Teaming Up with Finance Is a Smart Move for all Data Leaders
Data leaders and financial leaders are natural partners. Both want to understand the meaning behind the numbers. They appreciate clean, accurate data and finding patterns through analytics. They also understand that before they share results, reports or forecasts, the data must be absolutely trustworthy. In this Q&A, Wolfgang Jany, Chief Business Architect in Global Controlling at SAP, explains how the two groups can sync up better to ensure the company achieves its business objectives.
Tina Rosario (TR): Why is it important for finance and data and analytics leaders to work together?
Wolfgang Jany (WJ): Data is integral to almost everything finance does. We’re a big friend of the data and analytics group because we are constantly defining new plans to analyze the data so we can learn more about the company. We need insight into the data for steering decisions, especially around market growth and mergers and acquisitions. As part of operations, finance is a big supporter of D&A (Data and Analytics) and wants to work closely with the team to ensure that dashboards and reports are accurate.
(TR): What tips do you have for improving collaboration between the two groups?
(WJ): The most important thing is to understand where and why errors find their way into reports and dashboards. The challenges are underneath what is presented in the dashboards. What often happens is Finance will say that the dashboard is not working properly and showing wrong data. When the D&A team looks more closely at the root cause in most cases the report runs properly. The data is incorrect because of the data itself. In many cases it is wrong or outdated master data that cause inconsistencies.
Another area that causes problems is that the processes running underneath the data are not aligned. Or the system that collects the data and shares it with the main data repository is not integrated in the best possible way.
The two groups need to work together to identify the root cause of the issues – to determine if the problem is the process, the systems, or the data. We can fix the problem once we know the source.
(TR): Can you describe some requests you’ve made to the D&A team outside of the end of quarter statements and other familiar finance reports?
(WJ): When SAP was acquiring our new cloud businesses, we needed to make steering decisions because the business model was different than what we knew. The renewal rate, for example, was a key for success. What we learned during the acquisitions was that we had to speak the same language for specific terms. To understand renewal rates, for example, the data had to be consistent for us to make global decisions to steer the company.
We needed the same set of data from the companies for aggregation, and it had to be accurate. Every organization had a different definition of renewal rate, so we had to make sure we created processes that collected the correct data around contract, termination, renewal, and so on. Identifying that language was the first step for us to create the reports we needed.
(TR): What should DA leaders know to work more successfully with finance data leaders and CFOs?
(WJ): The DA lead responsible for creating the report for finance must understand the data, underlying processes for collecting data, and systems that collect, clean, and store the data. That person tracks the data quality, flow, and sources. Knowing that information and being able to explain it to the financial team is a big help in using the correct data to create the dashboards and reports. Finding a D&A lead who has the data knowledge and ability to understand the processes is crucial. It’s a unique talent set.
Another point they need to understand is that data quality is critical to finance. We can’t afford to report $20 million in revenue when it was actually $25 million. Data quality is our main priority and speed is our second priority. We are asked to make business-critical decisions quickly. When we ask the D&A team for support, and it takes three to four weeks to gather the data, we run into problems. We’re always going to want accurate data — fast.
(TR): What should finance leaders know to work more successfully with DA leaders?
(WJ): The finance team needs to know what the D&A team is dealing with in terms of data, processes, and systems. If it does take four weeks to gather data, explain why that time is needed and the steps involved to provide a new report or attribute. It’s important for finance to understand what it takes for D&A to deliver the request. It could be a quick fix of adding a column in an offline Excel sheet and some calculation to answer a business question once. Or, if it requires a sustainable, reusable, and robust solution, it requires deep understanding and more work in the underlying data structures and systems.
This is a symbiotic relationship and both sides should understand one another’s pain points, needs, and challenges. It should be a friendly, interactive, and thoughtful relationship. When we work together in that way, we can help each other reach our professional goals and the organization reach its business goals. A constant exchange of talents between these two teams help to grow the understanding for each other.
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