The unprecedented amount of data available to an enterprise presents a new opportunity for management accountants to create value for their enterprise and transform the finance function from being a cost centre to a value centre.
The finance function's expertise in understanding data sources and which data is relevant in decision-making has always been an area of strength. Finance has done this effectively, combining financial and nonfinancial data, providing actionable insights to the organisation. The speed at which an organisation moves from "data to decision" determines its speed to market and will ultimately be its competitive edge. However, finance is rapidly losing ground now due to a lack of competencies to operate with the latest technologies, or a lack of data science and data engineering skills to enable the generation of insights from vast quantities of data.
Finance has leveraged enterprise data to drive operational efficiency gains. However, the imperative now is to leverage the power of data analytics and technology, engage with the business, and drive business model transformation. This transformation is centred on using data and digital assets to serve customers in new ways and create new customer value propositions.
In the Oracle, AICPA, and CIMA co-produced report Agile Finance Unleashed: The Key Traits of Digital Finance Leaders, Nigel Everard, former CFO at Hungry Jack's, an Australian fast-food burger chain, explained how the finance function has used cloud technology to drive data feeds directly from their point-of-sale systems and has transformed finance's role in delivering on customer expectations. Those working in finance at Hungry Jack's are conscious of what's going on in the consumer market and how people's behaviours are changing, and they are making sure they are getting ahead of the curve with artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The ability to leverage data is not just about having data visualisation skills. ETL (extract, transform, and load) activities take up a significant amount of time and skill and are the foundation of being able to extract value from data. Finance professionals need to develop technology know-how and create the capability to operate in this new digital environment.
Whilst they do not need the skills of a data engineer or a data scientist, they do need to have foundational knowledge of these disciplines in order to understand the new and emerging capabilities and the "art of the possible". For example, they need an understanding of the world of data lakes and how to process and derive insights from petabytes of data. They need to understand how data sets such as geopositional data, demographic data, weather data, employment data, etc., outside the enterprise can be combined with enterprise data to provide rich insights to the business. The Association provides resources to help management accountants embrace and develop a digital mindset, including Go Beyond Disruption and the Human Intelligence series, which are available at aicpa-cima.com/disruption.html; and also the CGMA Digital Mindset Pack, which is free for CGMA designation holders (available from the CGMA Store at cpd.cimaglobal.com, using the code MINDSET20, or the AICPA Store at aicpastore.com). It means constantly learning, unlearning, and relearning to stay ahead in this digital era.
Ash Noah, CPA, FCMA, CGMA, is managing director—Learning, Education, and Development at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.