- Author: Michael Zimmel
- Posted: January 18, 2021
Business Intelligence and the CFO
By Michael Zimmel
Regardless of the product or services offered, every business produces data—an invaluable asset that allows a business to better understand itself and make informed decisions. The terms Business Analytics and Business Intelligence are often incorrectly conflated; Business Analytics is, in fact, a subset of BI, which encompasses much more.
BI emerged in the 1960s as a channel of sharing information across an organization, but the advent of computer technology has caused significant shifts to this role. Due to transformations in entire industries caused by the Big Data Revolution, present-day BI covers a wider range of functions, including data collection, reporting, querying, data preparation, and statistical analysis.
Why does your organization need Business Intelligence?
BI brings in large amounts of data from multiple sources and structures it such that it is applicable to real-life conditions. It allows organizations to gain a comprehensive view of the data within their organization and subsequently utilize the data to drive change, adapt to the market, eliminate inefficiencies, optimize operating leverage, and much more.
Where does Business Intelligence fit into your organization?
For BI to be able to realize its full potential, it needs to be connected to an executive-level manager who can manage and promote this data effectively. Larger companies have the resources and organizational capacity to hire a Chief Information Officer (CIO), who could shoulder the responsibilities of leading a BI department. On the other hand, smaller or medium-sized companies may not. For these companies, both the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) would be fit to assume the leading role.
As BI is at the crossroads of business and tech, the CFO is arguably the better choice between the two. CFOs are likely to be in closer proximity to the business and more involved in big-picture strategizing than CTOs. Apart from fulfilling the traditional finance role, CFOs process, analyze the finance function, use the business intelligence tools, and apply a lot of data, most of which is financial. Their expertise lends itself directly to the role of leading BI in an organization.
How does Business Intelligence enhance the role of the CFO?
The relationship between BI and CFOs is highly symbiotic; they nourish and enhance each other’s functions and impact. They are basically the strategic partners who work for the improvement of the business performance, and thus supporting to healthy operating margins. The skill set and experiences of a CFO make them an ideal fit for leading BI in a company, while BI enables CFOs to offer much more to their company than plain old accounting. Below are some of the ways BI enhances the value offered by CFOs to their companies:
1. Collecting information impartially
The role of the BI department not only in a technology company is to collect as much data as possible in a completely impartial manner without any bias or agenda. Being responsible for BI will push the Chief Financial Officer to ensure that each data set is impartial and fact-based. Hence, Finance and BI will serve as a solution provider and will benefit the wider financial conditions and dealings of the company.
2. Corralling a wide range of data
Having a more robust set of data is extremely important when it comes to making business decisions, as this allows the company to overcome data silos. Working with BI will enact a mindset shift in the CFO regarding how data should be used in the finance department. They will see the value in combining all types of data—from financial to non-financial, thus having a major role in data visualization and development of new data strategies.
3. Defining data clearly
In BI, all findings are quantified and described clearly, allowing them to be used effectively and accurately across different departments. In the same vein, the CFO has to support a single version of truth throughout the entire organization and ensure that it can be reconciled to financial information. This allows for effective inter-departmental decision-making.
4. Allowing for informed decisions
Engaging in BI encourages CFOs to develop a data-driven culture, as it helps them set the expectation that all decisions are to be anchored in data. BI provides CFOs with the information and context with which they can make smart and informed decisions. Strategies that are created without context or a comprehensive understanding of key statistics are mere stabs in the dark, which could lead to devastating consequences for the business.
5. Spotting weaknesses
Stepping back and approaching a problem from a different angle can often lead to better insight and fresh ideas. By analyzing the functional data from a bird’s eye view, the BI department is more likely to spot well-concealed issues, as well as incomplete and inconsistent data within the company. Working as a finance team, they play an advisory role which provides the company with valuable business insights. This could even lead to the implementation of cost-cutting measures and better operating decisions with improved business operations. In sum, it can act as a CFO’s informal internal audit department.
6. Predicting trends
The BI department allows the Chief Financial Officer to gauge and follow developments in the industry, provide performance insights using data science, apply valuable tools to monitor changes in the market, work on market segments using data analytics, and collaborate with the supply chain to anticipate customer needs. Rather than applying traditional approaches to forecasting, the complex financial data collected through BI allows CFOs to use advanced methodologies to identify trends and market conditions through data insight, make projections for the future of the company, work on risk management using business data and develop corresponding strategies. Armed with this information i.e. the financial and operational data, the decision-makers can act swiftly and work on actionable insights to take a chance on potentially profitable opportunities or catching up with industry benchmarks.
The positive impacts of business intelligence can be found in virtually every corner of a business. From supply chain optimization and employee satisfaction to financial reporting, business intelligence allows for better analysis and financial planning. Because of its alignment with the principles and functions of BI, the position of the Chief Financial Officer is more exciting than ever today. Through shifts in mindset and fine-tuning of their processes, CFOs can leverage the power of a BI department and work with the executive management team to apply valuable, data-based insight and cultivate a data-driven culture. The result? Consistent and continual growth for the company, better operating decisions and improved corporate performance.
About the author
Michael Zimmel is an accomplished executive leader and Chartered Accountant. Most of his work centers on analyzing and communicating how financial leadership principles can be applied to create value. He is the Founder and CEO of Volve, a company offering solutions to streamline corporate spending and accounting workflows. He founded the company as a commitment to help improve the work and value-add of local and regional finance departments. Michael is a great believer in developing people and teaches financial modelling and other corporate finance-related topics.
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