Big data analytics form new formula for leading CFOs

  • Majority of CFOs still using a combination of intuition and spreadsheets as their primary tools
  • Leveraging big data and analytics will be the key differentiator for successful CFOs of the future

Big data analytics form new formula for leading CFOsTHE boardroom is changing. New roles continue to emerge and spheres of influence are increasingly fluid as companies adjust to meet the demands of new customers, technologies and markets.

Despite this evolution, the CFO’s (chief financial officer's) seat right next to the CEO (chief executive officer) remains intact.

According to a recent study by the IBM Institute of Business Value, CEOs say they rely more heavily on the CFO than on the rest of the board when they’re formulating business strategy. 

What has traditionally differentiated the CFO from the rest of the C-suite is their command of the financial data impacting the business – sales, revenue, expenses, etc. It is this understanding of organisational performance and current market trends that has enabled CFOs to provide unmatched counsel. 

Looking ahead, these same skills alone will not serve to cement the CFO’s elevated position around the boardroom table.

As digital, mobile and social technologies change the way customers interact with organisations, there’s a whole new set of data emerging outside of ledgers, spreadsheets and economic indicators that are increasingly impacting the success of a business’s performance.

And if CFOs want to keep their role as lead counsellor to the CEO on business strategy, they must also master this new and constantly emerging set of data.

Across all industries and functions, leaders are recognizing that data is the key to competitive advantage, as data has become the world’s new natural resource. This represents a historic convergence of technology shifts, any one of which would have been sufficient to spark a new era. 

Data is now coming from multiple, diverse sources. In fact, only one-fifth of the data generated is ‘structured’ – the kind that fits into neat rows and columns in a database that finance departments have become accustomed to.

The other four-fifths is ‘unstructured’ – from images and audio to the waves of people blogging, texting, posting and tweeting. 

Given this reality, it’s not surprising that our study found that while the majority of CFOs are still using a combination of intuition and spreadsheets as their primary tools, the most effective CFOs – and their teams – increasingly are using big data and analytics to transform their finance organisations’ effectiveness. 

Employing analytics is becoming one of the hallmarks of the highest performing finance organizations.

Whether its digging into massive amounts of data to uncover customer sentiment on products, capturing emerging trends from social conversations to better pinpoint areas of investment, or using analytics from volumes of customer and employee interactions to quickly discover fraudulent activity – leveraging big data and analytics will be the key differentiator for successful CFOs of the future.

In fact, today’s leading CFOs are already applying their analytic capabilities in the pursuit of profitable growth for their organisation.  

According to the CFOs we talked to, the most successful use analytics to spend significantly more time on business model innovation (by 110%), acquisitions and divestitures (116%) and exploiting the value of big data (153%).

It is clear that the vast majority of CFOs (82%) see the value of integrating data, but only 24% think their team is up to the task.

This marks a 205% increase in the gap between the importance of data and the ability to exploit its value since we first asked the question in 2005, showcasing a critical divide in the skills and capabilities for today’s finance teams.

Thus serving as a call to action for today’s finance leaders to ensure they are developing the right analytical skills and capabilities to stay ahead of the ever-steepening curve.

So how can finance organisations evolve to higher levels of performance in driving efficiency, capitalizing on business insight, and creating profitable growth? Using today’s leading CFOs as a rubric for success, a winning formula most certainly emerges.

By bringing analytics into the finance department to break down barriers to clients and the rest of the business and by successfully collaborating with the chief marketing officer to uncover new areas of profitable growth, CFOs will most certainly be able to lead a highly effective and influential finance organisation of the future.

Wong Chiun Chiek is the chief financial officer at IBM Malaysia. When not peeling layers off figures, he enjoys a strong cup of coffee.

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