The Modern CFO: A path to better data

The Modern CFO: A path to better data
February 5, 2015

Part 2 of our ongoing series

As technology becomes more sophisticated and ubiquitous, it produces more, and better, data. From user profiles to usage patterns to location information, there is more data than ever—and the avalanche has just begun. As people and departments use an ever-growing number of web services and digital tools, it can seem like there is no end of things to measure. And that’s great news for the modern CFO.

Finance has always been focused on numbers, and today’s CFOs have massive amounts of data at their fingertips. Increasingly, CFOs must be savvy about what data is relevant and what is not. They must find tools to help them spot trends, flag issues, and uncover opportunities—not just once, but on an ongoing basis. By paying attention to the data that matters, finance leaders can maintain a real-time view of where their organizations are and where they're headed.

But no single executive can do it alone. For the CFO in search of a complete picture and transparency, collaboration across departments is vital. Below, we explore three actions CFOs can take to improve the quality of their data, both today and in the long term.

  1. Break down the silos

  2. Data tells the story of trends and patterns over time, but when it only comes from one perspective or department, it can become skewed. That's the problem with organizational silos—people can become insulated inside their work groups and fail to seek collaborative input or advice from other departments. This can lead to data that's missing key details. Silos can also cause deeper problems of miscommunication and mistrust.

    As CFO Magazine reports in a case study on breaking down organizational silos, “By bringing people from across the process into the same room, [CFOs] were able to resolve some of the most intractable barriers to improvement.”

    For better financial data, CFOs should do everything possible to break down these silos. Encourage a collaborative workplace that allows experts, regardless of department, to generate ideas and gain new perspectives on their work. Applications that enable collaboration and open sharing can be a tremendous help in this effort. After all, while departments may have specific goals, they all have one thing in common: a desire to see their organization succeed.

  3. Get to know the data DNA

  4. When it comes to gathering data, it’s important for leaders to look at both processes and people. Understanding how knowledge flows through the organization is key to obtaining better data.

    Data isn’t spreadsheets full of numbers—it's also about making connections, interpreting actions, and understanding context. When leaders know who was involved in gathering the data, they can see the motivations behind it and where it might need extra attention.

  5. Create a culture of sharing

  6. Collaboration across departments can increase accountability and enhance the inclination to gather better information. When employees know that others will see their work, it can inspire them to make their best effort and provide more trustworthy facts. More eyes also means more opportunities to check for accuracy, reliability, and usability of data. One department might offer insight to another about the way it works, opening the door to understanding across departments—a key to empathy and cooperation.

Having complete, accurate data is a high priority for CFOs, and exploring new ways to get it is a part of their evolving role. Breaking down organizational silos and opening the lines of communication throughout a company are two key steps down the path to better data.

As technology continues to transform the way data is gathered and organized, a people-first approach that encourages interdepartmental transparency points the way to better data for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.

Click here to read part one of "The Modern CFO" series.

Mike Sellberg

About the author

Mike Sellberg is Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Workiva. He is the former EVP and CTO at iMed Studios and the former Divisional General Manager at Engineering Animation, Inc.