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Making the switch from guess-taker to decision-maker

Posted by  Bas van Woudenberg

Making the switch from guess-taker to decision-maker

Recent research by Gartner suggests some radical changes to traditional roles in light of new self-service analytic tool functionality. Let’s bring you up to speed by introducing you to the latest developments: the clarity of dashboards, the ease of a data transfer interface and the wonder of digital business intelligence.

Technology is driving the evolution of business. Competition and disruption is everywhere. To gain a competitive advantage in a project-focused business, chief finance officers (CFOs) and chief operating officers (COOs) need to look at technology.

Thankfully, professional services automation is getting easier. Today, business applications can be used by staff with zero experience in IT, finance or analysis. Moreover, disparate systems can be integrated at a lower cost and less effort than ever before.

To align strategy, business and budgets, COOs and CFOs need to understand data in every part of the business to make informed decisions in an instant. 1] The clarity of dashboards, 2] the ease of connecting data sources with an interface, and 3] the wonder of self-service, digital business intelligence all offer a paradigm shift.

Let’s bring you up to speed.

1] The clarity of dashboards

Dashboards are in almost every kind of app these days, from fitness and social media to utilities and cars. So, they should be part of your business and they should be easy enough for everyone to use.

In a services organization, simple, instant dashboard overviews let you drill down into the details you need to do your job and meet your goals. Dashboards can be customized to role (and they should be tailored to your sector). The main dashboards a project-driven professional services organization (PSO) needs are billing and cash, profitability, staff utilization and pipeline.

In today’s age, PSO managers that still make business-critical decisions by drawing on insight from disconnected, offline spreadsheets encounter lots of problems. The most common issue — the lack of ability to easily identify issues and underlying causes — is caused by the absence of real-time analysis. What’s more, these rigid, limited perspectives (not to mention high maintenance costs) are constraining their ability to change.

For smarter operational decision-making support, you can eradicate these concerns by using integrated dashboards that work seamlessly with your enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution straight out of the box.

The dashboard takes operational systems data from multiple systems and turns it into actionable information in an illustrative layout. Data can be viewed from different perspectives (such as revenue by project or by client) to support decision-making, allowing you to measure performance, identify opportunities and mitigate risks at the touch of a button.

But how do you access data for these dashboards from disparate systems for managing finance, clients and staff?

2] The ease of data interface

In most project-focused businesses data comes from multiple sources, such as one system for ERP, another for customer relationship management (CRM) and another for accounting. But these competing systems are cut off from each other, there’s no synchronization, and it’s time-consuming to transfer data from one to the other and access it from multiple locations.

But, in today’s competitive climate, to streamline data analysis, these disparate systems must be integrated. For comprehensive business planning, controlling and strategy, it’s imperative to access all data from any system at any time, quickly, reliably and consistently.

Luckily, there is a tool for this.

An interface tool enables convenient and transparent access to various incongruent source systems, while the extract, transform and load (ETL) tool allows transformations, filter definitions and adjustments to be carried out centrally.

Now all this data is easily accessible, can it be used by non-IT-savvy staff outside of finance?

3] The wonder of digital business intelligence

This is where you really need to challenge preconceived ideas about roles, because digital technology has changed them. Data analysis is no longer the restricted domain of the finance department or system administrator.

Self-service business intelligence (SSBI) allows anyone, regardless of department, to analyze corporate data. They don’t need any experience in statistical analysis. Anyone (where relevant) can create reports, dashboards and planning templates to carry out ad hoc analysis.

SSBI is flexible and extendable. It enables users to make faster and better decisions based on reliable information. A self-service approach ensures that all necessary data is available quickly and reliably for the users who need it, in order to provide a safe basis for decision-making, planning and strategic developments.

Because extensive automation allows crucial decision-making to be carried out by the specialist departments themselves, the benefits of SSBI include:

  • significantly increased process efficiency
  • no more delays or bottlenecks waiting for finance or system administrators
  • instantaneous access to data by the CFO which allows controlling meetings to be carried out live within the system
  • less strain on the controlling department during planning, reporting and budgeting
  • more space for finance and system administrators to do more work that really matters

SSBI is a do-it-yourself approach designed for users from specialist departments who only need basic technology skills. In the same way as non-finance staff are crossing the boundary into finance, the functions of finance roles are extending beyond traditional finance department.

Recent research by Gartner shows that SSBI, dashboards and interface tools are growing in importance and use every day.

Leverage tech to modernize finances

A 2018 Gartner survey shows there’s evidence of need for the finance role to extend its reach. In the survey of 200 finance leaders from global organizations with annual revenue of $500 million or more, the second top critical priority behind managing financial information was managing business performance.

Gartner recommends application leaders responsible for finance applications must therefore “leverage shifts in business analytics and ERP technologies” in order to “modernize” financial planning and analysis (FP&A).

“The only way for finance to manage business performance is by extending beyond the finance silo and incorporating key, non-financial data in FP&A and other financial analytic processes,” says the report.

 “At the same time, most analytics and BI programs have shifted their focus toward enabling self-service analytics for business users or delivering governed reporting and analytics in a more agile way, supported by the emergence of modern analytics and BI platforms. These platforms provide easy-to-use tools that support a full range of analytic workflow capabilities with reduced IT involvement.”

Four big benefits of automation

A smarter, integrated approach to professional services automation brings a quartet of benefits.

1. By automating data collection and capture, everyone works with a single, shared, complete and up-to-date version of the truth.

2. The use of intuitive, accessible web-based tools creates streamlined processes and interactions throughout your organization, leading to better accuracy, consistency and understanding.

3. Viewing data from different perspectives allows your staff to reveal underlying trends, patterns, or insights, which help your organization measure performance, identify opportunities and mitigate risks.

4. Overall, a smarter, integrated approach frees up finance managers to add value and act as business partners to help stakeholders make better-informed decisions

Three big wins for operations

In times of constant change, keeping strategy and operations in sync requires accurate insight into project and client profitability, resource utilization and financial performance across the entire business. By making the best use of today’s technologies, the three big wins for COOs are:

1. Executing strategy — by syncing strategy and operations to gain a complete business-wide view of performance.

2. Keeping KPIs on track — by improving visibility, adjusting strategies and adapting processes to bridge gaps and respond to changing market conditions.

3. Making better decisions — by drilling down into data to find actionable information to make the right decisions.

Creating space

This powerful trio of dashboards, data interface and SSBI work together to create space for everyone in your organization, not just finance teams, system administrators, CFOs and COOs. By harnessing self-service tools and building digital workflows you can eliminate manual tasks and reduce errors across the entire organization. This creates space for your people to work on furthering your organization’s cause by doing more work that really matters.

Whether you’re in the accounting, architecture, consultancy, engineering, IT services or legal sector, when your staff have space to do more work that really matters within your organization, it not just you who benefits, but your clients and even their customers.

Why change right now?

But there’s one more thing. The usability and capability of business applications is improving so fast that staying up-to-date is more important than ever. In such a competitive climate, digital, self-service technology is no longer a nice-to-have. If you want to gain a competitive advantage, it’s absolutely imperative.

The time to change is now.

Thanks for reading.

Visit our Guess-taker or decisions-maker page, where you’ll find more information on dashboards, interface tools, SSBI and a link to the Gartner report.

Bas van Woudenberg

Bas van Woudenberg is a professional services sector veteran, aiming to support organizations to improve utilization rates, customer satisfaction, and financial results. Bas is also the director of the Unit4 PSO Center of Excellence.