In today’s world, time seems to be in short supply when needed most—particularly for the finance department at month’s end. With many days heavily devoted to collecting, consolidating, and reporting on data, you may feel like you spend too much time looking back at performance, with little opportunity to dig into the data with a focus on the view ahead.
In fact, 63% of CFOs believe not having enough time for analysis is the primary roadblock to being a more strategic leader. And in the same Adaptive Insights CFO Indicator survey, one-third of CFOs reported that lack of time for data analysis leads to delayed decision-making—which can mean missed business opportunities and impact to the bottom line.
Countless studies highlight top performers as those companies that consistently leverage data-driven insights, so what’s standing in the way of others’ success? Time. Time to ask tough questions about what’s driving the business. Time to find and analyze supporting information to formulate potential answers. Time to model different scenarios to see the effect of changes in key assumptions on the overall plan.
Also, the increasing volume of operational and financial data stored across disconnected systems makes it difficult to deliver actionable information to key stakeholders.
This post showcases a mini-case study of a finance team that leveraged technology to automate routine finance tasks, freeing up time to peel back the layers and do deeper data analysis. Read on for the recipe to delivering actionable insights to accelerate business performance.
Step 1: Create time by using the right tools
The finance team at Silicon Valley-based A10 Networks (NYSE: ATEN) was in need of deeper insights into trends and forecast assumptions. Part of the challenge was a lack of time—something the company knew the value of as a leading provider of high-performance application networking solutions. (A10 Networks solutions help organizations ensure their data center applications and networks remain highly available, accelerated, and secure.) The finance team turned to technology to automate daily KPI reporting and accelerate the company’s monthly financial close. What did it gain in the process? Automation freed up 36 days annually for deeper data analysis.
Step 2: Reduce data errors and focus on real-time analysis
By automating tasks around data consolidation and reporting, the finance team was not only able to cut days off their workload, but A10 Networks also saw a reduction in data entry errors. Additionally, the team leveraged technology to provide a single view of performance against financial metrics. “We’re able to create much more accurate financial forecasts by employing real-time data analysis on key business trends and then ascertain what those trends mean for our business,” says Zoby Shaikh, director of FP&A at A10 Networks.
Step 3: Add a pinch of this, a dash of that
A10 Networks is also able to look at top-line metrics via two dashboards: one for bookings and gross margins, and one for shippings, which serve as a surrogate for actuals. Finance now has the data visualized in charts and dials, giving the team a view of performance on a daily basis—and even hourly updates in the critical final days of the quarter. Leveraging data in dashboards also allows the team members to slice the data by particular regions for executives, or break it down by customer segments. In short, they are able to peel back the onion and focus on more drilldowns of the data than with spreadsheets and manual processes.
Step 4: Serve up truth with a single source
One of the keys to their success? A10 Networks had a single source of truth—one place employees could find data so there were no conflicting forecasts or differences in opinion on business performance. The cloud-based Adaptive Suite not only gave them that single view, but it also made important information available to key decision-makers anytime, from anywhere. In short, A10 leaders found that they were able to have more meaningful discussions and allow for course correction on a daily basis.
Step 5: Share with your business partners
In a recent webcast on dashboard secrets, Shaikh revealed three ways dashboards have improved the finance team’s partnership with the business:
- Forward visibility: Tracking bookings in visual dashboards allows teams to use dimensions and filters to drill down into more granular data sets and see where certain thresholds are being met or missed.
- Dialogue: Looking at dashboards opens up important conversations about whether you need to turn a dial up or down based on current performance—because you can’t afford to know late.
- Tell the story: Rows and columns of numbers only go so far. You need visual representations of data to accommodate more visual learners.
The A10 Networks team continues to use dashboards to serve as an early warning system for performance. Having a single view of truth provides a line of sight for executives and serves as a forcing function for having more productive conversations about the business. Moreover, it spurs teams to proactive actions and creates consistency. Now that’s a recipe for success.