Data is an essential component of any finance and accountancy work, but teams aren’t capturing enough of it. The pandemic has exposed how historical data doesn’t provide enough usable insights in a fast-moving world.
Some teams are moving into real-time data and automation to help streamline and consolidate data and capture more up-to-date information to improve planning, forecasting and decision making. But many more finance functions are still figuring out their approaches.
We asked our members in business panel how they capture data, where their data gaps lie, and how they’re addressing it.
Capturing some data can be tricky – no matter the method
Clare Elliott, CFO, ILUX (a workplace IT provider)
There is one specific piece of data that we fail to capture successfully, which is specifically how long it takes each person to complete each task. Not in general terms, but specifically – for each person, for each client, and for each unique scenario. Capturing such detailed data is time consuming, and not always as easy to capture electronically as it may sound. Systems have to be given very specific parameters and often multiple tasks can be running concurrently, even though we all know that one person can actually only perform one task at any given time. Capturing it manually is very time consuming, but capturing electronically may give rise to slightly inaccurate data. Both of which are not helpful.
There were two big data gaps that we uncovered at the start of the pandemic. One: client-specific documentation that was readily available to all. We became aware that sitting next to each other in the office meant information was more easily shared verbally, but that left gaps when individuals left the organisation and made it harder for individuals to work when separated from each other.
Two: detailed analysis of employee skills. This became apparent when we employed new schedulers who needed to understand the exact skills of their team but didn’t have the personal history to reflect on. Without the documented list of tasks and individual skills, the process slowed down.
The pandemic was literally the perfect storm; highlighting both what you do brilliantly and exposing your gaps. The most important thing was to learn from that exposure and try to plug the gaps. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that any eventuality really is a possibility and not just a “what if” conversation!
The systems we use to capture data from across the organisation. Programming these systems takes time and often needs to be tweaked over time to reflect the change(s) in process. Therefore, it needs to be continually monitored. Having software that can be programmed to capture the specific data we need is invaluable, but that is both time-consuming and costly, so the benefits must always outweigh that cost.
But having the ability to do that is also invaluable, when it works well it brings greater efficiencies and highlights areas for improvement. We are continually looking to improve data capture across the organisation, and are currently in the middle of changes to our bespoke software to help capture even more data, in order to drive efficiencies even further down the line.
We need our data to keep up with the world
Farha Jamadar, finance manager, Todd Doors
I wish we captured more information on future trends and events that affect our specific industry that can be combined to build a better forecast. More collaboration with suppliers and customers would ensure all needs are met, developing our business and industry into an ecosystem that can work together and grow rapidly and meet the needs of shareholders.
While data is readily available all the time with the help of technology, it’s converting this into useful information that matters. Historically, we converted our historic data into information and used this as a comparative and benchmark tool. However, with consumer and trends changing at a faster rate than ever before, you need to be able to forecast and tailor your forecasts to this. It’s all about looking into the future, not relying on the past. This was the case when it came to the pandemic, as previous data became mainly irrelevant.
We currently capture information from supplier shipping times and stock levels, marketing information the interaction we get from different demographics and for which stock lines. Alongside this, the daily updates on the pandemic of whether the rates are up etcetera.
I think it’s a case of developing infrastructure to be able to convert all data into relevant information, then utilising finance to deliver this information to management, so that the long and short term strategy can be set. Information and systems go hand-in-hand. When this works, the company has the power to increase profits and market share by pivoting toward trends and markets.
We’re still manually gathering some data – that needs to change
Björgvin Vigfússon, finance manager, Westmorland Linen Rental and Laundry
As accountancy/finance function and many other functions have realised in the last few years, data capture and analysis is slowly(already) becoming a major part of day-to-day operations. We currently are able to capture majority of the data we need. Automation is where we have identified shortfalls in our data capture.
Currently, a good portion of the data is manually gathered and processed. It is not a high portion overall, but if we could have it automated, we could use that free time on adding value to the business. So we are looking into ways of upgrading our systems.
The pandemic didn’t expose any data gaps for us. If anything, the pace slowed due to our client base being predominantly in hospitality. We managed to analyse our data and understand it a bit better. We have then used the lessons learned to our advantage now that business is almost back to “normal”.
Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.