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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 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.