Using cloud computing for Business Intelligence (BI) promises to improve the quality and increase the speed of data-based decision making by tackling two historic BI pain points: the lack of ubiquitous access to data, and too many ill-matched, difficult-to-integrate data silos that inhibit composite analysis. Theoretically, cloud computing can aggregate any type of data for use by anyone in the organization in near real time. And once the data is uniquely combined and standardized across the enterprise, forward-looking and historical analytics become not only much more insightful but also proprietary.
In effect, BI graduates to the rank of a corporate asset, on par with intellectual property (IP).
Now, BI may never be financially booked beyond the cost to acquire and operate it, but its ability to make a net contribution in value has come of age with cloud technology. And, according to the bible, Brealey and Myers, the finance function exists to increase shareholder value. To quote Brealey, how this gets done depends upon “experience, creativity, judgment and a pinch of luck.”
Now is the time for Finance to embrace BI beyond what’s contained in the ERP system, to optimize its potential value, and to use it as a coming out party for the Finance function itself. If Finance does not assume specific aspects of BI ownership, it will be adding risk to this newly minted corporate asset and relegating itself to the job of simply reporting shareholder value instead of addressing the far more interesting question of what could happen to it and how to enhance it.
Risks Finance mitigates for cloud-based BI
The Coming out Party for Finance
Before Sarbanes-Oxley, the three groups within the CFO office were more differentiated than they are today. Accounting groups focused on what happened to the business via External Reporting and Audits. Treasury groups managed money. Finance groups acted as an intermediary between how a company operated and how those operations were funded. But governmental demand for strong controls and weak post-2008 economic times have led many organizations to downsize Finance, leaving resources available only for External Reporting, Audit duties, and a sprinkling of Treasury activities. The vast majority of operational analytic roles (outside ERP) now sit within business units, product marketing, or sales departments (a trend only accelerated by the ease of adoption of software-as-a-service applications), and each brands their own version of the truth for enterprise consumption. Each also carves out a portion of their precious budgets to pay for their version of the truth, thereby claiming ownership. Cloud-based BI is a way to re-unify, de-duplicate, and better interpret how the company prioritizes, analyzes, and executes on data. Finance can use this moment in time to add value by taking control of managing BI and, at the same time, participating more fully in the opinions and conclusions from the outputs of BI that will be translated into future dollars and sense.
Beth Russell is a senior executive in Corporate Development at Nokia, in California. She has industry expertise in Mobile-Cloud, Software and Retail for hi-tech companies, including Apple. She specializes in business transformations from a sales operations, finance, and go-to-market perspective. She can be reached at[email protected].