Date posted: 22/03/2018 5 min read

Five steps to untangle big data

CAs add a lot of value by making sense of the mountains of data available to modern businesses. Here are five tips to improve data reporting.

In Brief

  • Chartered accountants have the skills to analyse and interpret big data. Introducing dashboard reporting can dramatically improve group decision-making.
  • Dashboard reporting is a means to an end, not an end. The best approach is to build systems and processes gradually, learning as you go along.
  • Your prospects of implementing dashboard reporting are improved with support from the organisation’s leadership team and IT department.

Many chartered accountants spend large chunks of their working weeks immersed in data. If they’re not generating and measuring the data, they’re often analysing and reporting it. 

“CAs add a lot of value by making sense of the mountains of data available in modern business,” says Lincoln Tong FCA, Finance Director, ADP Australia and New Zealand. “Increasingly, our job is to harness technology, identify data that most affects business performance, and then communicate that succinctly to colleagues.”

Tong admits that this can be easier said than done. So here are some proven ways to help CAs untangle big data and present clear threads for others to follow.

Related: Business Insight guide to dashboard reporting

The Victoria Corporate Advisory Panel shares more advice and practical tips in the CA ANZ Business Insight guide to dashboard reporting.

1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Dashboard reporting provides a one-page snapshot of an organisation’s key business drivers and metrics. It’s a fantastic way for CAs to provide colleagues with an at-a-glance summary of what really matters. 

But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Resist the temptation to try to create a complete dashboard system immediately. “Focus on one or two specific business challenges or targets first, and scope that out,” advises Tong. “You’ll probably find some complexity and interdependencies that you didn’t expect. As your learning increases and you build a little momentum, you can start to integrate your reporting into one system. But take it step by step.”

By establishing a dashboard system, you are helping everyone in the business work more efficiently and make better decisions
Lincoln Tong FCA Finance Director, ADP

2. Have some friends at the top

Few people are as time-poor as senior executives and they know that sinking feeling when a colleague presents them with reams of data for their approval. Effective dashboard reporting can help ease that burden. 

“By establishing a dashboard system, you are helping everyone in the business work more efficiently and make better decisions,” says Tong. “That should be an easy sell for your executive team. The more buy-in  you can secure from them, the more resources you’ll secure to implement dashboard reporting.”

3. Have more friends in the IT department

Most big data that feeds into dashboard reporting relies on technology. Time can be saved by using business intelligence solutions with proprietary software. Establish a central data hub to deliver consistency and rigor in your numbers. 

Technology infrastructure, software and processes are managed by the IT department in many organisations. So you need their support and a clear understanding of what they need from you in return. “The IT department can actually make or break your dreams of dashboard reporting,” says Tong. “Your IT colleagues are usually inundated with requests from all over the business. You may need to formally partner with IT and/or upskill within the finance team to keep your project moving.”

Related: More resources for members working in business

Read a wide selection of CA ANZ Business Insight guides for members written by members working in business. These practical papers tackle many of the challenges commonly faced by finance teams and finance managers.

4. Think ahead

Your goal should be to build a flexible dashboard system that can evolve with your organisation. A common mistake during the development phase is to build narrow systems that only solve current needs.

“The idea is to build something basic at first, then develop from there,” says Tong. “When you are starting out, remember that different people may want to extract different information in the future. So your system needs to be flexible from the start.”

5. Integrate your month-end process

The finance team coordinates month-end reporting in most organisations. Managers and leaders across the business are already used to monitoring sales and other KPIs via this process. The opportunity here is if you incorporate the month-end process into your dashboard reporting.

“Incorporating month-end into your dashboard gives your colleagues access to more interesting, more insightful and more interactive analysis,” says Tong. “Instead of trying to interpret the monthly profit-and-loss account and what those numbers mean, a dashboard allows managers to see how they are tracking towards their business objectives.”


This article is based on information and insights from the Victorian Chartered Accountants Corporate Advisory Panel. With thanks to Lynne Connell CA, Matt Harrington FCA, Mark Ellul CA, Dominic Staropoli CA and Lincoln Tong FCA.