Financial analytics is becoming a bigger and bigger part of day-to-day accountancy work, both in industry and in practice.
Practices are starting to use analytics (also known as ‘business intelligence’) to paint a detailed and accessible picture of company performance for their clients, while internal finance teams are using it to create team-specific reports to help them identify new opportunities and work more efficiently.
Sam Ellis is an accountant and recognised analytics expert. He is also Head of Operations and Finance at business intelligence agency InterWorks Europe. He says: “Analytics is about accessing and combining the right data and asking the right questions. Then you can produce something of value.”
While you can do this using Excel, there are more and more programs available, such as Tableau and PowerBI, that allow you to do more with a few clicks.
Below are some tips to get started. Sam Ellis will also be hosting an in-depth seminar at AAT on September 13.
Identify current issues
“There are a few different ways to start on your technology adventure and because there are so many technologies out there it’s good to bring focus to your explorations,” says Ellis. “One place to start is to consider the problems you currently wish to solve. For example, your software doesn’t give you great looking reports, or it takes too long to put something meaningful together.”
Identifying problems is a good place to start because it’s inherently something you’ll be driven to solve. It’s not hypothetical; it’s real. You’re invested in finding the solution from the beginning.
Research and collaborate
If you are passionate about changing something for the better, Ellis advises that you should collaborate in a small working group or do some solo research. “A nice research trick is to try Google images search, especially with a subject like data visualisation. You’ll see a tonne of beautiful visualisations and you can follow the source URLs to the original posts.”
Try to absorb as much as possible and focus on one or two technologies that will provide what you need and advance you forward. Take stock of the technologies your business has already put in place and accessible data sources.
Speak to stakeholders
Bear in mind that there are numerous stakeholders receiving and benefiting from the outputs of your work. The prospect of a hard stop in favour of new technology can be disruptive (in a bad way).
“Lightly canvass colleagues, managers, directors and partners to work out who will be the advocates, who will be interested in your research and who will object,” Ellis says. “Advocates will have your back; they’ll support your research and will help keep you going. A group of people giving voice to future technologies is going to have an impact on your success.”
Feedback will help shape the offering to be appealing to others. It will be less of a shock to your business if stakeholders are aware of what you’re doing from the outset and have a chance to get on board. Remember, even objections are helpful. Resolving them will lead to a more thorough solution and no one is excluded.
AAT Data Seminar
Sam Ellis will be hosting a seminar overview of big data, data analytics, business intelligence and why this is relevant to finance teams and accountants.
For more on getting started with analytics and producing great reports, AAT members can read the Sept/Oct edition of AT magazine, mailing out on 11 September.
Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.