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Big Data for Finance, Is It Necessary?

I never believed in big data for Finance departments; as that type of volume of data came from building data warehouses for web analytics in the past. Financial Accounting and Management information for reporting & analysis is mostly at monthly or sometimes at weekly balances level. For budgeting & planning it is at product or product group and/or brand and/or FTE level (in some cases employee level) as the lowest level of detail. And in my point of reference this is not really big data compared to the storage and analysis of clicks per page views and site visits.


Recently, I started to have new insights on this coming from customer requests to report, analyse and plan at a more granular level of detail. This is mostly coming from Retail (SKU-level), Manufacturing (Bill-of-Material level) and Financial Services (at contract level from individual customers). Customers are looking for a fully integrated solution for a single point of truth to support their planning & control cycle and management processes from their consolidation, reporting, budgeting, planning & forecasting software with business intelligence type of analyses with predictive analytics capabilities from a single source.


I think the time has passed to respond that a Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution is not capable to do this, as technology has evolved in order to support huge amounts of data with fast response times due to in-memory capabilities without necessarily depending on an IT owned data warehouse to support it.


The difficulty for me in this is, that the granularity of data is different for the different processes in financial and management reporting to support analysts and decision makers. SKU-level information is not needed for statutory consolidation or P&L reporting. On the other hand for operational planning SKU’s (or a subset of SKU’s applying the 80-20 rule) are required for a rolling forecast from sales to production in a manufacturing company or even at the bill-of-material level for a sourcing strategy with impact on inventory levels and cash flow. The companies I’m talking to are desperately looking for a fully integrated software solution to support both needs without creating redundant data and reporting tools. Moreover, they want to improve the business value of variance analysis by taking it to a more detailed level where they can take action.  For example, utilisation at the plant or staff level to improve operational excellence. While they are not necessarily going there yet, the next step would be more predictive analytics capabilities will be required in the planning process to optimize demand and supply. The one thing I’m hearing loud and clear is that they want one place, one system, one set of data, where this is done.  Bolting on a new product that they have to integrate to do this is not what they want.


As a software vendor focused squarely on the needs of the Office of the CFO, we know that nothing should disturb or add risk to the statutory consolidation and regulatory reporting from the financial reporting department. So how do you reconcile these things?


Actually, I don’t have the perfect answer right now.  I’d love to hear from those of you in finance your thoughts on the merging of traditional finance with Big Data. How would you like them to come together and how do you see it benefiting your role and your company? So please comment with your thoughts and in the meantime I’ll be working on a follow-up post on the topic over the next few weeks. 

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