The Data Analytics Chain: A Primer for Accounting Professionals

By | Accounting, Data | No Comments

Accounting professionals are used to working with data. After all, they work with numbers all the time. And aren’t numbers just a form of data?

Numbers are indeed a form of data, but there’s much more to data and analytics than working with standard reports. Data has come a long way from the manual data collection and use that some may remember from years ago. Now the question becomes which data to collect, rather than if it can be collected.

The Data Analytics Process

The data analytics process is a loosely connected series of steps that collects, prepares, organizes, reports, and offers for analysis important data from your company. This data may take many forms. It may include financial data, but it may also include warehouse reports, time to completion, and other quantifiable facts.

Sources of data today abound in the workplace. Many companies utilize enterprise resource planning, or ERP systems, which are finance and accounting systems that gather data from various points through a company.

The data analytics process takes into account every step of the process from finding to utilizing data.

  1. Data Collection

The first step, data collection, may already be taking place within your organization. As an accountant or financial professional, your input into data collection is invaluable. You can identify valuable data within the organization or among its suppliers and vendors that should be tracked.

Take time to work with your team to identify and list all potential sources of data that would be useful to your data analytics process. This activity should also include “dark data.” Dark data is data your business has access to but may not know how to extract it from its source. Sources include competitor websites, government and state websites and data reports, PDFs, and similar public documents. Web scraper or technology that can extract data from such sources can add to your repository of data.

  1. Data Preparation

Data preparation includes profiling, cleaning, and correcting the data before it is used. You’re probably familiar with profiling and cleaning data. It’s not unusual for accountants to work with data files in this manner. What is unusual is the size of the newer data files. They are often too large to work with manually and instead must rely on automated processes to identify data duplicates or discrepancies and clean the files.

  1. Build Information Models

The information model is critical for the analysis phase. The model provides the details of the data to be stored in the data warehouse. If the information model is incomplete or inaccurate, it can lead to significant challenges and mistakes later on during the analysis phase.

This is the time to build and review information models with your team. Go through what-if scenarios to ensure the information you’ve collected is enough to fulfill needed situation analysis. If not, return to earlier steps to define and collect the appropriate data.

  1. Analytics

In the analytics phase, insights are developed and shared with key stakeholders. Many companies find that business intelligence tools, aligned and integrated with enterprise resource planning systems, enable the analytic phase to be completed quickly and easily. Business intelligence software prepares visual representations of data that, depending on the type of report and the data fields chosen for the report, may be more easily understood than pure data alone. Bar graphs, pie charts, scatterplots, and similar diagrams are examples of business intelligence reports that transform data into more easily understandable graphics.

Challenges and Opportunities

There are many challenges and opportunities available in the data analytics process. Being aware of various challenges in each step of the analysis process can help you avoid or overcome them.

Data has always provided accountants with powerful information. Now, more than ever, with access to so many software tools to gather and utilize data, accountants can provide useful and valuable insights to benefit others.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

Automation That Makes Your Life Easier—Excel Tips and Automated Meeting Notes

By | Accounting Software, Microsoft Office | No Comments

Whether you have a love-hate relationship with technology or are a fan of all things gadgets and geeky, we guarantee you’ll appreciate these ideas to make your workdays easier. From automated meeting tasks to Excel tips to recover unsaved files, these time-saving tips are sure to make your workday easier and more productive.

Automated Meeting Tools Help You Focus

Video conferencing has become the new normal, both in part to the pandemic and to the prevalence of the technology in the workplace. With almost all new computers issued with excellent webcams, it makes sense to meet via a video conference with many clients and coworkers.

But with video conferencing comes so-called “Zoom fatigue” (or GoToMeeting, WebEx, or whatever video conferencing technology you’re using). It’s exhausting to stare at a screen for hours on end, focusing on participants’ information and taking copious notes. Task switching, such as stopping to take notes during a meeting, results in lost attention and focus. According to Psychology Today, the average person can lose up to 40% of their productivity from rapid task switching.

The solution? Automated meeting tools take some of the pressure off you to take copious notes during calls. These tools can:

  • Sync with Google and Outlook to automatically record meetings on your calendar
  • Transcribe the dialogue from a meeting
  • Assign a speaker to the dialogue (with your help to identify the names of the speakers at the start of the call).
  • Highlight, edit, and add images to transcripts, such as charts and graphs
  • Share the output as Word documents or PDFs

Call transcripts enable you to focus on the speaker rather than on taking down what’s being said. It’s a game-changer for busy professionals who conduct many videoconferences each week.

A few technology solutions for meetings we invite you to explore include:

  • Otter.ai
  • Fireflies.ai
  • Rev
  • Sonix

Note that some offer a free trial or free basic service while others are paid plans. Otter.ai, for example, allows a certain number of minutes of recorded meeting transcription per month, then prompts you to bump up to the paid plan.

Excel Tips to Recover Unsaved Files

Oh no, it’s happened again! You’ve been working on the end-of-quarter budget when bam—the power blinks out. It’s just for a moment, but long enough to reboot your computer. When you log back into Excel, the file you’ve worked on for the past hour seems to be gone.

Autosave, a feature in many Microsoft programs (including Excel), can be a lifesaver for those times when computers act up or power goes out. You’ll need to toggle it to “on” within the particular program you are using—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or others.

But what if you accidentally closed the Excel file before ever hitting “save”? Here’s how to recover the file:

  1. Open Microsoft Excel.
  2. Click the File tab on the task ribbon at the top of the screen.
  3. Click Recent.
  4. Scroll to the end of the list. Click on Recover Unsaved Workbooks.
  5. The Open window appears. Click Open. You will see the file contents.
  6. Click on Save, name your file, and save it to the desired destination.

Another common scenario is closing a file before saving the last changes you made to it. The file may already be saved to your computer, but the last changes weren’t saved.

You can recover those changes by following these steps:

  1. Open Excel.
  2. A Document Recovery pane should appear. Within that pane should be the name of the document you were working on with unsaved changes.
  3. Choose the file you wish to recover.
  4. Open the file. Check to make sure the changes are on the document.
  5. If the changes you made are there, click Save.

Now you can breathe a sigh of relief and finish that report.

The Right Software Makes a Big Difference

The right software can make a big difference to your productivity. Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

Improving Nonprofit Board Effectiveness

By | Nonprofit | No Comments

Nonprofit boards provide several important services. Boards must ensure the staff and volunteers act legally and ethically. They oversee the finances and guide the organization with a “duty of care” that extends to planning and decision making. The board must, at the end of the day, confirm that the nonprofit acts in a responsible way and manages its business affairs accordingly.

That’s a tall order for even the most dedicated nonprofit board members. Good nonprofits choose their board members wisely, but great nonprofits take additional steps to support their board members and improve their effectiveness.

Where Boards Fall Short

Boards often fall short in several common areas. For example, in a study from the Stanford School of Business, only 23% say their communication with fellow board members is excellent. Other areas that could be improved include technical knowledge, especially on cybersecurity matters and diversity.

Improving Effectiveness, Supporting the Organization

Providing support, resources, and professional development for board members isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a crucial way to support the overall organization. Given that the board provides guidance for the direction of the organization as well as oversight over many areas, the better the board members’ skills and experience, the better they can support the organization.

Three ways in which organizations can improve the effectiveness of their boards include:

  1. Survey the board: Ask each board member individually for their opinion on aspects of board governance and communications. For example, do they feel the current board processes are effective? How would they rate their communications level with fellow board members? These and other questions can be asked of each member and the responses collected anonymously. The collected responses can be shared in a report with action steps to follow up on areas of need.
  2. Conduct a gap analysis: Survey the board and assess their skills. Then, working with the board, make a list of skills they have and skills they believe they need. This gap analysis can be used to fill future board positions. For example, if knowledge and expertise in technology and cyber security is lacking, this critical need can be filled when a board seat becomes vacant. Knowing these skills are needed can be helpful to direct the search for a new director. This information can also be used to provide professional development to the current board to close skills and knowledge gaps.
  3. Gather frequent feedback: Feedback should be gathered not just through surveys, but through frequent feedback gathered after every meeting. For example, ask the board after the conclusion of each meeting to rate their ability to follow the agenda, communicate clearly, and resolve issues. Use a scale of 1 to 5 or similar to gather data to help directors identify areas of focus for future meetings. If they feel they didn’t follow the agenda, ask them to determine why. Perhaps a new issue cropped up that was unforeseen but urgent. If so, they may need to leave more space in the agenda to handle urgent needs as they arise.

Develop a Succession Plan

In addition to these suggestions, it is helpful to develop a succession plan for the board. As members resign or their term of service expires, it is helpful to have a plan ready to guide the search for new directors. This is where the skills and gap analysis is helpful. If you know what skills the board currently lacks, you can search for members who have the desired attributes.

Your board of directors provides a valuable service, guiding and supporting your organization as it works to achieve its mission. By giving them the support they need, you’ll be able to boost their effectiveness, and in turn, build your organization.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

5 Tips to Improve Efficiency of the Grant Review Process

By | Grant Management, Nonprofit | No Comments

If your organization awards grants, you know how time consuming it can be to review all the applications. Then, there’s the process of narrowing the submissions to the most promising, and finally, choosing the best candidates for the grant. It can be quite labor intensive.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to improve the efficiency of the grant review process. With these 5 tips, you’ll not only become more efficient at the process, but you’ll have an easier time finding and selecting the best match for the grant.

The Review Process Should Be Fair and Unbiased

As an organization that awards grants, it is in your best interest to make sure the grant review process is fair and unbiased. Organizations that submit their grant applications have spent considerable time and effort preparing their application. Writing a single federal grant application, for example, takes between 80 and 200 hours. For many, the hopes for their organization rest on their ability to win you over to their cause, mission, and activities.

Making sure the grant review process is both fair and unbiased is the best way to honor both the effort that goes into grant applications and the spirit of your organization’s charitable grant policy. Follow these steps to ensure a thorough process so all the grants receive the time and attention they deserve in order to choose the worthiest among them for awards.

5 Tips to Create a Fair and Efficient Grant Review Process

  1. Create a detailed evaluation guideline. These guidelines, or rubric, should provide detailed criteria for reviewers to analyze incoming grant applications. Choose between a holistic and analytic rubric. As the name suggests, a holistic approach looks at the application as a whole and assigns the entire application a numerical value. An analytics rubric assigns a numerical value to each section of the rubric and asks reviewers to give each section a number. No matter which method you choose, apply a consistent and fair process to all applications. Do not use a holistic method for one half and an analytic approach to the other half of the applicant pool.
  2. Share the assessment criteria beforehand with applicants. Don’t ask applicants to work in the dark. Instead, give them the criteria ahead of time. This respects both their time and effort and guarantees they can provide you with complete information.
  3. Build a diverse review team. Your review team should be as diverse as the people you serve. Make sure the team reviewing the grant applications holds diverse opinions to ensure opportunities are considered from all sides.
  4. Insist on multiple reviewers. If there are only one or two awards, insist that multiple people review the chosen grant applications. This guarantees the fairest possible process for all. It also ensures that fatigued reviewers don’t just rubberstamp the application everyone likes. Bring in people who haven’t read the grant application to review it before the final choice is made.
  5. Hide the applicant’s information. Lastly, to safeguard a totally fair and unbiased choice, make sure all visibly identifiable information is hidden on the grant applications. This includes name, birthdate, location, and any other identifying information that could strike at a hidden bias among the reviewers.

Build Consensus

Lastly, aim for consensus when it comes to choosing the finalists. Use the rubric or guidelines as the touchstone for agreement. Ask open-ended questions and designate a facilitator for the ensuing discussion so everyone has a chance to voice their opinions. Discussion is both healthy and encouraged but should aim for consensus-building rather than capitulation among those who disagree.

Encouraging both fairness and transparency will help your nonprofit award grants to the most deserving among the applicants. Enacting a process like this one will go a long way to improve the overall grant process.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.