Turn Your Finance Team Into Business Analytics Masters

By Robert Half on January 20, 2020 at 8:50am

With companies’ ever-growing reliance on data, finance and accounting leaders and their teams are facing a daunting challenge: Master analytics, soon, or risk becoming obsolete.

In Robert Half’s Jobs and AI Anxiety report, finance managers said big data and advanced analytics are among the top three technologies their organizations currently use. And in a separate survey by our company, 37% of CFOs said that analytics skills are mandatory for all accounting and finance positions, while 49% said they’re mandatory for some roles.

The truth is that business analytics is crucial for understanding the inner workings of any organization. Following is a quick rundown of what you need to know to turn your current team into a squad of analytics experts — equipping them with high-value skills that not only will help them meet today’s business demands but also prepare for the future of work.

The core competencies: statistics, databases and communication

The larger the data sets you work with, the more complicated the analysis will be. Regardless of size, however, analytics still comes down to three core competencies:

  • Statistics — Analytics teams require at least one mathematician, ideally a statistician. This person will use probability, distributions and regression analysis to uncover the patterns hiding in the numbers.
  • Databases — You need IT experts on your team, especially people who know how to use databases. Often, this means securing SQL expertise, although you might also need someone knowledgeable in big data technologies if you’re analyzing a lot of information.
  • Communication — Data is useless if you can’t interpret it. So, you’ll need skilled communicators who can take the results of analysis and translate them — using reports, graphs and presentations — for those who aren’t fluent in the language of numbers.

Even if your finance team has never tackled analytics before, it’s possible to get them up and running relatively quickly. Here’s how.

1. Conduct a skills audit

Almost everyone on your finance and accounting team will have a few of the basic skills required for analytics work. You’ll likely find that some will have extensive experience with creating graphs and reports, while others with mathematics backgrounds might be statistics whiz kids. These days, it’s not uncommon for finance professionals to have a few tech skills up their sleeves, too.

Assess your team’s competencies in these areas. You can then plan your business analytics workflow around your findings, such as putting your most tech-savvy employees in charge of database duties.

2. Coordinate with IT

Analytics projects can’t succeed without support from IT. Tech professionals are required to grant finance teams system access, help them pull reports, and install any additional software they might need. Many IT teams will also possess analytics experts who can provide finance and accounting professionals with guidance.

That’s one of the many reasons finance and IT leaders should foster collaboration among their teams. Both departments find themselves playing an increasingly strategic role in organizations, with business analytics becoming a fundamental part of the decision-making process.

3. Develop a training plan

After your skills audit, look for opportunities to enhance your team’s analytics capabilities through professional development. In some cases, this might involve focusing on a particular aspect of their skills, such as working with databases. This training can be provided in-house with computer-based instruction or through coaching from IT teammates.

Likewise, if an employee wants to become an analytics specialist, you could support them through a professional qualification, such as the CAP (Certified Analytics Professional) credential. Some universities also offer business analytics designations. Cornell’s Business Analytics Certificate is one example.

4. Hire or outsource to fill any skills gaps

If you’ve maxed out the abilities of your existing team, then you’ll need to start looking for outside help. In the long term, that could mean hiring analytics professionals with financial expertise.

However, the market for analytics experts is ferociously competitive right now, making these employees especially difficult to recruit. The latest Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals notes that data analytics skills and knowledge of database management software are among the abilities in the highest demand in the industry.

You can broaden your talent pool by working with consultants who are skilled in business analytics. These professionals not only can help with specific tasks but also lend a hand with the strategy, planning and training needed to get your team up and running with business analytics projects.

5. Launch a pilot program

When you feel your finance team is ready, assign them a small, measurable analytics project. Target a specific data set that they can mine for actionable insights. Keep track of how the project progresses at each stage, so you can identify areas where your team excels or needs more training.

Once your team has completed their pilot project, gradually incorporate increasingly complicated analytics tasks into their roles. This approach will allow them to learn, develop and integrate business analytics into their daily routines without feeling overwhelmed.

Don’t risk getting left behind in the race to master business analytics. Take steps to cultivate your finance and accounting team’s analytics skills, so they can provide your company with insight and guidance that can help grow your bottom line — and competitive edge — both now and in the future.

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