Big Data Analytics - Finding Diamonds in the Rough
By Fulvio Barbuio, Head Corporate Treasury and Risk, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
As finance professional, data and its transformation into actionable information is central to navigating and supporting organizational performance but this data can take different forms and at its heart is both financial and non-financial in nature. During my career I’ve witnessed many a situation where financial and non-financial information has been kept apart and the focus has been on looking at financial information. At the same time this has been coupled with a focus on looking in the rear view mirror.
To be sure the past was also characterized by more manual data collection methods with rudimentary technology that was not sufficiently powerful or lacked widespread use to address growing data sources, volume and ways of extracting value. This was left to convoluted systems that were not integrated and relied on Excel spreadsheets to ‘run the numbers’ in bespoke models constructed by a few skilled analysts. This was not ideal but was fit for purpose given the level of technology and data points available at the time.
Unfortunately, it made extracting value and insights by way of data driven decision making difficult. However, with the rapid advancement of computer processing power, machine learning, the spread of digital data touch points and the applications and systems that have been spawned as a result, the ability to access big data of all types and its conversion to valuable insights through the power of data analytics has been a boon for organizations and those analysts, managers and leaders with the vision to discover and extract key insights or what I’d call ‘finding diamonds in the rough’.
“Big data analytics can shift through large amounts of data to drive more macro improvements”
While big data analytics can shift through large amounts of data to drive more macro improvements such as with processes, for me as or more important is the power of big data analytics to discover key insights by way of disparate data relationships which are ‘unseen’ so to speak and also importantly about its predicative capabilities all with the promise of supporting significant performance breakthroughs.
It is here where finance can emerge from being captured by a narrower focus on past financial information to a data focus that is inclusive of non-financial data and one that can provide predictive insights for future organizational success.
From my broad finance perspective coupled with a more specific focus on treasury and enterprise risk management, I see tremendous opportunities in leveraging technology to enhance the contribution that finance professionals can make to their organizations taking them from a somewhat narrow ‘back office’ focus or reputation to one that is seen as a partner of the ‘front office’ of the organization and one that can ask and answer the big questions.
So, how specifically can that be accomplished?
It takes a number things and not simply access to technology. Firstly, of course you do need appropriate technology solutions to access target data, manipulate it and using analytical algorithms and processes to extract and report organization insights. Increasingly this involves accessing data from a host of quite different data touch points, from financial to non-financial covering internal operational data, internet and social media data, devices and sensors. This also requires a strong partnership between the CFO and CIO and their respective organizations to ensure an alignment between requirements and solutions.
Secondly, your service providers and entrepreneurs can bring technology and problem solutions together to facilitate the needs of finance professionals and their organizations. A good example of this is the relatively new but exploding Fintech sector which is bringing innovative technological solutions to finance professionals and the financial industry which have widespread applications across the broad business landscape. This industry is pushing the envelope and bringing tools to bear to solve problems and improve organizations and customer experiences. These can tend though to focus on the macro processes promising incremental improvements to performance. While certainly valuable it will be interesting to see the extent to which they begin to focus on big and bold insight discovery. It is in this ‘diamonds in the rough’ space where more effort would be beneficial to support breakthrough insights and innovation delivering exponential performance improvements that can change the face of an industry or even create new ones.
Thirdly, while the technology and service providers need to be on point, a critical ingredient is having the right finance staff with a blend of technology and analytic expertise and a broad view of the organization that can harness and interpret the information delivered out of big data analytics. These staffs need to ask the key questions to focus the big data analytics effort, be inquisitive and forward thinking and to some extent be excited and driven by the prospect of discovering organization insights and how they will support decision making and organization success. This may not have been in finance’s wheelhouse in the past but needs to be if it wants to be a player.
The opportunities are significant but need a cadre of like-minded individuals that have a shared vision of how technology can be used to interrogate big data and with the benefit of analytical analysis find ‘diamonds in the rough’.
The opinions of the author are his own and do not represent those of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Founded in 1932, Australian Broadcasting Corporation works as an independent public broadcaster. Headquartered in Sydney, the Corporation enriches the lives of Australians with quality content programming across radio, television, online, and mobile.