Rob Easton is Head of Finance for MoneyPlus Group in Manchester, and in our latest article about how data professionals can work more effectively with other departments in their business, he shares his thoughts on building closer working relationships with those in finance.
In an increasingly target driven business world, those who run companies have an increasing desire to know how performance compares to a plan. This is particularly prevalent in Private Equity backed businesses, where companies are bought and sold on a formula; but could equally relate to any other ownership structure.
Beyond the traditional role of publishing performance indicators, the management accounts function has evolved to providing a much wider range of information, often non-financial and more frequently than monthly. Daily sales reports and weekly flash updates are common, along with requests for ad hoc analysis to assess the performance of a particular area. Being good with numbers is the minimum requirement for this role but we increasingly need great business acumen to come with it.
How can data professionals help?
- Understand the requirement, why it’s needed and what successful delivery looks like
- Research how to analyse the problem
- Translate this into meaningful information to the users
- Check its right, has a wide enough scope and think the task through to include other areas if appropriate
- Plan how to present the completed work back – will it be a popular outcome? Are there any difficult characters involved? Is it overly complicated?
Staff with a finance back ground are often comfortable with the analytical side; however, two areas where value could be added by the data function are access to data and the human angle.
Data and the human angle
When presented with a task, possibly something out of the ordinary, the reports might not be available; data may not be collected in its traditional format. In this instance, it’s worth spending time with a relevant IT manager, to talk the task over and understand how the systems work in that area, throwing around ideas for what might be possible. Then understand the scope of what can be delivered, timescales and risks around the relevance and quality of the data.
Secondly, speak to the business. The relevant department, sales or operations for example, might already collate data or reports in that area that could be useful. Beyond that, discussing their working knowledge of the area can be invaluable in understand the area of analysis. This can either contribute to delivery of the task, or simply to learn more about the likely outcomes.
Both of these data requirements lead in to the human angle, in terms of speaking to people and understanding. It’s far too easy to sit at a PC, send emails and look at reports, although much less likely to contribute to a successful outcome.
Beyond this, understanding the relevant executives involved in the outcome is critical. An excellent piece of work may end up in the bin if a prickly character isn’t approached properly, or a non-financial person is approached with a complex spreadsheet. They’re likely to have an idea of the expected outcome, so understand what this is and why, then be prepared to either manage expectations or provide tangible back up.
Bringing it back to the reporting environment, in the modern finance department, beyond paying invoices, and preparing management accounts, if the department is to fulfil its potential to be a business support function, the behaviours above have become the norm.
With lengthy and wide ranging business forecasts, managers require more and more reports and analysis to ensure milestones are hit and problems are understood and overcome. The widening remit of finance, data or reporting staff can make a valuable contribution to successful outcomes by business partnering in this way.
Written by Rob Easton, MoneyPlus Group
Read our other articles in this series and learn how to work better with Marketing and HR departments.