However, many are also overwhelmed by the breadth of BI offerings and need advice on where to start when it comes to evaluating their options, especially in the realm of financial business intelligence.
Small and medium-sized businesses that utilize a third-party accounting service or have an in-house accountant are often left wondering who is responsible for implementing BI measures and maintaining data collection and reporting. Should accounting/finance own the process, or is a SaaS solution necessary to supplement their efforts?
Business Intelligence (BI) Explained
According to Hitachi Solutions BI is the strategy and technology centered around “delivering relevant and reliable information to the right people at the right time with the goal of achieving better decisions faster.”
BI is an umbrella term that covers all types of reporting as well as other essential elements like analytics, benchmarking, and business performance management. More sophisticated business intelligence items include:
Confusion can result because while business intelligence refers to the software and technology platforms used to conduct analyses of various business areas, it also refers to the business activities themselves. So, while benchmarking is an action included in BI, the dashboards that pull data to report on these metrics and include a visual historical analysis are also a part of BI.
Therefore, one activity or objective can weave together multiple business intelligence strands to
deliver an output.
The goal of any BI effort is to collect data, structure that data to make sense of it, analyze the results, and present the subsequent information in an actionable way. The data can then be used to guide ongoing business operations and identify available opportunities.
Moving from manual data collection and analysis increases speed, reduces errors, aids in identifying complex patterns, predicts future decision-making, and allows for better targeting.
Generating Actionable BI
Even business owners and leaders that are well-versed in BI practices and methodologies can get tripped up over the question of who will own BI in the organization. Will BI analysis come solely from accounting/finance personnel, or will their financial acumen and insights simply add to the broader business intelligence landscape?
The types of financial business intelligence that an accountant provides include:
Utilizing a BI solution allows an accountant or accounting/finance team to provide detailed reports and analyses at scale efficiently. Whether an accountant is simply using business intelligence to structure large data sets effectively, or creating data visualizations to support business leaders, their use of financial BI platforms improves outputs and eliminates time delays for ad hock reporting requests. This is especially crucial for third-party accountants because they are working with multiple clients simultaneously to deliver actionable insights. (In this case, an accountant may also be using a tiered-access software dashboard to provide individual portals for each client to access.)
A proficient accountant should have the experience to manage practical daily business needs and be equipped to delve deeper into business concepts to provide comprehensive financial advice. While BI can enhance an accountant’s capabilities and fill in knowledge gaps, it cannot overcome a propensity to lean solely toward one of those two arenas.
The best accounting and finance professionals understand that BI proficiency takes the “busy work” out of their roles, allowing them to spend more time providing financial direction for the organizations they support. Business intelligence can also increase their responsiveness to market changes, giving them more accurate data to use for financial recommendations.
For businesses that have other BI needs, such as process mining, text mining, and event processing, an additional solution is necessary to carry out these functions, as they fall outside of the scope of a traditional finance-based role. The key is finding a SaaS offering that will integrate with the financial BI that is already in place to allow for effective cross-team collaboration.
While all organizations recognize the need for accurate financials and finance-related intelligence, some do not realize the need for additional BI solutions. Being receptive to further BI integrations can streamline manual processes and create vital opportunities for growth. Researching and demoing SaaS solutions to determine where additional efficiencies can occur and intelligence can be generated is an important first step in the process of utilizing BI technologies.
How BI Influences Operations
Business intelligence outputs inform decisions related to process, strategy, and execution. With wide-reaching influences, the data analysis enabled by effective use of BI platforms is of utmost importance. However, BI can only thrive in organizations where there is a culture built around data.
A recent interview for McKinsey Quarterly sums it up by explaining, “Don’t approach data analysis as a cool ‘science experiment’ or an exercise in amassing data for data’s sake. The fundamental objective in collecting, analyzing, and deploying data is to make better decisions.” Simply put, data supports operations. Reinforcing that belief across the organization creates an environment where data is valued to increase production and sales efficiency and positively affect future operations.
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