Earlier in the year we held an event at the ACCA along with our partner Infor, which explored the importance of business intelligence and corporate performance management. We had a great turnout, with a cross-section of senior finance professionals from a diverse range of organisations.
I often set the scene with findings from Gartner – discussing what finance leaders see as their top priorities. While I discussed the broad themes, I wanted to take a different tack this time and ask the audience in the room what their priorities were. After all, what they find important is what really matters and their priorities of those in the room may differ from their industry peers.
The results were interesting in that they matched very closely with the Gartner study. The audience noted that the following were top priorities, all broadly in similar positions to the study:
The only notable difference was the priority of “developing business plans and budgets”. It jumped up the list compared to Gartner’s results to the number one priority of the audience.
While our findings were a quick straw poll done on the day, the results do demonstrate that there was a strong correlation between Gartner’s survey recipients and our audience.
Our audience’s top priorities, like those in Gartner’s study, clearly indicate the priority is business intelligence. Finance teams want more visibility to make informed decisions, both for planning and ongoing business operation. The quality of that data is rightly highlighted as important, as investments into BI projects will only pay off when the information it offers is valuable.
The one item that isn’t directly influenced by business intelligence is reducing operating costs. However BI can still help cost reduction, both from giving insight into where the business is performing (or underperforming) and simply reducing the cost and inefficiencies of manual data analysis.
All of this points to a solid need for business intelligence – but what is holding organisations back?
I think sometimes the topic can seem daunting, and in the age of ‘big data’ it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. With the sheer amount of data available now in an organisation it’s all too easy to look at the data and then decide what analysis to draw from it.
But for business intelligence to work you need to start with understanding what you wish to know. Business intelligence will adapt as the business adapts – so there’s nothing wrong with starting small, proving the concept and building on successes.
But it’s clear that at the moment finance leaders are not getting the information they need. The best case scenario is that an organisation starts to lose ground to more agile competitors. But worst case scenario is it the lack of information blinds the people that ultimately are responsible for the financial health of the organisation.