CFOs and controllers may not necessarily have the exact same role, but they do fulfill a similar function within a given company. Namely, they need to focus on supporting the financial aspects and operations of their company. Controllers tend to focus more on records and organization, while the CFO manages greater strategy on top of that, however, both of them often grapple with the same challenges.

Naturally, with the stakes so high, it’s important for people in these key roles to be able to make the most educated decisions possible. As more and more companies are finding this out, data is trending higher and higher as an invaluable tool.

Data Is The New Oil

The concept of “data being the new oil” may seem a bit dramatic at first, but when it comes to the financial sector/financial departments, it’s important to think of it in terms of resources. Oil powers a variety of machines and tools that modern society needs to function. Data has a similar powering role. For example, if a CFO was debating the merits of a merger or acquisition, they would naturally need to look at existing data for both companies, but also projections. Even in regular operations, data is essential. A controller needs to regularly look at financial records to determine if there are any anomalies that require leadership’s attention. In the modern age of business, decision making can’t happen without data to power it.

To draw the concept a little further, like oil, data can be refined into different forms for an organization’s benefit. For example, download raw financial data into Excel can be useful, but more importantly, organizations need to be able to extract meaning and analysis from the data. This is why there are a plethora of data analytics applications out there. There’s roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes of data produced on a daily basis worldwide, and it’s only likely to trend upwards. This means that it’s impossible for a single CFO or controller to be able to look through all the numbers themselves. These more modern platforms have implemented machine learning or other advanced capabilities to help make raw data come to life!

With these positives, come some negatives that we should mention as well. Unlike oil, data doesn’t appear to be a finite resource, saving us concerns about any sort of future scarcity. However, like oil, data does need to be effectively managed. For example, just like an oil spill causes a logistical and perception nightmare for a company, so does a data breach. CFOs and controllers need to be in regular communication with the IT teams to make sure that data advancements and security advancements flow in lockstep.

How Can You Create A Data-Forward Organization?

With data becoming more and more of an essential part of successful finances, the next question is how companies can become more data-forward. In some ways, the market is already forcing this. In a recent survey, it was determined that adaptability to new technologies was the single most desirable trait for incoming CFOs, even above things like competence with KPIs and communication skills.

When placing an emphasis on data as a finance professional, though, you need to make sure that you are working with a quality product. There is such a thing as “bad data,” data either collected through faulty methods or with heavy bias. This information can end up skewing the predictions and decisions you ultimately make. As a result, while you transform your company into a data-first culture, you also want to regularly audit your sourcing.

So, with all this in mind, is there more you can do? For many companies, it boils down to using the right tools to properly collate and manage data that's available. You should find a modern data analytics platform specifically catering to the financial users. From accessing data in real time to putting together detailed, visual reports, to accessing millions of disclosures for research, you need to be able to find the application that would help you fully utilize existing financial information to its full potential.