evidence-laden projections. This level of authority is what enables finance teams to play a more strategic role in the boardroom – advising CEOs, boards and investors, not to mention staff or customers. In fact, eight in 10 CFOs in the UK (78 %) say their role has changed recently and they are focusing more time and effort on business-wide operational transformation, according to Accenture.

Access to an organisation’s accounting full history means the finance team is best placed to offer predictions for its future.

The best visual analytics software make comparisons between external data sources like economic trends, and internal sources like operational numbers or sales figures. This in turn empowers finance teams to be more efficient and intuitive, making better recommendations with longer lasting impact.

5. Investing in Your Money People

The pace and scale of digital transformation is something finance teams understand better than most. After all, they are the ones processing payments for every major IT investment a company makes.

It’s not surprising then that it is so frustrating to see finance teams often overlooked for technology investments which could in fact create efficiencies that drive business forward.

Of all business areas that stand to benefit from the ongoing revolution in data analysis, finance departments have the most to gain. Gartner research shows that the number of finance departments deploying advanced analytics will double within the next three years. Visual and AI-empowered analytics can untap the insight and creativity currently locked in finance teams across the UK – but only if they can look up from their spreadsheets and see them.

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