Don’t be a producer of numbers. Be a user!

The amount of data that business and the finance function must process continues to increase, yet the number of people involved in producing this data is decreasing. This is happening through automation and better integration of systems both within a company and between companies.

The amount of data that business and the finance function must process continues to increase, yet the number of people involved in producing this data is decreasing. This is happening through automation and better integration of systems both within a company and between companies.

This also means that you as a finance professional should change the perception of yourself from a producer of data (e.g., billing data, month-end close data, etc.) to someone who uses the data. Otherwise, the finance value chain disruption that we’re experiencing as we speak will put you out of a job.

However, to become a user, there are certain activities that finance professionals must do to use the numbers with peace of mind. Specifically, these activities relate to owning data and doing controlling.

How can a user own what (s)he hasn’t produced?

First, let’s discuss why it’s important to own the data. In simple terms, when you stand in front of your stakeholders or finance leaders, you must own the data and numbers you present. You need to know the details behind the numbers and what the numbers mean, both in a business and financial context.

If something is wrong with the numbers, you cannot point fingers at the producer—you own it so you must also own up to fixing it. It doesn’t mean you should fix it yourself, of course, but rather that you go back to the source and discuss how quality can be improved.

To avoid ending up in a situation where you’re presenting wrong data, you must do a certain level of controlling before your presentation. Ideally, this is a quick five- to 15-minute check as opposed to an extensive deep-dive. Only if you uncover issues with the data should you dig deeper. If issues are found, try to fix them before the presentation, and if that’s impossible, then call out during the presentation what data can be trusted and what can’t.

Remember that stakeholders will always point out the errors they see if you don’t do it yourself. Every time they call out errors, it destroys your credibility and the trust you’ve built with the stakeholders. It puts you back to square one! If you point out the issues yourself though, at least it shows you’re forthright and have a plan to fix things. So own and control is how you work with data.

A week in the disrupted finance value chain

Before leaving data and moving on to reporting, let me introduce a workweek in the disrupted finance value chain. We will refer to this workweek throughout the remainder of the series and use it as an example of how much you need to work with the individual components of the value chain.

I won’t explain the full workweek here, so you’ll have to wait for the coming articles to get the full picture. For data though, it’s something you spend 15 to 30 minutes controlling on a Monday morning when it automatically lands on your desk. Later that day, you own it when you present it to your key stakeholders in the weekly meeting. That’s it. It’s a maximum of 5% of your time spent in any given week.

Does that sound unrealistic? It might today, but why not adopt it as a goal to work toward? We need to spend much less time on controlling data and much more time using it with our stakeholders. Don’t be a producer. Be a user!

How much time do you spend working with data every week, and what are you doing to spend less time on it? Let’s compare notes and share our stories so that we can all achieve the goal of 5%.

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