Finance professionals know that data matters, but stories convey truth in ways that mere numbers simply cannot.
Those who work in finance may describe themselves as “numbers people.” They have a natural affinity for quantitative information, as well as a knack for drawing meaningful conclusions when presented with a collection of numerical figures.
Even so, finance team members probably understand and retain information more readily when it’s presented in narrative form. That is how most people operate, and it is especially true of stakeholders outside the boundaries of the finance department.
Those who can connect the dots for others in the organization by interpreting the numbers and articulating that story to others in a compelling way have the power to elevate the level of financial intelligence throughout the company. That inevitably drives better decisions, building organizational alignment around a clear and accurate interpretation of financial data.
Finance as Strategic Linchpin
The role of finance has evolved tremendously in recent years. No longer is it limited to a recordkeeping and reporting function. In today’s organizations, CFOs and the teams that work under them are strategic voices, giving others in the company greater visibility to the financial realities in which they operate. Our world continues to change rapidly. Now, the finance department cannot simply manage and report information; it must proactively offer its unique perspective in a way that informs and advises stakeholders throughout the organization.
Achieving that requires a new approach: new tools, new methodologies, and new ways of thinking.
Finance leaders must set out to frame the firm’s financial realities in terms that key stakeholders can clearly understand and internalize. Stories are ideally suited to that purpose. But how can CFOs translate the raw numbers into meaningful financial narratives? Start with the best technology tools and you’ll be well positioned to hit the ground running.
Financial intelligence requires a shift in mindset, as well as a transition to new tools and new ways of working. It means moving away from poorly presented, static data to effective communication built around four key principles: relevance, optimal visualization, zero-ambiguity interpretation, and dynamic storyboarding. With this approach, the finance team can guide managers through a meaningful narrative, equipping them to rapidly assess situations and identify the right actions to take in response.
Let’s examine each of these four principles in turn:
You’re likely familiar with the so-called “80/20 rule,” often referred to as “the Pareto principle.” This concept works well for interpreting financial data. Just 20% of the data produces 80% (or more) of the meaningful takeaways.
Many corporate decision-makers find it especially challenging to discern which data is most meaningful. Think back to the last meeting in which a multidisciplinary team reviewed the financial results together. How many people asked meaningful questions? What portion of the team was successful in zeroing in on the numbers that mattered most?
Financial statements inevitably have a story to tell, but most people have difficulty distinguishing the meaningful elements from the background noise. Effective EPM solutions and related tools help finance to highlight and present the most significant information so that managers can make well educated decisions.
Visual information is an effective form of communication. Pictures tell stories in ways that raw numeric data simply cannot. Most people respond well to visual information; we’re able to draw conclusions far more accurately and efficiently from charts, graphs, and similar visuals than we can from large volumes of data presented in rows and columns.
With the right EPM solution and complementary tools, finance teams can deliver dynamic, rich digital reports to executive management and other key decision makers. When you bring the most relevant information to life in the form of an executive dashboard, you give decision-makers an immediate and intuitive way to assess the health and trajectory of the organization. CXO from insightsoftware brings the numbers to life with powerful visualizations that inform and clarify what’s happening on the ground.
Some organizations tend to suffer from breakdowns in communication at some point. This is especially true when departmental boundaries are too rigid, when teams are not co-located geographically, or when a company is struggling to integrate after a merger or acquisition. The right EPM solution will foster better communication by facilitating a shared conversation about the numbers and what they mean.
CXO’s in-app commentary enables finance to manage commentary from key stakeholders. That helps leaders engage in a shared conversation, building alignment and fostering increased understanding. Moreover, that commentary can be saved to a “Point of View,” where it can serve as an annotation to key reports and can be made selectively available to various groups within the company.
When shared conversations are captured and preserved, it supports better decisions and keeps a record of the key factors that went into making those decisions. That, in turn, helps company leaders to engage in a process of continuous improvement.
In many organizations, it’s common practice to present financial information in a slideshow format. This often begins with a limited amount of raw data, along with charts and graphs that display meaningful results and trends. Finance leaders will typically add some key takeaways and other narrative information to accompany the data.
Copying and pasting financial results into your presentation software is tedious and time-consuming. It often leads to errors, which can be especially embarrassing if you are presenting the information to C-suite executives. Whenever the numbers change, someone from the finance team must perform that work all over again, consuming valuable staff time.
Dynamic storyboards, in contrast, offer a simple and automated means of packaging selected bits of raw data, visualizations, and other graphics, as well as comments and narrative interpretation. In essence, CXO’s storyboarding features enable the finance team to package information and present it to stakeholders in a meaningful way, without rebuilding it from scratch every time. Finance can update storyboards at any time, pulling the most up-to-date information directly from the source EPM system or ERP software. That saves time and increases accuracy.
CXO software empowers your finance team to bring information to life to support better decisions and greater agility. CXO integrates to your existing EPM systems, and allows you to incorporate non-EPM data using the CXO Data Warehouse. Visualize and analyze consolidated financial data from your EPM, with built-in EPM intelligence that understands your financial data, including hierarchies and definitions.
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