If you can analyse data effectively, you’ll stand out from other accountants. You’ll be able to demonstrate to your customers (internal or external) that you can solve their problems.
As well as reducing their pain points in their workflows and processes, save them precious time, enable them to work more seamlessly with other parts of the business and give them actionable insights. In short, you’ll be a trusted and valuable partner.
As part of our AATPowerUp series, here are four essential tips for reading data in the right way
1. Ask the right questions
At the outset, it’s far more important to ask the right questions than to dive straight into the data to find patterns. Before you even look at the data, work out what you want to know.
For example: “I want to be able to monitor the performance of X.”
So the question is: what does good and bad performance look like? What sort of data do you need to answer that question? Then build a narrative around that.
If you simply make assumptions about what your customer wants, plunge straight into the data and report on whatever you find, your feedback will just become part of the noise.
Everyone is already overloaded with information. So spend time with your customer. Ask them: “What are your current pain points? If you could ask any question of your business data, what would it be? Which sorts of findings would help you make better decisions, more quickly?”
By really getting to know your customer, you’ll have a strong idea of what to look for in the data.
2. Anchor yourself to your questions
When people square up to large data sets from a cold position, they can experience data blindness. The notion that, by staring at the data, some insightful thoughts or ideas will jump out at you is fallacious.
All you’ll see is fuzzy numbers and strings. So have a couple of questions written down on a notepad by your side. Keep casting an eye over them as you review the data set, and the ideas will come.
Start simple and stay simple.
3. Go beyond the traditional data
Another mistake people make is limiting themselves to legacy databases. Ultimately, that will fall short of customer expectations.
So many data sources are now available, and there are established techniques for linking internal and external and disparate sources. So go back to the drawing board. Ask what data you need, and then find the relevant technology or the consultants to build it for you. Almost anything is possible.
4. Present the data simply
Traditionally, accountants would present reams of numbers in the hope that someone would find a few useful nuggets in them. What we’re doing now is not so much reinventing the wheel as simplifying things.
Clients will always ask for historical performance and profit-and-loss data. But, when it comes to further information, it’s almost better for us to show less and to be more targeted in our approach (again, driven by the right questions).
Remember… When finance professionals expand their horizons and examine data sets from the viewpoint of different business functions – for example, sales, operations, HR, marketing and even legal – they can really prove their worth.
You can enable those business functions, through that data, to improve their processes and become more integrated. That is where the value of the finance team increasingly lies.
Get started in data analytics with excel today, using our handy mini guide to improve your digital skills.
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