Gartner research: Business analytics top of the agenda for finance leaders

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John J. MastersJohn Masters, Technology Director, writes on technology and innovation

Amid continuing debate amongst finance professionals regarding the role that analytics will play in their jobs in years to come, new research from technology analysts Gartner has highlighted the urgency with which this issue is not just being discussed, but acted upon, in companies today.

Gartner’s data, drawn from nearly a thousand senior finance professionals, shows that business analytics is this group’s single greatest priority for investment. More specifically, the detail of the research highlights areas particularly in need of improvement at the respondents’ organisations. The top five areas identified are particularly illuminating, as a guide to how business applications in general, and analytics in particular, are evolving:

  • Facilitating analysis and decision making
  • Quality of the data used for business decisions
  • Ongoing monitoring of business performance
  • Creating more accurate planning and forecasting financial results
  • Creating an effective environment for sharing relevant information

The striking connection between these is that they are all concerned with the practical running of the business, and not the range of technical capabilities that make this possible. This suggests that finance leaders are less interested in the particulars of BI, CPM, ERP and other technologies than they are in simply getting trustworthy answers to the questions they need answered.

Our experience across various industries bears this out, and of special interest in that regard is the inclusion of decision-making and information sharing in the list above. They might be at opposite ends of the top five, but together they point to a pair of key trends in how CFOs and finance professionals see their roles developing and, consequently, the changing demands they are making of their technology.

These two trends are also intimately connected. CFOs and FP&A teams are being called upon to provide the analysis that connects financial and operational outcomes (and hence, drives decision making) but they are also under real pressure to make that analysis comprehensible and persuasive to those who will have to actually implement those decisions.

That means not just monitoring business performance with a particular set of KPIs, but questioning and justifying why those KPIs ought to be used in the first place. It means not just ensuring quality of data, but focusing on relevant data. And it means not just providing an accurate forecast, but ensuring that the implications of that forecast are properly understood by those able to take action accordingly.

Analytics technology has moved past the stage where it is simply expected to afford insight on discrete aspects of the business. As this new research implies, and as current conversations amongst finance professionals attest, analytics today must provide a sound basis for strategic and tactical decision-making, as well as a means of fostering a shared understanding of performance and strategy across all facets of the business.

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