What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Exploring the Benefits and Barriers of Business Intelligence

As a CPA, a big part of your role at your company or clients is being able to weigh the costs and the benefits of any business decision, providing numbers and data to back up your recommendations. Business intelligence solutions are powerful tools that can help you make this process simpler and derive deeper insights from your data. However, deciding whether or not to invest in a BI solution requires a costs/benefits analysis of its own. We’re here to help.

Top Three Benefits of Business Intelligence

As the number of companies and clients adopting BI solutions steadily increases, CPAs are perfectly positioned to make the most of the advantages business intelligence can offer.

Aggregate Data to get the Bigger Picture. This is perhaps the most powerful benefit of BI. While CPAs often own their company’s accounting system and are experts at analyzing the data from these systems, this doesn’t always give a complete picture. The true value of business intelligence lies in the ability to mix, match, and aggregate data from multiple data sources. For example, the company’s quarterly forecasts are typically built from historical accounting data. Forecasts become more valuable when merged with data that’s not in the accounting system, such as marketing, sales, operational, and even external data like weather. Combined with standard BI reporting features like visual dashboards and dynamic charting and graphing, a standard accounting forecast suddenly yields much greater insight.

Create More Opportunities for Self-Service. We know you love your job—but what if you had a tool that promoted democratization of data and freed you up to dig deeper and become more familiar with the numbers and KPIs that make your company tick? You’d find errors, fraud, and overspending faster, and be of more value to your company or your clients. Business intelligence gives end users the power to create ad hoc and custom reports at the click of a button, seeing only the data that they need to see at any given moment. Getting the right data into the hands of the right people at the right time is a key goal for any business intelligence solution we implement. It’s good for you, good for other team members, and good for business.

Move Your Company Toward Predictive Analytics. Traditionally, accounting departments have filled a descriptive reporting role for their companies, looking back. Here’s what happened last month, last quarter, or last year—and here’s why we think it happened. What if you could help your company look forward instead? Thanks to a faster report generating time, real-time reporting, and greater knowledge of current data, business intelligence gives CPAs the ability to move into predictive analytics. In other words, when you don’t have to wait so long or spend so much time simply collecting and reporting data, you can use the data at your fingertips to answer questions and make key business decisions. How many new positions should we hire for this year? Where do we make quality improvement investments? Will our current processes support our growth forecasts? Predictive analytics can help answer these questions for your company.

Barriers to Adopting a Business Intelligence Solution

The most common objections we hear from clients who are interested in business intelligence but not completely sold on the idea yet are concerns about implementation cost and about the ability of their team to learn a new system without letting their current workload suffer.

Fear of Implementation. How much is this going to cost me? There’s no doubt that implementing a BI solution is an investment in the future of your company. However, the number of companies and potential clients expecting more comprehensive data analysis continues to rise. New solutions are inundating the market, including cloud-based BI solutions that are reducing implementation costs and enabling companies to onboard faster. Now is a good time to invest.

The Learning Curve. This concern is similar to implementation, but it focuses more specifically on the human cost of adopting a BI solution. Will everyone be able to learn a new system? Will they be able to ramp up quickly enough or will this slow down our entire organization? Once again, the upfront cost is a concern here, but the potential payoff is significant—reporting that used to take days or even weeks cut down to a couple of hours, democratization of data, and deeper business insights to name just a few benefits. Plus, the learning curve has become noticeably less steep over the past five years. While business intelligence used to involve complex, highly technical solutions that could only be understood by IT specialists, today’s cloud-based BI solutions are much more intuitive and end user friendly.

Vague ROI. Specifically, where will I improve? Sometimes the time savings of automated existing reports is not enough to pay for the solution, so we need to achieve our ROI through better, more informed decisions. Some organizations already know their pain points through anecdotal or traditional reporting means. In those cases, creating visibility throughout the organization for KPIs that address those pains can help us estimate the ROI. Other companies need the visibility first to find the improvement or growth opportunities. It’s certainly tough to calculate a reasonably accurate ROI in these cases, and we would typically advise clients to do one of two things. The first is to conduct small exploratory projects either with either internal or external resources. The primary goal is to learn your baseline and identify opportunities. The second piece of advice is to honestly weigh the cost of doing nothing. Every organization is different, and the timing might not be right for yours.

Ultimately, the role of the CPA has always been to explain the data and the numbers. Business intelligence doesn’t change that core function, but it can enhance and extend your role. Used correctly, business intelligence can make the job easier and the analytics more effective—providing unique growth opportunities for CPAs who are willing to leverage BI to dig deeper and become more data-literate.