Food for thought: Analytics in Functions 2018

Are Business Functions ready for Analytics in 2018? - Food for thought

Are Business Functions ready for Analytics in 2018? - Food for thought


It is the end of the year again and it’s the time for trends and outlooks!


There are many articles highlighting what to expect in analytics, priorities and trends for 2018 (for the intrigued, some interesting links are added at the end of the article). This article is for non-technical people who are interested in analytics especially strategy and Finance professionals, though it can be applicable to other functions as Marketing, Material Planning and Logistics and others.


Since I attended the Big Data London conference in November, my mind can’t stop thinking about some of the topics tackled in the conference. The conference was very tech driven but it had me questioning the business readiness for the technology. Coming from strategy and finance background, the questions in my head were, is the business prepared to make use of analytics from a business prospective? What is it we need to prioritise to ensure that we reap the benefits of analytics?


My below thoughts are more related to the top 5 short-medium term priorities in functions, this is based on working in analytics as well as speaking to other professionals in different functions:

  1. Digital Strategy: How will the company’s digital strategy impact departments? The BCG report is very comprehensive in explaining the different forms of digital strategy (centralised, hybrid and decentralised). The impact and use of strategy in the functional areas is critical especially in the hybrid and decentralised set-up. Functions need to be ready and know what is expected from them in terms of data, what software the company uses and what value they can add to the business. Companies need to cascade their digital strategy to departments and ensure that the departments have plans to utilise analytics accordingly.
  1. Talent – Citizen Data scientist: The analytics talent pool is not big. In fact companies face challenges in recruiting for some of the functions, especially in certain industries. For example the availability of a data scientist in marketing is more than logistics and might be a scarce resource in finance. Probably this is due to the maturity levels of analytics in functions which in turn affects the talent pool size. With the challenge in the overall number of data scientist a new role started to appear which is “Citizen Data Scientist”. Those are people who work in their primary functions but have the analytics interest. They are keen on developing their skills and building the functional analytics bridge. One of the good articles explaining that is the rise of the citizen data scientist. But then again, what is the level of knowledge that a citizen data scientist needs to possess in finance? Would more citizen data scientists be relevant in finance? If yes, what are the skill set needed and if no how can finance utilise analytics without a data scientist. Those are all open questions that hopefully the coming year will answer.
  2. Analytics Champions: My MBA dissertation in 2013 focused on developing a framework for strategic implementation of big data in companies. At that time big data was a new topic and many companies had the challenge of successful implementation, one of the findings were the use of champions across the business. Those are people who are passionate about both data analytics and business. They strive for improvement, believe in continuous development as well as utilising technology for enhancing decision making. Analytics department champions are key for the successful use of analytics in companies. Having said that, one of the crucial departments who should be a main champion is finance as suggested by the Tera Data's white paper. The paper highlights the 5 main points to be considered and should be driven by finance: agility, sustainability, extensibility, predictability, and accountability. Finance need to apply best practices within today’s leading finance organisations discussed in the paper and build on it.
  3. Processes and Visualisation: There are many tools out there that can automate processes hence reducing time, cost and errors. Those tools can also improve conducting business through making better use of talents in the organisation. Sales can go out and close deals rather than calculating KPIs, Finance can interpret numbers rather than process manual reports and buyers can negotiate with suppliers rather than crash data together. KPIs, reports and crashing data can all be automated. Several tools are available like RapidMiner, altryx and others that can be utilised for automation. Using those tools in functions rather than only in the analytics department will have a great impact on business. Having said that, visualisation is another key point that can be significantly improved through the use of Tableau and other similar visualisation tools. Visualisation helps ask the right questions through the power of asking “Why?”
  4. Budgeting and reporting: Finance is a strategic business partner, the function has the numbers across departments. As owners of data, the use of predictive analytics to support performance management can be a turning point for companies. Through finance, companies can compare the financial and non-financial data enhancing decisions. This can also highlight scenarios and possible expected changes. Use of predictive analytics in Finance will be a turning point for companies if implemented correct

Citizen Data Scientists are people who stand on the border between functions (in my case Strategy and Finance functions) and Analytics. We are the people who speak different languages, both the technical and our own functional language (strategy, sales, logistics and so on). This article is just a food for thought with an eyesight of how to support our functions in the coming year.


2018 Trend Reports:

PWC top 10 AI tech trends for 2018 
Forbes 10 predictions for AI, Bigdata and analytics in 2018 
IIA's 2018 Predictions & Priorities

Looking forward to your thoughts on the topic whether through @FatemaElWakeel or LinkedIn Fatema El-Wakeel  


Fatema El-Wakeel, CMA, MBA 

Institute of Management Accountants (US) UK Chapter – Founder and President