I just spent a great three days at the ICAA Business Forum in Melbourne.
As an accountant myself who has turned to the world of IT, I was interested to see how far along many accountants are on the road to using business intelligence (BI) and planning software tools. I found that there is less understanding of the nature and purpose of BI and corporate performance management (CPM) tools than I expected.
Many in the accounting profession have been trying to raise the profile of the office of finance. Traditionally seen as the bean counters of the organisation, this perception is hard to shake off with many in finance with their necks so deep in spreadsheets and day-to-day transactional processing, that they never get to do the interesting stuff like valuable analysis or providing advice to the business and CEO.
To a certain extent, accountants don’t do themselves any favours by adopting an overly detailed and transactional perspective in their roles.
My challenge to the delegates I spoke to at the conference was to rise above the transaction. You can’t do this through the normal tools of your finance system and spreadsheets.
Accountants are in the best possible position to have influence in their organisation. The chart of accounts is the central business intelligence of the whole organisation. Every transaction in the business ends up with an impact on that chart.
However the chart of accounts is not enough. How about if you had a business platform where you could see the business drivers behind your accounts? To see the assumptions made by the managers, to get immediate cause and effect of the impact of business decisions from both operational and financial perspectives. What if you had a single state of the art user interface for all your reporting and analysis? What if you could go to the board meeting, throw highly visual graphs and charts on the screen and respond to their inputs there and then in real-time? Would you be seen with a little bit more favour?
The way to achieve this is to extract the transactions from the shackles of your underlying systems and store them in a specialised ‘in memory’ database. This database responds immediately to changes made anywhere in the model. It is connected to your underlying systems so you don’t need to do the cut and paste into spreadsheets. It is a repository of historical, current and forecast information, all stored and integrated in a single source of truth.
Why is the finance department reticent to take on business intelligence then? I believe many accountants abdicate the influence they own and pass it off to IT. Business intelligence, though, is central to your role if you choose to claim the responsibility.
It is in fact career-limiting for an accountant not to have experience of implementing and using planning and BI tools on their CV.
There is a huge and undeniable business case for CPM and BI tools. The question is will you be left watching as it overtakes you, or will you be driving it?
You can read more about Professional Advantage and business intelligence here.
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