Technology & Innovation

Straight As: A new data-driven standard for finance leaders

“How do you know if your data is trustworthy when there are multiple versions of the truth?”

This was the question that Mohammed Mosam, Director of product marketing for Sage Africa, Middle East, and Asia, posed to delegates at Finance Indaba 2022 during his talk on ‘Unlocking real-time insight: Master your data and analytics’.

With accelerated digitalisation to accommodate remote and hybrid working models, many roles have shifted and deepened—and the finance profession is no different.

In his talk, Mohammed highlighted the importance of data analytics in the finance industry.

“Cloud-based solutions enable you to move beyond spreadsheets to give you a single version of the truth—no matter what format your data is in. From this verifiable state, you can do dimensional reporting, and deep-dive analysis—Excel can’t do that.”

Data means nothing without insight

Mohammed shared the results of a survey, which found that when it comes to tech priorities, 80% of CFOs rank data analytics as the most important. From a business priority perspective, 82% of CFOs say improving cash flow tops their list.

Ultimately, the former enables the latter through one key element: insight.

You can have the most colourful and organised Excel spreadsheet, but if you can’t turn the data into actionable information quickly and accurately, you’ll become more of an administrator.

Accountants who turn their spreadsheets into reports and insights spend hours or even days sifting through the A1s and F100s, trying to make sense of it all.

However, if you really want to score straight As, you need to spend less time creating and managing the data and more time analysing it to get data-driven insights.

Mohammed shared his ideas on how to do this.

Straight As for the overachiever

When it comes to scoring top marks in data analytics, you’re not just getting scored for reducing your own time and effort on capturing data, but you’ll also receive a gold star from your stakeholders for the insight you deliver.

To do that, Mohammed advises that CFOs focus on four As: Accuracy, Audience, Accessibility, and Arrangement.

  1. Accuracy

Accurate, verifiable numbers can make or break your reputation. Whether it’s financial, statistical, or key performance indicators and metrics, if your data is inaccurate, neither you nor your stakeholders will be impressed.

But when your data is standardised from the get-go, accuracy becomes a non-issue because you’ve already achieved it. Your cloud solution is designed to keep data accurate and secure. All you need to do now is extract the information and turn it into insight.

  1. Audience

Once you have accurate information, you need to get it to the right people—that’s where the audience comes in.

Ask yourself:

Am I…

  • Reporting to an internal audience?
  • Delivering information to the financial team, executives, or the board?
  • Reporting externally to auditors, stakeholders, shareholders, creditors, or the like?

Once you know who you’re speaking to, you’ll understand what your final report should look like in terms of insights, format, and complexity.

For example, a report designed to share insights with the CEO on overall financial performance will differ from the one designed to inform potential investors on cash flow projections.

  1. Accessibility

Data loss or theft, accidentally sending sensitive information to unauthorised people, and not managing data access could land you in trouble with regulators.

You might have solved this problem in the past by having one spreadsheet for every department in the company. But you likely also spent a lot of time drawing insights from each spreadsheet and cross-checking them against each other to ensure the data is accurate.

Cloud finance solutions support granular access control, so only authorised people can view sensitive information. The ability to create custom reports from a single data repository not only speeds up and streamlines reporting, but also keeps you compliant.

Self-service dashboards allow you to share information with different audiences in real-time or collaborate with people relevant to the specific data.

  1. Arrangement

The first three steps were all about making your life easier and more efficient, but this step is all about the people receiving the information. If you can pull it off, you’ll definitely get gold stars from your stakeholders.

Remember, even if you’re reporting to a financial team, you may still have varied interpretations of the data. That is why you want to present the information in a clear, efficient, and easy-to-understand format to ensure your audience understands exactly what you’re trying to convey.

For example, presenting financial data in a financial style (i.e., numbers and percentages) is not always practical because many people resonate better with visuals or narratives.

Beyond the spreadsheet

Cloud technology gives you the power and flexibility to enhance report formats according to an audience’s level of understanding while enabling multi-angle analysis to help you answer specific questions faster.

Among its endless benefits, cloud data technology:

  • Yields greater trust and accuracy
  • Enables drill-to-details all the way down to the originating documents
  • Offers the security of delivering the right insight to the right people with permissions
  • Provides instant decision-making insight
  • Includes proactive insights that reduce one-off Q&A tasks

A master in data and analytics

Reporting is about transforming dispersed data into consolidated information, enabling one source of truth and optimised understanding for everyone involved—including you.

Whether you’re diving deep into details or creating summaries, insight is the overarching reason why data exists, and cloud technology allows you to do it all with time to spare.

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