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A core part of the mission for any CFO is to ensure the financial health of the organization by providing the kind of accurate and up-to-date understanding that enables better strategies to guide and strengthen the business. That entails everything from monitoring performance to projecting cash flow and making smart budget proposals. So, what's standing in the way? 

You could say that CFOs these days have a 3D problem — with the three Ds in question being disconnected and disorderly data. And the best solution to that problem often means bringing in a fourth D — for dashboard. Putting a robust analytics dashboard in place can be transformative, because it enables businesses to visualize their data and report on it in a focused and organized way that unlocks profound and actionable insights. 

 

Double Trouble: The Data Growth Challenge  

Financial data analysis is always challenging, and doing it well requires a clear-eyed view of the data landscape. But that's a taller order than ever given how quickly data is accumulating. 

Buckminster Fuller famously coined the term knowledge doubling to describe the rate at which human knowledge increases by a factor of two. It's been estimated that these days the amount of data businesses have access to doubles roughly every 12 months, and IBM has predicted that thanks to the Internet of Things, eventually that data might double every 12 hours. 

The downside of all this doubling, of course, brings to mind Stephen Wright's famous observation that you can't have everything — where would you put it? Exactly where you're going to house all of your business's data — and how you make sense out of it — has become one of the most critical challenges facing any enterprise CFO these days. 

 

Connecting the Data Dots 

What often compounds the problem is the disorderly state of the data. After all, when data is disconnected and siloed across departments, or isolated in noncompatible legacy systems and Excel spreadsheets, it can't provide you with its full value. In a very real sense, your business doesn't know what it knows. 

All this disorganized data is like the scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Until they're assembled in one place, you can't see what they represent. Only then does the true picture appear, and empower you to transform your data into actionable insights. 

 

The Trend Among CFOs: Seeking a Clearer View of the Road Ahead 

This explains why CFOs are increasingly gravitating toward sophisticated interfaces that can help them make better sense of the data they already have on hand. Better data tools are quickly moving up the priority list as finance leaders become more familiar with the benefits they deliver. 

 A few data points that are telling: 

    • Nearly half of all CFOs (48%) plan to invest in consumer-like interfaces for finance tasks in the coming five years, according to a Workday study. 
    • 40% of CFOs are now prioritizing analytics and data storytelling skills in new hires more than they did five years ago, according to that same study. 
    • A report from EY found that 23% of CFOs plan to prioritize improving big data and analytics capabilities to transform forecasting, manage risk more effectively, and improve understanding of value drivers. 

What are the benefits that have data dashboards climbing to the top of the CFO wish list? 

 

How Dashboards Deliver the Goods 

Financial dashboards function as a central hub for financial data — as well as the analytics that harvest insights from it to strengthen decision-making. 

Getting a modern ERP system such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance in place is the first step. Cleaning up your data and wrangling it into a cloud-based, AI-capable ERP enables a big leap forward by creating a single source of truth for your information assets. 

And that in turn allows you make use of the latest powerful analytics and reporting dashboards that show you what you need to know about that data in a centralized location. Combine that with the ability to take real-time data from your ERP and display it in an easy-to-assimilate way, and then generate customized reports to share what you've learned with your organization. 

You can think of financial dashboards as a kind of nerve center for your organization — the place where you can easily track the KPIs and metrics that matter most, including: 

    • costs 
    • sales goals 
    • profit and loss 
    • operational expenses 
    • cash flow 
    • budget variance 

... and much more. 

Of course, one of the most important benefits for CFOs is that data dashboards can protect their valuable time. Reviewing and analyzing data can be endlessly time-consuming, and any tool that helps expedite the process so you can find the most important insights quickly is a major boon. 

With that, here are just some of what the right solution can deliver: 

    • Better analysis and forecasting: Cloud-based analytics, AI and machine learning sift through the data for to find patterns, trends, and anomalies that identify key challenges and reveal valuable opportunities. 
    • Better reporting: Dashboards present those understandings in accessible and digestible ways, so that they're easier to grasp and more likely to be acted on. 
    • Better communication and teamwork: It's easier to get your team rowing in the same direction when everyone has access to the same centralized source of data and the tools to understand it.  
    • Better decision-making: You can't base good decisions on poor or outdated data. When your organization is acting on a solid understanding of clean and well analyzed real-time data, better choices and more successful strategies are bound to result. 
    • Better agility: Once challenges and opportunities have surfaced, your business can respond more quickly and more proactively. 

Dynamic Dashboards in Action 

Here are two good examples of tools with dashboard and reporting capabilities that you can put to work for you. 

  • Dynamics 365 Finance offers not only system dashboards, but customized user dashboards — giving you the ability to set up dashboards that are configured to display the information that's most essential to your role and your needs. You can sort through a variety of layouts and select charts and other components to use in your dashboard. 
  • Microsoft's Power BI excels at data visualization. Layered on top of Dynamics 365 Finance and your other data-rich systems, it pulls data from across your organization and offers hundreds of data visualizations with built-in AI capabilities and up-to-the-minute analytics. It also allows you to create rich, interactive reports with visual analytics, and its cloud capabilities allow for easy collaboration and sharing.  

Want to learn more about how Columbus can help you get the most out of your data with financial dashboards and other essential tools? Get in touch with us today. 

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