By Dee Houchen, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Oracle EMEA
Technology for technology’s sake has little value to an organization. An analytics engine alone cannot provide a company with useful insights if it is not fed relevant information. Likewise, modern business applications – from customer relationship management platforms to ERP systems – will only deliver on their potential if the people managing these tools know how best to extract value from them.
Business leaders today are acutely aware of this reality, and as a result are expecting both new hires and existing employees to contribute a much broader skillset to their organizations. This holds particularly true for employees in the finance department, who are increasingly expected to help shape successful business strategies using the analytics technologies at their disposal.
In a recent whitepaper, Ivgen Guner, Senior Vice President at Oracle, underlined the changing expectations businesses have from CFOs and finance professionals, arguing that “Problem-solvers in the upper echelons of financial management grasp the difference between reporting numbers and conveying their meaning.”
What this means is that even with the recent advances in data storage and analytics technology, sound business decisions are still ultimately made by human beings. That’s not to say that these tools haven’t greatly enhanced the process – the breadth and volume of information they have enabled companies to factor into their business operations continue to expand at an incredible rate – but unless people ask the right questions of their analytics tools to begin with much of their potential will remain unfulfilled.
For finance professionals, this will come down to doing more than just reporting numbers from their data analytics systems. It will involve actually distilling this information into meaningful insights.
So what does this look like in practice?
In the case of SITA, a leader in air transport communications and IT, this meant rethinking a financial reporting process that was heavily clogged due to a reliance on overly detailed analyses. CFO Colm O’Higgins and his finance team managed to streamline the process by choosing to focus purely on data that allowed them to segment customers and vendors by a number of key variables. This new approach to data analysis has already seen SITA put $12 million back into the business.
SITA’s success was very much the result of seeing the forest for the trees. Rather than addressing the many bottlenecks in their reporting process individually, O’Higgins and his team took a step back and reframed the problem completely to determine how they could make their approach to analytics more efficient from start to finish.
Moving forward, this sort of problem-solving acumen will be the single most important quality for finance professionals that want to excel in their careers, followed closely by an affinity for the technologies that will allow them to put their skills into practice. Young employees in the finance department today are better-placed than ever to one day become leaders in the business, but only well-rounded individuals with an inquisitive spirit can hope to achieve this.
As Guner puts it, “Emotional maturity, sufficient self-confidence to say no at times and, not least, evidence of the capacity to work in partnerships beyond the finance department all signal problem-solving talent.”
It’s worth focusing for a moment on this final point. For finance professionals, the value of sharing data and insights with the rest of the business cannot be overstated. The finance team at Croda International, the chemical company behind many of the world’s most widely-used materials, recently came to appreciate this reality first-hand. In the past, data from the organization’s finance department came in the form of rigid, pre-agreed reports. Today, a new form of democracy has intervened, with finance now building a database of information using input from people across the business that allows employees to access data in the formats they have deemed most useful. The company has since managed to fine-tune its business approach and work more efficiently across sales, production, and distribution.
At Croda and other companies around the world, CFOs and their teams are being asked to work outside their traditional comfort zones and play a more strategic role within the business. To answer the call, finance professionals must make the data they collect more accessible and digestible for everyone in the organization. They also need to effectively highlight the insights they extract from this information for decision-makers in the organization, and guide them in using this knowledge to their advantage to make sound business decisions. As such, the new leaders of finance will not be number-crunching machines, but rather multi-talented individuals with a strong mix of technical, leadership, and communication skills that are ready to step up to any challenge, often in unexpected ways.