The area of analytics is constantly developing and is an area that used to require a lot of manpower but is now moving into the digitized age. Essentially, finance and business people alike can pull the numbers directly from a BI or front-end graphics platform and start asking WHY something happened instead of what happened as that will be available right there in front of them. This means you, the CFO, can disband your army of finance people that were doing reports simply to tell you and your business stakeholders what happened in each week/month/quarter/year. However, your stakeholders still need someone to tell them why it happened and more importantly come with suggestions as to what can be done about it.
Your business stakeholders get the report delivered straight to their “inbox” and turn to their Financial Analyst, FP&A Manager, Finance Business Partner etc. and ask why a certain development happened. Immediately, they will start to crunch the numbers until they have at least 80% of the explanation. This still takes a lot of time and while it does play a role in decision-making it doesn’t tell your stakeholders what actions to take which is which is what impacts whether value is created or destroyed. Consider instead of asking someone in Finance why something happened your business stakeholders ask a robot instead.
Ask a robot you said? Well, it’s not much different from when doctors ask IBM’s supercomputer Watson about what possible treatment options they have given some specific symptoms. The robot will quickly look through all available material and come up with a few suggestions. This would’ve previously taken hours or a ton of experience to do for the doctors themselves. The doctors will still have to make the decision about what treatment to apply but the robot is doing most of the groundwork now.
Let’s look at another example from container shipping. The most common question asked in shipping is “How many containers did we load last week?” You can easily setup your BI to show you the answer (i.e. what happened) in a nice an appealingly looking way. However, your BI won’t tell you why you loaded 105% to forecast. Most often there are multiple answers to this question.
- Demand was stronger than expected
- Some bookings shifted from one week to the next
- You didn’t account properly for seasonality
- You could get some extra moves in the terminal by paying overtime
- You had an extra sailing
If all this information is available somewhere in your systems or can be derived from some simple analysis, then there’s no reason a robot couldn’t tell you the answer at least with 80% degree of certainty. You simply click on the number or variance you want to have explained and the robot looks it up for you. Simple huh?
When robots could take over this specific task then you ask yourself what do you and the finance team do then? That’s also simple. You spend the time figuring out what actions to take to maintain over-performance or in another case perhaps rectify under-performance. That’s what business is about, in any case, i.e. making choices between different actions to take be they related to a product, production, sales force etc. Here’s where Finance also helps quantify and qualify the different options ultimately leading to a recommendation and a decision. Once again robots are not taking the jobs from people but rather enabling them to spend time on what really matters. That’s a win-win for everyone and not least for you, the CFO!