The view from the top: Digesting CXO Software’s 2018 Roundtable Dinner

On September 24, high up in the ADAM tower above the bright lights of Amsterdam, an international group of leading Finance professionals had gathered for a Round Table Dinner to swap stories, share ideas and explore the world of financial reporting. The discussions were lead by Nick Desbarats, who guided the conversation centered on “Information Organization.”

Hosted each year, the Round Table dinner is the traditional kick-off CXO Software’s annual AGORA customer event. With representatives from Siemens, NN, FrieslandCampina, Wessanen and other leading businesses at the table, not to mention CXO founders Ronald Wissink and Wouter Born, 2018’s Roundtable installment promised to be one of the most insightful yet.

Data, data everywhere

Leading the discussions was Canada’s Nick Desbarats, a keynote speaker at AGORA 2018 and a world-renowned authority on performance dashboarding and data visualization. He kicked off the conversation by drawing on the insight gained from 20 years as an international business consultant. A key issue in today’s organizations, he explained, is the sheer quantity of data that reporting teams have at their disposal.

In many cases, through inefficient organization, only 1% of the available data is visible to dashboard users at any one time, with the remaining 99% hidden behind filters. Key performance metrics are concealed from view, with critical issues often not seen until it’s too late.

Familiar scenario

It was a scenario familiar to many of the experienced professionals in the room, including Hans Shuil, Group Controller at Royal Cosun: “Where data is concerned, less is definitely more. As a Finance professional, the challenge has always been finding ways to have less information on the screen, but also the right information. The data we provide needs to empower our user groups, allowing to easily pinpoint the things that are of greatest relevance to them.”

Philipp Rosenbaum of Siemens Financial Services, shared his sentiment: “At Siemens, we are heavily involved in M&A. Whenever we buy a new company, we absorb more data and inherit different financial reporting systems from those businesses. We now have a great number of different SMP applications across the company – organizing all the data that this produces is a huge operation.”

However, it’s not just the amount of data and different systems that is problematic. The fact that this data has to be tailored to different user groups – from C-level executives, sales, HR and other professionals – each with their own priorities and focus areas, creates huge complexity from a dashboarding perspective.  As one roundtable participant neatly put it: “This is not a systems problem; it’s a people problem.”

Need conquers all

Data can be standardized, of course. Yet, as Nick explained, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches rarely work for anyone. Indeed, in many cases, it results in a ‘one-size-fits-no-one’ situation, where the use of certain dashboards tails off among the user community during the first year after its brought in. His analogy, in which Microsoft attempts to merge Word, Excel and PowerPoint into a single, unusable program, brought a smile from all of the participants in the room.

Clearly, organizing data by function or business unit alone isn’t a long-term solution. Instead, the approach taken by many of the participants in the room involves organizing data according to need, using dashboards that allow different user groups to quickly identify the most important metrics and gain key insights. However, this approach still has its drawbacks. In many companies, performance monitoring represents the number one need, with data presentation centered around KPIs.

Not everything is a KPI

Yet, even when focusing on KPIs, you are starting with a pretty wide funnel, explained Wilna Lindeman, Head of Corporate Finance Systems at FrieslandCampina:“I was once asked to set up a dashboard system that would cater to 89 different KPIs. How can you address so many different KPIs within a single system? It’s an impossible task.”

Nick offered a solution to the problem, that of breaking down ‘need’ into smaller sub-categories: “The thing to realize is that not everything is a KPI. For example, many organizations blur performance management with problem spotting, when really they are two different things.” Nick’s suggestion was to organize dashboard displays according to six distinct types of need:

  • Problem spotting,
  • Metric diagnosis,
  • Performance monitoring,
  • ‘Slice-and-dice’ analysis,
  • Exploratory analysis,
  • Canned analysis for essential information that doesn’t require daily monitoring.

It’s all about the buy-in

A number of Roundtable attendees are already implementing this streamlined approach, thanks in no small part to CXO Software. Gordan Pavlovic, Finance Director at VEON: “With CXO Software, we’ve selected the 20 most important KPIs that anyone can quickly consult on their smartphones whenever they need. We can access data for any country – whether it’s Italy, Bangladesh or Pakistan – and compare budgets and forecasts across different years.”

However, while the attendees all agreed that CXO was leading the way in driving organizations to change their data usage and visualization methods, in many cases, encouraging some segments of the user community to come on board with the software had sometimes proved difficult.

As one dinner guest highlighted, installing and maintaining a unified reporting culture across an entire company is never easy: “My organization has seen a lot of personnel changes over the past few years, particularly in the C-suite. Every time a new CEO or CFO comes in the goal posts change: some leaders want everyone to work top-down, others want to see granular data. The Finance team can’t keep up with these changing demands.”

As Nick, said, many people tend to stick to what they know, taking the tried-and-tested path until there is no longer a way through: You have to change the culture. Sometimes that can only be done by physically showing them how bad things are, and then showing them the way things could be.”

With these wise words ringing in their ears and with desert on its way, it was time for the Roundtable to put the discussions to one side and enjoy the final moments of an eventful and illuminating evening. Talk about welcoming in AGORA 2018 in style!

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