Breaking down siloes, democratizing the strategic information for all, and implementing the right data-driven strategies are worthy KPIs.

To be prepared for constant change, every business needs the one asset that can provide them the flexibility to pivot: good data. The problem with data is accountability.

Data needs to be valid, accurate, reliable, and available. Good data has been part of finance teams’ bread and butter, helping stakeholders relate better to financial performance or make data-driven decisions. And with more lines of business and external stakeholders relying on good financial data, finance has to step up.

We see data analytics being used to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism. Finance teams rely heavily on the Cloud for analytics and insights, to balance numbers with strategy to generate the results that stakeholders desire.

By leading with data, Chief Financial Officer (CFOs) can help ensure the rest of the organization is not overwhelmed by the data.

A new dawn for data

Undeniably, data decides business success—provided businesses have the means to analyze and understand it.

This task now increasingly falls to Finance. Data has always been important to the CFO role, with every decision they make based on and justified using data. Yet, their job no longer focuses on the preparation and maintenance of it—not when there is a barrage of automated tools to cleanse data, and often, entire data teams responsible for it.

Instead, the emerging role of the finance team is to interrogate, interpret and exploit data for the rest of the business. According to Deloitte, as business units are most likely to invest in analytics, finance leaders use data to understand and monitor business performance in real time, making them more reliable and informed decision makers. The CFO is not only recognized as the right hand of the CEO, but he is also a trusted advisor and collaborator for every part of the business.

The stark difference now, with how finance teams use data, is that they are obliged to source it more widely, from every corner of the business. However, there is a big difference between the ownership of data and the stewardship of data.

Yes, one department—such as marketing—may have generated huge quantities of valuable customer information, but if that data looks different and cannot be accessed or understood by others, it is of no use. That is why data needs to sit in one team’s domain, so one team can interpret that data for the good of the whole business.

However, technical and political reasons make handing the reins over to the finance team complicated. Data must be easily available and in order. However, most organizations are a complex patchwork of legacy data environments, hastily stitched together and lacking an overarching data strategy. Data hygiene is a recent invention, and for many companies, something that has never existed. These technical bottlenecks can make data stewardship achievement difficult.

Also, data is power, and certain department may be reluctant to share data with other business functions: a result of businesses lacking a coherent data strategy where executives are not shown the bigger picture.

Other avenues of resistance include non-compliance and slow adherence to data policies, but the outcome is always the same: finance struggles to get the data it needs.

Tools of the trade

To overcome these obstacles, CFOs need to figure out a data strategy knowing what data is most important to the business and what it needs to do with it. It is also equally critical to ensure that people with the right skills, such as data analysts, are on tap.

The lesson is this: have the governance, reporting requirements and right people in place first before you attempt to exploit the data.

Younger startups have a big advantage over established businesses. It is easier to build a data strategy over infrastructure when starting from scratch. Yet, introducing new data strategy and building a new data infrastructure remains necessary. It needs to be done concurrently while running the old systems in parallel to maintain service continuity. Upon migration of vital data and workloads to new data infrastructure, legacy systems can then be shut down.

For instance, a global provider of semiconductor and electronics assembly solutions was keen to move their back office and customer-facing applications to the cloud for scalability and easy access to support their strong growth trajectory.

In order to facilitate seamless functionality across their finance, human resource, supply chain and customer experience, the firm leveraged our cloud solution. This allowed them to access to unified project planning, budgeting, and execution across the 18 countries they operated in, leading to better business agility across finance, manufacturing, operations, customer experience and human capital management. The business is now also able to make more data-driven decisions to accelerate its growth.

Democratizing data to all teams

With the cloud as the central ‘brain’, all data environments are connected through a digital nervous system. Finance has easy access to abundant data sources through this system, as well as the latest tools for keeping that data clean and properly managed.

Of course, these benefits are not solely restricted to the CFO and team: all departments should have similar access.

Then, as the number of applications needed to run a successful business grows exponentially, the cloud takes on this role, freeing up employees to focus on the decisions that will grow the business.

Finance at the helm

With finance in control, a company’s data is in good hands. CFOs and their teams have the objectivity, experience and ethical code to be the ideal data stewards, which in turn makes them a real force for good within their organization.

The next step is to get the right tools and understand the strategies they need to build an organization that is truly data-driven.

A cloud-based infrastructure that is built off the back of a watertight data strategy—one that is there from the very beginning—offers an unrivalled breadth of insight and the tools needed to realize data’s true potential.

Only then can data become the common currency by which business success is measured.