Having worked with many financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams around the world, I have witnessed how Big Data can deliver competitive advantages to both these teams and their entire organizations. One of the biggest and most common challenges I’ve seen is how they implement and harvest both financial and operational Big Data.
FP&A teams sit at the confluence of transactional data and business strategy. As such, they are uniquely positioned to transform their roles by detecting patterns and confidently leading the effort to address risks and press ahead with strategy.
I’m often asked, “How do I get started on this Big Data journey?” My advice is always to start simple and small. Look for the low-hanging fruit. Regardless of the particular issue, look for a straightforward example to bring the full firepower of Big Data to add value to the forecasting and data analysis process. Then show the improvements in producing more actionable insights that can have a real impact on strategy – and evolve toward “intelligent” FP&A.
Once you start hitting singles by incorporating Big Data into the normal course of your analysis and forecasting, success will beget success. It is critical to have the proper technology and people in place to be able to crunch the massive amounts of data the business (and the world) generates. We are quickly moving toward utilizing not terabytes (1012) but brontobytes (1027) of data. We have long passed the point where we can solve these challenges by throwing more human assets at the issue. This is a transformational time. The way things were done in the past is not only ineffective going forward, but is actually detrimental to the success of the organization.
To borrow from the book and movie Hidden Figures, I believe we stand at an inflection point like that before the introduction of the IBM 7090. In a flash, the need for human “computers” disappeared completely. Those former human “computers” were now needed to run the machines, not to be the machines.
To leverage Big Data, move up the complexity curve, and create more strategically actionable insights, engage with your business partners to understand what is important to them. The FP&A team should comprise naturally curious people who have the aptitude and comfort level to operate in an environment teeming with data and technology. Because we now can analyze much more data, faster and cheaper than ever before, we can now present a much more robust and sophisticated analysis.
Another challenge of Big Data is that we can become completely overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of data available. Even though, in theory, we can now look at an endless number of data points, not every data point is of equal importance. A rigorous process must be in place to determine the ROI of the intended analysis. If everything is important, then nothing is important.
Big Data presents an exciting opportunity for FP&A teams to dive deep into analysis that just a short time ago was physically impossible. With the continuing advances in robotic process automation, machine learning, business, and artificial intelligence, we can model, forecast, plan, and drive business decisions at speeds previously unheard of. Though it is important to remember that these are just tools, we must continually develop our people to leverage these tools to their highest potential.
Brian is Founder and Principal at Kalish Consulting. He is Former Executive Director – Global FP&A Practice at AFP. He has over 20 years of experience in Finance, FP&A, Treasury and Investor Relations. He previously held a number of treasury and finance positions with the FHLB, Washington Mutual/JP Morgan, NRUCFC, Fifth Third and Fannie Mae. He has spoken all over the world to audiences both large and small hosting FP&A Roundtable meetings in North America, Europe, Asia and soon South America. Brian attended Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, GA for his undergraduate studies in Business and the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech for his graduate work. In 2014, Brian was awarded the Global Certified Corporate FP&A Professional designation.