CFOs Leading Business Intelligence – Digital Workshop Series in 5 Parts
In today’s business world, the markets are changing in an accelerated fashion; customers shift their preferences, supply chains are facing major challenges, and the workforce requirements are evolving. In this context, business intelligence covers a broad range of important topics. Whilst the topics individually are important, it is by connecting them and thinking about business intelligence holistically that CFOs can preside over a best-in-class process which is both effective and efficient.
Business Intelligence is central to a successful enterprise. Everyone in the enterprise is a stakeholder, and the CFO needs to consider many external people, including investors, involved in business operations. Different stakeholders have different needs from a business intelligence process, which encompasses planning, budgeting and forecasting.
Planning is an opportunity for the enterprise to lay out its mid-term strategy and articulate the resources needed to achieve that. The budget is very often a detailed process to set targets and incentives for the year ahead. The forecast is mechanism to assess how the business is tracking against targets and to provide a framework for conveying the risks associated with business performance. Flexible and robust systems for business modelling are essential to support these processes. Excel on its own is not good enough, especially due to the need for collaboration across departments and for multi-dimensional modelling. A good business intelligence system will include metrics relating to the broader industry as well as non-financial KPIs already defined and tracked in incentive plans.
Presentation of business intelligence is critically important, and many stakeholders may not be comfortable with large volumes of numbers. So, the CFO should connect dynamic dashboards and graphical interfaces to the business models to communicate the business intelligence clearly.
At this point in the process the CFO and other stakeholders may well ask ‘so what’? If the business has produced all this excellent intelligence it must be used for making business decisions. This may not be as straight forward as it sounds. Even the best models may have wrong assumptions, errors, omissions and bias, which need to be considered in decision making.
Some decisions are, naturally, routine. Others can be transformational or disruptive and, in these situations, change has to be managed for a smooth transition. It is not sufficient to implement a new system but to continue with legacy ways of working. Workflows need to be re-designed to get the most efficiency gains from change and staff need to be trained and developed to adjust to their new world.
Specific tips for the four pillars of business intelligence are as follows.
- The requirement for accounts, months, years, department, regions and more means the model must be multi-dimensional and support a genuinely collaborative approach.
- The CFO must involve business managers in the design of the model and inputs to it.
- Business analysts in the finance function must engage regularly with managers outside of the finance function to understand how to create value to the business.
- Having a central database ensures there is dynamic updating and one version of the truth.
- The finance team in is an excellent position to facilitate the business planning and modelling conversation in an unbiased and holistic fashion.
Business Intelligence Tools
- The use of a central database means that a variety of dashboards which update dynamically can simply be plugged in and available to stakeholders.
- Dashboards can range from basic Excel to more sophisticated tools such as Power BI.
- The same applies to graphical interfaces which can run dynamically in a web environment; this means real-time data for the business.
- Consider using this approach for non-financial datasets, such as market research and surveys.
- Tools to govern the budget and forecasting process include automating email requests for approvals of data inputs.
- Find proxies for missing data where possible; challenge assumptions and iterate.
- Producing a range of outcomes in a business modelling can help focus on the risk involved with decision making.
- Bias can take many forms and can inhibit decisions to make changes in the enterprise; it is important to identify and address bias, but not to eliminate it.
- The budget itself can cause bias, simply by acting a benchmark against which all business model outcomes are judged; therefore, acknowledge that the budget is a set of assumptions made at a certain point in time.
- Assessing competing projects needs a fresh template if some of the projects are disruptive in nature and others are about incremental change.
- Build a view of the business direction before embarking on implementing change; this imagination of the future is guiding the change journey and the decisions along the way.
- Re-design legacy processes to maximise the benefits from deploying new technology.
- Assess the needs of your staff and the skills required in the new enterprise; one important need of employees is an encouraging environment for them to create and deliver.
- Recognize that not all staff may embrace the new enterprise; find out which career path suits them best.
- Ensure sufficient resources are dedicated to training to support navigation through the transition.
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