How to Get the Return on Data-Driven Decision Making

Nov 15, 2015

Nilly Essaides, Director & Practice Lead, Financial Planning & Analysis, AFP

There's a lot of debate on whether big data can in effect help finance do a better job in enabling better decision making. But there may be ways finance executives can improve its chances of leveragong the new and diverse types of data now available at their fingertips.

One of the most important things is getting the right talent in place. That means the right combination of soft and curiosity and advanced analytics skills. Finance needs professionals who can spot patterns and ask the next set of questions, i.e. why? and what else? They also need to understand the effects of their analysis on business drivers and human behavior.

Those new hires need not be data scientists. Many of today's finance leading cloud-analytics tools allow users to run sophisticated analysis on the fly. What's more, they expand the circle of users by pushing that capability into the operations, closer to the action, to drive even better decisions. 

“How to combine a high competence work force with the new era of being data smart by seeing digitalization as main part of our business strategy going forward,” said Øyvind Strand, Business Domain Responsible Finance, HR and CRM - Business Intelligence Competency Centre at European multinational DNV GL. “That means how to ensure that we utilize the data that are available to support our processes as a competitive advantage– both in production and support."

The other important enabler of making sense of big data is working across the organization. That means bringing multiple viewpoints to the table. This ability to pull together diverse insights encourages innovation. Innovation delivers better decisions, particularly critical in today's fast- shifting business environment. Preliminary results from The AFP/Oliver Wynman Risk Survey show the majority of finance executives only expect more risk in their external environments over the next three years.

It’s more important than ever that FP&A enhance their working relationship with business partners, given the function’s growing role as a strategic partner and the provider of actionable intelligence to senior management faced with rapidly changing business environment. This was the key theme put forth by Kevin Boyle, CFO of Shale-Inland Holding LLC and Martin Felli, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary at JDA Software Group. Boyle and Felli spoke at a well-attended session at the October 2015 Annual AFP Conference. It’s also the conclusion of a recent AFP FP&A Guide, Closing the FP&A Talent Gap.

There's no question that it's still a big challenge for finance to harness the power of big data. Many organizations still lack the necessary talent, technologies and cross-organizational capabilities. But leading organizations are taking a page out of their marketing and advertising departments and use data analytics, people power and new systems to spark innovation and drive management decisions.