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Managing change – Data storytelling is easier than you think

Apr. 17 2020 by Marco Van der Kooij, Managing Director - ForSight Consulting

Performance Management Business Intelligence & Analytics

Guidance for the future is more important today than ever. As unpredictable events unfold at an unprecedented pace, the Office of Finance is relied on to provide new insights, forecasts, working capital and cash flow planning & analysis. And finance executives, especially those in Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A), should own this process, providing critical information about the entire company’s financial health today, tomorrow, in the mid- and longer-term.

The FP&A function, supported by data scientists and IT, can help to guide your organization through the current crisis with predictive analytics. And with the right tools you don’t have to be an expert or data scientist to compose different scenarios and evaluate their financial impact. An easy-to-use predictive software combined with basic skills in data interpretation and the communication of insights are all you need to evolve your predictive analytics capabilities.

When running Enterprise Performance Management software implementation projects, I always say that if problems occur, they are caused mostly by communication and seldom technology. The same applies in becoming a modern data-driven Office of Finance. More and more organizations feel the need to replace their legacy systems to improve agility and their predictive capabilities in this uncertain time. But this is not only about changing technology.

Change management is essentially about People, Process and Technology, with the emphasis on People: changing people’s minds is often the biggest challenge. Being a data driven Office of Finance is one thing. Making sure that people know how to work with data is another. Improving the level of data literacy is the first and most important step towards success with optimized processes and new, innovative systems. I couldn’t put it better than Forrester Research Inc’s definition of data literacy: The ability to recognize, evaluate, work with, communicate, and apply data in the context of business priorities and outcomes1.

The need to increase data literacy and educate people is even more apparent when using, for example, machine learning and predictive analytics. To understand and be critical about data is an important skill. It is essential to be able to communicate an insight from your data and make sure action is taken.

So what can you do?

  • Look at the use of self-service data visualization tools and monitor the use of dashboards and reports. If certain tools, dashboards or reports are hardly used, you need to know why.
  • Introduce a data literacy education program tailored to the needs of the different user communities. Business analysts, power users and executives all need education at the right level.
  • Introduce data storytelling as part of your data literacy education program. Data storytelling calls for a structural approach for communicating data insights using narrative elements and explanatory visuals2.

If you need to replace your current legacy systems and train people in the new software toolset, please include data literacy and data storytelling into your education program. This will definitely help to improve the skills and capabilities of your finance staff and business users. Remember: you don’t have to be a data scientist to provide forward looking insight using predictive analytics.

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1Data Literacy: What Is It, And Why Do Executive Teams Need To Care? Leveraging Data To Achieve Maximum Business Benefit Requires More Than Technology Tools by Martha Bennett; February 14, 2020

2Effective Data Storytelling. How to drive change with data, narrative, and visuals. Brent Dykes, 2020

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