Date posted: 20/01/2021 5 min read

Big data can make CFOs transformation leaders

In a time of big data, accountants – aka ‘number crunchers’ – can be the right people to lead change through data insights.

In Brief

  • Properly analysed data can drive improvements and efficiencies in a business.
  • Accountants in an organisation’s finance function should also be seen as data professionals.
  • CFOs already have the number skills needed to use data in new ways to reveal business insights.

Modern organisations are swimming in a sea of data. Every transaction, every customer interaction, every inventory movement – pretty much every action a business takes – generates data. And when this data is analysed properly, it can yield insights that improve customer service and overall performance.

The task of analysing all this data can be daunting, and people with strong data skills are highly sought after.

However, there is one group of data professionals who can be already found in pretty much every organisation. I’m talking about the finance function and its leaders.

As more and more organisations transform themselves to become better at understanding and using their data, it is vital that CFOs play a prominent role in that process.

During these challenging times, we increasingly see CFOs called on to guide their organisations forward. This is placing greater pressure on them to focus on their ability to gather, analyse and operationalise data, and deliver insights to help their peers make better decisions.

And this is why I am seeing more CFOs stepping up to embrace the role of transformation leader.

Numbers skills are data skills

The finance function’s role has always been data-driven – we just haven’t traditionally described it that way. This was demonstrated in the findings of a recent research study Amazon Web Services (AWS) undertook with Deloitte Access Economics, which surveyed 275 business leaders across Australia and New Zealand from organisations employing 100 people or more, and asked them to assess their organisational maturity when it comes to working with data.

“The finance function’s role has always been data-driven – we just haven’t traditionally described it that way.”
Adam Beavis

The research showed even modest improvements in an organisation’s data capabilities can yield significant results.

The study scored businesses across five pillars of data maturity, including understanding of data; organisational strategy; capability and culture; technology tools; and processes. These results were then used to identify businesses in one of five categories ranging from basic to mastery, based on the maturity of their use of data.

While 60% of businesses were assessed as only having basic or beginner levels of maturity, the report found even a one-point increase in a data maturity score could translate to additional revenue of A$1.5 million in Australia and NZ$1.6 million in New Zealand.

For the average Australian business employing 20-199 people, this equates to a 9% increase in revenue, or the ability to hire 16 additional full-time employees. A business in New Zealand could hire another 22 full-time employees.

How big data delivers for Domino’s and Kmart

We already see many AWS customers using data in innovative ways to build better businesses by driving efficiency in processes, unlocking scope for experimentation, and enabling the business to expand more easily.

For example, pizza company Domino’s is working with consultancy Max Kelsen, an AWS partner, to apply predictive analytics to its sales data to become more efficient in how it makes pizzas.

The company can now predict when customers in specific locations might place orders, by leveraging historical data such as order time and product selection for instance. This means restaurants can begin making pizzas before the order has even been placed, which helps Domino’s meet its goal of having pizzas safely delivered in under 10 minutes.

We are also supporting Australian retailer Kmart’s constant experimentation with sales data, as it seeks to gain a deeper understanding of what items sell best in specific stores. This helps ensure that customers can always find what they want, when they want it.

CFOs as transformation leaders

While these might not sound like the traditional actions of the finance function, the ability to use data in new ways to improve the financial performance makes these investments eminently attractive. 

Few executives possess the skills to undertake that transformation task to the extent that finance leaders do. That is why we believe that CFOs have a strong calling to be data transformation leaders.

The barriers to getting started with the cloud are low, and the first step is often to simply get started. Experience shows this builds confidence for further experimentation. Given the uncertainty that many organisations face today, that is something from which we could all benefit.

Read more:

Data analytics and data visualisation insights and guides

Learn how to harness the capabilities of data for insights, impact and growth.

Learn about data skills

Big data accounting – the predictive accountant

The rise of a new accounting paradigm – big data accounting.

Read more