Across all areas of business, finance professionals are among the most sophisticated users of IT tools.

The applications they build perform highly sophisticated data extraction and modelling as well as highly aggregated dashboard views; all using Excel!

Not only do finance professionals need to view data in their own finance systems, they need operational data where they can model business drivers for their financial impact on the primary financial statements. They also need to be able to share, collaborate and analyse this data with stakeholders. Finance sits at the top of the information system tree. The effect of every financial transaction in the business impacts the chart of accounts. It is the most highly consolidated position.

Let’s look at the data supply chain in which finance professionals operate:

  1. We start with data extraction from source systems. Many finance professionals, not being IT experts, may have managed to use query tools and understand some of the complex table structures and weird naming conventions of the organisation’s databases.
  1. They have then had to cleanse and convert the data so that it is consistent across different systems. They might have become familiar with text string functions which break a long string into individual segments or reformatted the period code to just take the month.
  1. We are still only at the start. They now need to turn this raw data into reporting views and so have used complex ‘vlookups’ functions to map the data.
  1. Then they need to consolidate data so that we get a summarised view of the whole organisation and its constituent parts. The reports then need to be made dynamic for planning purposes so they can vary parameters for a different view. Again, all using Excel.

 

We have seen some incredibly large and sophisticated spreadsheet applications taking up valuable space on network drives.

The question is, why do finance professionals do this? It is enormously time consuming, highly wasteful of a professional’s time and limiting to their careers as finance professionals.

Finance gets a lot of stick from the IT industry for using spreadsheets. However we have to give them their dues for their skill, persistence and sophistication. The alternative is to rely on the IT department. This can often cause bottle-necks and long waits.

To make someone in Finance sit up and listen, you would need to show them how to create models with calculations and data entry screens, performing sophisticated data extractions whilst simultaneously cleansing the data. This carries more weight than showing flashy dashboards. I find CFOs and senior management accountants are able to follow this ground up demonstration of sophistication very easily.

I realised that finance professionals are eager for something they can get the equivalent self-determination they currently have with spreadsheets but with a tool that removes all the problems these spreadsheets create.

I call this ‘reclaiming the IT data supply chain for finance professionals’. The supply chain covers original data transactions through to cash flow statements, budgetary reports and analysis and highly formatted board graphical representation of highly aggregated and modelled data. This enables a finance professional to spend their time on the numbers rather than in the numbers. Time is spent on analysis, not on control and reconciliation.

The impact of this change is not just on a few individuals in the finance department being able to go home on time. It effects the whole organisation. There is so much untapped ability in Finance that, given the right tools, the department could be better placed than anyone to provide strategic and operational advice and guidance.

We strongly advocate for tools that empower the business user to be the master of their own destiny. This forms the basis of our demonstrations of IT tools. These are tools which require no coding, scripting or technical knowledge. Just like Excel only it is a single source of truth.

 

 

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