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According to the Financial Executives Institute, CFOs say their second highest priority this year is to harness business intelligence and big data. Their highest priority is to improve cash flow and working capital efficiency and effectiveness. This means CFOs highest two priorities are centered around data. At roughly the same time, KPMG has found in their survey of CFOs that 91% want to improve the quality of their financial and performance insight obtained from the data that they produce. Even more amazing 51% of CFO admitted that “collecting, storing, and retrieving financial and performance data at their company is primarily accomplished through a manual and/or spreadsheet-based exercise”. From our interviews of CFOs, we believe this number is much higher.
Your question at this point—if you are not a CFO—should be how can this be the case? After all strategy consultants like Booz and Company, actively measure the degree of digitization and automation taking place in businesses by industry and these numbers year after year have shown a strong upward bias. How can the finance organization be digitized for data collection but still largely manual in its processes for putting together the figures that management and the market needs?
CFOs do not trust their data
In our interviews of CFOs, one CFO answered this question bluntly by saying “If the systems suck, then you cannot trust the numbers when you get them.” And this reality truly limits CFOs in how they respond to their top priorities. Things like management of the P&L, Expense Management, Compliance, and Regulatory all are impacted by the CFOs data problem. Instead of doing a better job at these issues, CFOs and their teams remain largely focused on “getting the numbers right”. And even worse, the answering of business questions like how much revenue is this customer providing or how profitable this customer is, involves manual pulls of data today from more than one system. And yes, similar data issues exist in financial services organizations which close the books nightly.
The CFOs, that I have talked to, admit without hesitation that data is a big issue for them. These CFOs say that they worry about data from the source and the ability to do meaningful financial or managerial analysis. They say they need to rely on data in order to report but as important they need it to help drive synergies across businesses. This matters because CFOs say they want to move from being just “bean counters” to being participants in the strategy of their enterprises.
To succeed, CFOs say that they need timely, accurate data. However, they are the first to discuss how disparate systems get in their way. CFOs believe that making their lives easier starts with the systems that support them. What they believe is needed is real integration and consolidation of data. One CFO said what is needed this way, “we need the integration of the right systems to provide the right information so we can manage and make decisions at the right time”. CFOs clearly want to know that the accounting systems are working and reliable. At the same time, CFOs want, for example, a holistic view of customer. When asked why this isn’t a marketing activity, they say this is business issue that CFOs need to help manage. “We want to understand the customer across business units. It is a finance objective because finance is responsible for business metrics and there are gaps in business metrics around customer. How much cross sell opportunities is the business as a whole pursuing?”
Chief Profitability Officers?
Jonathan Brynes at the MIT Sloan School confirms this viewpoint is becoming a larger trend when he suggests that CFOs need to take on the function of “Chief Profitability Officers”. With this hat, CFOs, in his view, need to determine which product lines, customers, segments, and channels are the most and the least profitable. Once again, this requires that CFOs tackle their data problem to have relevant, holistic information.
CIOs remain responsible for data delivery
CFOs believe that CIOs remain responsible for how data is delivered. CFOs, say that they need to lead in creating validated data and reports. Clearly, if data delivery remains a manual process, then the CFO will be severely limited in their ability to adequately support their new and strategic charter. Yet CFOs when asked if they see data as a competitive advantage say that “every CFO would view data done well as a competitive advantage”. Some CFOs even suggest that data is the last competitive advantage. This fits really well with the view of Davenport in “Competing on Analytics”. The question is how soon will CIOs and CFOs work together to get the finance organization out of its mess of manually massaging and consolidating financial and business data.
Solution Brief: The Intelligent Data Platform
Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, recently observed that most mainstream business executives are having trouble getting their heads around the utility of “Big Data.” As he put it, many executives have troubling making the connection between vast stores of information and business value: “Executives evinced little enthusiasm for 100X more customer data was that they couldn’t envision or align it with a desirable business outcome. Would offering 1000X or 10,000X more data been more persuasive? Hardly. Neither the quantity nor quality of data was the issue. What matters is how — and why — vastly more data leads to vastly greater value creation.”
A new survey from CompTIA – a tech industry association – validates Schrage’s observations. Executives don’t quite know what it is, and they don’t know where to apply it. But they sense it’s something important that they need to press forward with. The survey of 500 businesses finds low levels of familiarity – only 37% of IT and business executives report being very familiar or mostly familiar with the concept of Big Data. Approximately one in five organizations, 19%, claim to have a big data initiative underway, while 36% plan to embark on one in the next 12 months. (more…)