The future of FP&A and information is right behind you. In fact, in some ways it is already here. And you need to take advantage of it – now – to better improve your business!
Business leaders have traditionally relied on three “levers” to pull in order to improve a company: changes in people, refinements to processes and upgrades in technology (or, as some refer to the last lever, “better information”). These “levers” embody what businesses are at their core: people using technology (or information) to complete processes that ultimately produce goods or services in return for compensation.
The people and process “levers” have traditionally been quicker and more straightforward solutions to improving a company. How many times have you heard, “we need more good people” or “we need to change this process to better serve our clients” – actions that are seemingly practical and within our command. However, only recently did the sentiment, “we need better information” become an achievable objective that was formerly an aspiration out of arm’s reach.
And why is this? Well, obtaining better information previously required a company to update its technology entirely or create data that did not exist beforehand. It carried a lot of baggage. The payoff is difficult to measure. It can be risky. It is a large investment of time. And the process can visibly weigh down resources.
But the times they are a changin’. Data is readily captured everywhere today, and companies are actively struggling with how to efficiently make this data actionable in order to keep up with the changing times. The question is no longer “how do we get better data”. The question is now “how can we use all of this data that is available to us.”
Data is the new oil, and the oil rush is on.
So what do we do? We must respond with new technologies to efficiently leverage these data streams to our advantage. Traditional tools, from the ever-nimble MS Excel and MS Access solutions, to the more cumbersome Crystal and Flash reports that FP&A professionals carry in their toolbox, now need to make room for new tools to synthesize more data, arrive at faster answers, and deliver greater, more adaptable insight – and this is where the resurgence of the solution to all of this, Business Intelligence (BI), can really shine.
BI has existed for years in applications used by larger companies, such as IBM Cognos and SAP Business Objects. However, recent developments have made new BI technologies, known as “Self Service Business Intelligence” (SSBI), that are more affordable, easier to use for the layperson and, as a result, more mainstream. Data is now collected everywhere and expected to be immediately available to us in everyday life. Companies will need to follow suit in putting their own data to use in order to better serve their clients and more efficiently run their operations. SSBI is the tool that makes this possible – making data synthesis immediately available, accessible to everyone and easy to use.
You may have heard of a few of these SSBI technologies, such as Power BI, Qlik and Tableau, but there are many, many more. All SSBI tools have the same premise – large amounts of data are fed into the tool from disparate sources and used to create interactive illustrations, giving the user actionable information. And it’s relatively easy to set up and use. Connecting to the data does not necessarily require a call to your IT department. And manipulating the data does not require an expert user – it is very intuitively done through dragging and dropping, just like a pivot table.
Tools that I would never have thought I needed to understand as an undergraduate student are now part of basic curriculums at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
But the best part is that SSBI technologies are largely data and systems agnostic. They can be plugged into existing data infrastructures just about anywhere. Data sources that can be as complex as a SQL feed, as simple as an Excel document. And they can be as different in content and structure as Salesforce, Oracle, Quickbooks or SAP output. It doesn’t matter. All of this can all be fed into SSBI, providing you with a full picture of your business all at once.
It’s all of your company’s data. From all sources. Now at your fingertips. Ready to answer your questions – maybe some that you didn’t even know that you had because these datasets previously existed in silos.
The possibilities of this new capability, and the resulting insights, are boundless.
Evidence of the importance of information shows up in more places than just the workplace. Universities are now offering courses and majors that emphasize the use of data to make their candidates more attractive to prospective employers. Tools that I would never have thought I needed to understand as an undergraduate student are now part of basic curriculums at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
For example, experience using basic SQL commands and other data management languages such as Python, or experience with ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) tools such as Alteryx, SSIS and Informatica is a trend that I am seeing featured on resumes. Additionally, Data Analytics is now being offered as a major at several top-tier business schools, which combines finance and MIS courses in a new way that is both unique and incredibly relevant. As someone who is regularly screening resumes, these are the attributes that are catching my attention. I suggest that you take a closer look the next time that you see them, too.
Seeing this new wave of SSBI in the FP&A world, I am excited about what it will mean for our capabilities now and in the future. Data is the trend that is here to stay. But now the power to manipulate your company’s data universe is at your fingertips for the first time, and will only expand from here.
Do with it what you will… or don’t, and see your peers run past you.