Accounting, finance and superheroes are three words rarely spoken together — data analytics can change that. “The objective is to leverage historical information, both financial and nonfinancial, to better predict and influence the future,” said Mathieu Lupien, CPA (Canada)/CITP, and president and cofounder at Simfiny Solutions Inc.
Data analytics opens up exploration and experimentation, allowing you to assign, redirect and leverage your organization’s resources to drive decision-making and innovation. Data analytics, according to Lupien, enables you to do more with less — and that’s a superpower.“
It’s a very scarce resource in the workplace to get someone that’s got both information technology and finance backgrounds,” Lupien said. When the skill sets combine, explained Lupien, they make the professional a kind of “superhero in terms of managing the data inside and outside the finance organization.”
When accounting and finance professionals embrace the breadth of information that data provides, they lead workplace transformations and usher in a competitive advantage.
Get out of the hamster wheel
Lupien compared the monthly cycle of closing the books to that of a hamster in a wheel — you may find yourself continually playing catch-up to close those monthly books before doing it all over again the next month.
“The reality is that accountants end up spending a lot of their time processing transactions and performing analytics on period-ending balances to ensure that books are closed accurately at the end of each fiscal period,” said Lupien. “This part of the work takes a considerable amount of time and leaves little time for process improvement and data analytics, which could help the business improve its financial performance.”
With each month’s cycle, more valuable data is gathered and stored, but not necessarily used to its full capabilities. Lupien encourages you to change your approach.“You’re sitting on a trove of data,” said Lupien.
“You’re sitting on years of data in the general ledger, and we, as finance professionals, are not harvesting that data.”
Lupien believes data analytics will shake up how finance jobs are done.
Automation, innovation and the competitive edge
Analyzing data from varying sources allows finance teams to discover what to expect and when. You’ll be able to understand and anticipate customer habits, see once overlooked anomalies or predict a competitor’s reaction.
In addition to data analytics, automation can be used to your advantage. When you incorporate software for routine tasks and business intelligence management, you leverage internal “big data” — unused and overlooked financial and nonfinancial information within the organization. “The other part of big data is tapping into external sources of information, competitive analysis,” Lupien said.
Setting up automated processes to complete those monthly reports “frees up the key resource, time,” said Lupien. “Then you can reinvest the time freed up to perform more value-added tasks.”
Value-added tasks include understanding the business drivers, developing key performance indicators (KPIs), building trust with production teams through the revelation of data trends and identifying patterns that can add to the company’s profits. “By spotting trends early, you help the organization maintain or even develop a competitive advantage.”
Embrace a digital mindset
As the digital landscape continually evolves, digital literacy, combined with analytic capabilities, is crucial. While you’ve always relied on financial data and metrics to inform executive-level decision-making, data analytics builds upon the finance function’s skill set and training.
“The world is changing and becoming more focused on big data,” said Lupien. “Finance professionals are well placed and positioned to look at data coming in from a financial perspective and an operations perspective.”
Many finance professionals, added Lupien, still aren’t harnessing the full power of Microsoft Excel, for example — using it as an “expensive calculator” instead of an integrated tool for finding insight. Proper training on the program, and on the overall importance of data analytics, can enhance your strategic decision-making skills and put your organization on top.
Beyond giving the organization a competitive edge, proficiency in data analytics gives you a professional edge, too.
“Strong finance professionals that have this skill set are attracted to work with firms that embrace a mindset that rewards and encourages the use of automation and analytics,” added Lupien. “Companies that have manual processes and that do not rely on analytics will struggle to keep up with even their most basic deliverables.”
AICPA & CIMA’s suite of data analytics courses will help you gain a clear understanding of data analytics techniques and methodologies, including data visualization and data storytelling. For those wanting to take their learning to the next level, there’s the Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) credential.