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Five Key Benefits Big Data Can Deliver For Finance: Part 2

Nilly Essaides

Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here.

Finance professionals and experts interviewed by the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) for its upcoming FP&A Guide, How Finance Can Get Ready for Big Data, releasing April 12, pointed out five key benefits finance can achieve from adopting Big Data strategies.

  1. Improved forecasting. The key benefits for incorporating Big Data strategies into FP&A is improving predictability. Big Data validates the assumptions that go into the business forecast, and therefore allows FP&A to come up with a more accurate view of how events in the market and internally will impact the company’s performance, and thus its competitive position. A data-driven finance department can better look forward and identify leading indicators. With that information, the CFO can make more educated decisions.
  1. Better KPIs. FP&A can take also take advantage of Big Data when identifying and understanding value drivers, and then managing and monitoring financial and non-financial KPIs against these value drivers. By nature of its job and role, FP&A is in the right position to examine that and assess whether core planning and reporting models represent the right driver relationships and related KPIs.
  1. More predictable working capital. An existing example for an area where Big Data can play a role is in analyzing and predicting working capital. Traditionally, finance would look up 15 factors that drive working capital and monitor them to come up with a forecast. Now, instead, an analyst can seek statistical correlations between working capital and any number of data points to arrive at a forecast for the organization.
  1. Identification of growth opportunities. One of the areas that CEOs identified as the best thing CFOs can do, according to KPMG’s The View from the Top 2015 survey, is in best leveraging financial data and analytics to identify growth opportunities. While marketing is clearly involved, finance is actually in a much better position – and has better access to data – to analyze the cost to serve across multiple dimensions (products, customers, services, channels) and then analyze pricing strategies and where to optimize profitability and growth.
  1. A stronger strategic role for FP&A. Finally, FP&A already has the basic multidisciplinary thinking and analytical approach. Using Big Data and getting comfortable with some ambiguity allows FP&A professionals to more quickly adjust their thinking, and recommendations, in reaction to changes in the business environment, today and looking forward. Many FP&A groups are already moving their focus from what happened to what’s going to happen and why. In this role, they are becoming a strategic partner to the business and senior management.

According to Allan Frank, chief IT strategist and co-founder of The Hackett Group, Big Data and related new tools present a tremendous opportunity for finance to take the lead, given its core fiduciary responsibilities. “The challenge for finance is how to develop an enterprise view of analytics,” he said. “The first thing is to realize you can find out more. You can ask questions you couldn’t ask before and frame them in the form of business outcomes.”

Over time there will likely be an evolution of the FP&A business analyst into the business data scientist, according to Philip Peck, vice president of finance transformation at Peloton. “FP&A practitioners will review and analyze all of the forward-looking KPIs and data available, dynamically adjust forecasts, make tactical recommendations, and effectively drive that information into operations,” he said.

Peck added that as finance and FP&A continue to extend and expand their business partnering activities across the organization, they have a unique opportunity to spearhead or at least guide Big Data and analytics efforts and become the go-to experts in this area. “Similar to the evolution we experienced when business intelligence became more prevalent, we are starting to see the emergence of analytic centers of excellence or competency centers,” he said.

To benchmark your organization’s forecasting methods and other FP&A processes, take the AFP FP&A Benchmarking Survey, in partnership with IBM. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter.

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Nilly Essaides

About Nilly Essaides

Nilly Essaides is the director of the FP&A Practice at the Association for Financial Professionals. She has over 25 years of experience in the finance field. Nilly has written multiple in-depth research reports on FP&A and Treasury topics, as well as countless articles. She also speaks at conferences and moderates financial executives' roundtables across the country. Nilly has published a book on best-practice transfer and process excellence with the APQC, "If We Only Knew What We Know."

Real-Time Analysis Tools Critical To Improving Finance Performance [INFOGRAPHIC]

Viki Ghavalas

The majority of finance executives agree that real-time analysis tools are key to making better business decisions, according to a report by CFO Research and SAP titled “The Future of Financial Planning and Analysis.” However, executives polled also believe that their current systems still need more improvement to be able to make a positive impact on the business. Executives surveyed point to four main priorities for their FP&A tools.

Finance executives surveyed expect the demand for real-time analysis tools to grow in the coming years. However, the survey also shows that having these tools is not enough and that stakeholders also expect analysis and insights from finance that are simple and actionable.

Data in financial planning and analysis

Learn more about what finance executives are projecting for FP&A by downloading the “The Future of Financial Planning and Analysis” report.

Are you monitoring business performance in real time? If not, read Boosting Efficiency For CFOs And The Finance Function.

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Viki Ghavalas

About Viki Ghavalas

Viki Ghavalas is worldwide program manager for the finance line of business at SAP.

Why Banks Should Be Bullish On Integrating Finance And Risk Data

Mike Russo

Welcome to the regulatory world of banking, where finance and risk must join forces to banking executiveensure compliance and control. Today it’s no longer sufficient to manage your bank’s performance using finance-only metrics such as net income. What you need is a risk-adjusted view of performance that identifies how much revenue you earn relative to the amount of risk you take on. That requires metrics that combine finance and risk components, such as risk-adjusted return on capital, shareholder value added, or economic value added.

While the smart money is on a unified approach to finance and risk, most banking institutions have isolated each function in a discrete technology “silo” complete with its own data set, models, applications, and reporting components. What’s more, banks continually reuse and replicate their finance and risk-related data – resulting in the creation of additional data stores filled with redundant data that grows exponentially over time. Integrating all this data on a single platform that supports both finance and risk scenarios can provide the data integrity and insight needed to meet regulations. Such an initiative may involve some heavy lifting, but the advantages extend far beyond compliance.

Cashing in on bottom-line benefits

Consider the potential cost savings of taking a more holistic approach to data management. In our work with large global banks, we estimate that data management – including validation, reconciliation, and copying data from one data mart to another – accounts for 50% to 70% of total IT costs. Now factor in the benefits of reining in redundancy. One bank we’re currently working with is storing the same finance and risk-related data 20 times. This represents a huge opportunity to save costs by eliminating data redundancy and all the associated processes that unfold once you start replicating data across multiple sources.

With the convergence of finance and risk, we’re seeing more banks reviewing their data architecture, thinking about new models, and considering how to handle data in a smarter way. Thanks to modern methodologies, building a unified platform that aligns finance and risk no longer requires a rip-and-replace process that can disrupt operations. As with any enterprise initiative, it’s best to take a phased approach.

Best practices in creating a unified data platform

Start by identifying a chief data officer (CDO) who has strategic responsibility for the unified platform, including data governance, quality, architecture, and analytics. The CDO oversees the initiative, represents all constituencies, and ensures that the new data architecture serves the interests of all stakeholders.

Next, define a unified set of terms that satisfies both your finance and risk constituencies while addressing regulatory requirements. This creates a common language across the enterprise so all stakeholders clearly understand what the data means. Make sure all stakeholders have an opportunity to weigh in and explain their perspective of the data early on because certain terms can mean different things to finance and risk folks.

In designing your platform, take advantage of new technologies that make previous IT models predicated on compute-intensive risk modeling a thing of the past. For example, in-memory computing now enables you to integrate all information and analytic processes in memory, so you can perform calculations on-the-fly and deliver results in real time. Advanced event stream processing lets you run analytics against transaction data as it’s posting, so you can analyze and act on events as they happen.

Such technologies bring integration, speed, flexibility, and access to finance and risk data. They eliminate the need to move data to data marts and reconcile data to meet user requirements. Now a single finance and risk data warehouse can be flexible and comprehensive enough to serve many masters.

Join our webinar with Risk.net on 7 October, 2015 to learn best practices and benefits of deploying an integrated finance and risk platform.

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Mike Russo

About Mike Russo

Mike Russo, Senior Industry Principal – Financial Services Mike has 30 years experience in the Financial Services/ Financial Software industries. His experience includes stints as Senior Auditor for the Irving Trust Co., NY; Manager of the International Department at Barclays Bank of New York; and 14 years as CFO for Nordea Bank’s, New York City branch –a full service retail/commercial bank. Mike also served on Nordea’s Credit, IT, and Risk Committees. Mike’s financial software experience includes roles as a Senior Banking Consultant with Sanchez Computer Associates and Manager of Global Business Solutions (focused on sale of financial/risk management solutions) with Thomson Financial. Prior to joining SAP, Mike was a regulator with the Federal Reserve Bank in Charlotte, where he was responsible for the supervision of large commercial banking organizations in the Southeast with a focus on market/credit/operational risk management. Joined SAP 8years ago.

How Much Will Digital Cannibalization Eat into Your Business?

Fawn Fitter

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that 40% of companies will crumble when they fail to complete a successful digital transformation.

These legacy companies may be trying to keep up with insurgent companies that are introducing disruptive technologies, but they’re being held back by the ease of doing business the way they always have – or by how vehemently their customers object to change.

Most organizations today know that they have to embrace innovation. The question is whether they can put a digital business model in place without damaging their existing business so badly that they don’t survive the transition. We gathered a panel of experts to discuss the fine line between disruption and destruction.

SAP_Disruption_QA_images2400x1600_3

qa_qIn 2011, when Netflix hiked prices and tried to split its streaming and DVD-bymail services, it lost 3.25% of its customer base and 75% of its market capitalization.²︐³ What can we learn from that?

Scott Anthony: That debacle shows that sometimes you can get ahead of your customers. The key is to manage things at the pace of the market, not at your internal speed. You need to know what your customers are looking for and what they’re willing to tolerate. Sometimes companies forget what their customers want and care about, and they try to push things on them before they’re ready.

R. “Ray” Wang: You need to be able to split your traditional business and your growth business so that you can focus on big shifts instead of moving the needle 2%. Netflix was responding to its customers – by deciding not to define its brand too narrowly.

qa_qDoes disruption always involve cannibalizing your own business?

Wang: You can’t design new experiences in existing systems. But you have to make sure you manage the revenue stream on the way down in the old business model while managing the growth of the new one.

Merijn Helle: Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are putting a lot of capital into digital initiatives that aren’t paying enough back yet in the form of online sales, and they’re cannibalizing their profits so they can deliver a single authentic experience. Customers don’t see channels, they see brands; and they want to interact with brands seamlessly in real time, regardless of channel or format.

Lars Bastian: In manufacturing, new technologies aren’t about disrupting your business model as much as they are about expanding it. Think about predictive maintenance, the ability to warn customers when the product they’ve purchased will need service. You’re not going to lose customers by introducing new processes. You have to add these digitized services to remain competitive.

qa_qIs cannibalizing your own business better or worse than losing market share to a more innovative competitor?

Michael Liebhold: You have to create that digital business and mandate it to grow. If you cannibalize the existing business, that’s just the price you have to pay.

Wang: Companies that cannibalize their own businesses are the ones that survive. If you don’t do it, someone else will. What we’re really talking about is “Why do you exist? Why does anyone want to buy from you?”

Anthony: I’m not sure that’s the right question. The fundamental question is what you’re using disruption to do. How do you use it to strengthen what you’re doing today, and what new things does it enable? I think you can get so consumed with all the changes that reconfigure what you’re doing today that you do only that. And if you do only that, your business becomes smaller, less significant, and less interesting.

qa_qSo how should companies think about smart disruption?

Anthony: Leaders have to reconfigure today and imagine tomorrow at the same time. It’s not either/or. Every disruptive threat has an equal, if not greater, opportunity. When disruption strikes, it’s a mistake only to feel the threat to your legacy business. It’s an opportunity to expand into a different marke.

SAP_Disruption_QA_images2400x1600_4Liebhold: It starts at the top. You can’t ask a CEO for an eight-figure budget to upgrade a cloud analytics system if the C-suite doesn’t understand the power of integrating data from across all the legacy systems. So the first task is to educate the senior team so it can approve the budgets.

Scott Underwood: Some of the most interesting questions are internal organizational questions, keeping people from feeling that their livelihoods are in danger or introducing ways to keep them engaged.

Leon Segal: Absolutely. If you want to enter a new market or introduce a new product, there’s a whole chain of stakeholders – including your own employees and the distribution chain. Their experiences are also new. Once you start looking for things that affect their experience, you can’t help doing it. You walk around the office and say, “That doesn’t look right, they don’t look happy. Maybe we should change that around.”

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. 

To learn more about how to disrupt your business without destroying it, read the in-depth report Digital Disruption: When to Cook the Golden Goose.

Download the PDF (1.2MB)

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Global Expansion Essentials: Survival Skills Every CFO Should Know

Arlen Shenkman

Every business wants to grow revenue. And the next logical step when you’ve conquered local markets is to consider global expansion. Right? Maybe not. Not every business has the wherewithal to successfully operate a business halfway around the world.  How can you be sure of success?

In this post, I’ll share lessons learned in my experiences with companies both large and small as they’ve pursued international expansion. This topic is a natural extension of my previous blog posts on building, buying, and partnering to achieve growth.

Exporting the brand

The world is a big, complicated place. As CFOs, our role is to help determine if the business can successfully make the investments required to operate in another country. Corporations that expand globally without having a full perspective of the impact of their brand in other countries and on the public’s perception of their products and services may have a tough road to travel. Think about Google. In the United States, Google is perceived as a beloved brand in many respects. But in Europe, it’s viewed in a less favorable light because of privacy concerns.

Beyond branding, companies need to consider the impact of expansion on the company’s culture, its business model, and its pricing. All of these variables become relevant because the business will no longer be operating in a homogeneous environment.

Safeguarding stakeholders’ interests

There are risks and rewards associated with every business decision. The potential risks are much greater when pursuing global markets. CFOs are expected to mitigate these risks and ensure that the business is getting the right return on investment. This means taking the right steps to ensure that your stakeholders’ best interests are being served by an expansion. These steps begin with a fundamental premise: that the business must maintain control once it’s become a global operation. Much of that control depends on the back office and the IT infrastructure. Having this foundation helps to ensure that the business is maintaining compliance with everything from regulatory reporting to taxes to government relations, which minimizes risk and helps protect your company’s interests.

Fundamentally, there’s a tradeoff between leveraging established, proven people, assets, and brand versus duplication of some or all of these elements or functions to allow for local tailoring. The former creates the potential for much more profitable expansion through economies of scale and may provide the most oversight and control. But a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work in all markets, and this approach does carry great risk. There is no right or wrong answer. Indeed, many global companies will employ all strategies in parallel, or may look to partners to gain necessary local knowledge.

Standardizing to simplify

It makes sense to expand in manageable stages and begin with expansion in culturally or geographically close countries. Recognize that it will take capital and management bandwidth and that the expansion needs to be judged against domestic expansion opportunities through new products or sub-markets.

In a previous company where I worked, we expanded internationally through acquisition. We then let the businesses run standalone. There was very little process or control around our operations. Essentially, the business was comprised of an independent set of companies that operated under one common brand. This is one model for international growth, but it can raise compliance and control issues. Case in point, this company had a serious financial restatement that resulted in a shareholder lawsuit.

At SAP, we tend to buy companies that are regional and then globalize them. We do this by integrating the operations of the business on a common IT infrastructure and use shared service centers around the world. The businesses are able to maintain their brand and some of their own independence, but we gain greater efficiency, transparency, and control. This makes it easier to achieve compliance in the 190 countries where we do business. Imagine the complexity of this task if every business were running independently.

Running efficient operations to get it right from the start

It would be shortsighted in today’s digital world to not have a common IT platform that allows you to extend operational efficiency and transparency globally, standardizing processes, practices, and controls across the business. Technology is faster, cheaper, and better than ever. Consolidating on a common platform before expanding mitigates the effort involved in integrating disparate systems and supports a unified expansion strategy.

It also frees you to perform the kind of due diligence involved with global expansion in the first place. A common platform allows you to automate financial tasks so you can focus your time and energy on being a strategic adviser to the business that enables transformation and growth.

To continue the discussion on the pivotal role finance will play in leading growth and operational efficiency, read the Forrester report Digital and Automation Enable Finance Operations Efficiency.

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Arlen Shenkman

About Arlen Shenkman

Arlen Shenkman is the CFO for SAP North America, overseeing the financial activities of Canada and the United States, including forecasting and planning, driving efficiencies, and ensuring the overall financial health of the region.