5 Financial Analytics Lessons from “Game of Thrones”

Game of thrones premiere

Guest blog post by Steve Player, Program Director, Beyond Budgeting Round Table.

If you are like me and hundreds of other fans, you are still recovering from the Game of Thrones marathon last weekend. As I watched (eagerly awaiting the start of season four), I found myself looking at how libraries and old books were depicted.  Many of the plot twists were aided by key information found in books which led to dramatically different decisions being made. That information may have laid stored in books and reports for many years, but its value was only realized when it was used.

It reminded me of a lesson I learned from Yale Professor Emeritus Edward Tufte who is the world’s foremost expert on the visual display of information. Tufte noted that “the most valuable corporate real estate is the less than two feet of screen space on each computer.” He noted that all the company’s IT systems rely on that space to display and harvest all the millions spent on information collection and processing.

The major things have changed since I first heard Dr. Tufte over a decade ago. The real estate is shrinking making it even more valuable. What was typically a 15 inch desktop monitor changed to a 13 inch laptop screen and is rapidly dropping to an 8 inch tablet or a 3 inch smart phone screen. What we display and how we display is becoming more and more critical.

I also remember key lessons from the late Charles Horngren who was the country’s leading expert in cost management systems. Dr. Horngren always emphasized that the value of systems comes from the decisions they enable you to make. While this advice has been offered for many years, I often wonder – why do most organizations still struggle in these areas?

The simplest answer is that finance still does a lot of dumb stuff… and we need to stop.

Finance needs to:

  1. Stop focusing primarily on lagging indicators like last month’s sales and expenses. We need to focus finance attention on the future which requires a shift to leading indicators.
  2. Stop chasing budget variances based on budget assumptions made in the middle of the previous summer that have long since found to be wrong.
  3. Stop dumping data in the belief that if you report everything, people can find the answer somewhere. Earlier in my career we called this throwing it against the wall to see what would stick.
  4. Stop using long outdated reporting modes like columns and columns of numbers stacked side by side. These are easy to produce but the difficulty to use increases as organizations become more complex.
  5. Stop using Excel spreadsheets for tasks that require collaboration and data sharing. Today’s purpose built cloud applications offer a far safer and more productive environment.

Want to be a part of a more detailed discussion about these common mistakes, how to avoid them, and which alternative solutions you can use instead?

Please join us by registering for my free Adaptive Insights webcast, “Improve Your Dashboard and Reporting Process,” which will be broadcast on Wednesday, April 16th at 1 pm Eastern / 10 am Pacific.

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