Making investments in new tools is really important to enabling teams, but I'd say that it's not just about the technology. There is a need to ensure that the process and people impacts are also considered together with the technology. There needs to be a vision, a road map and making sure that they connect and interplay well together.
How finance teams can shape the future through a forward-looking data analytics capability
Many finance teams struggle to produce data fast enough and with the depth required to give the business the insights it needs. On our special edition, two-part episode of Finance in 15, Adam Boutros sits down with PwC Canada One Analytics Partner, Marilyn Wang and Consulting and Deals Partner, Sebastien Doyon, to discuss the ways finance teams can bring their full value to their business.
We’re going to talk about the last of the 3 Ps of finance transformation: performance. This is an important part of the transformation journey as we know many finance teams struggle to produce data fast enough to help the business make key decisions.
Today’s episode will be covered in two parts so we can get a deep dive into how finance teams can bring their full value as a business partner.
Joining me for our two-part “Performance” episode special are Marilyn Wang, Partner in our One Analytics group at PwC Canada and Sebastien Doyon who leads our Quebec finance transformation practice.
Thanks for being here today.
Marilyn: Hey, Adam, thanks for having us. Great to be here.
Sebastien: Thanks again for having us.
Adam: So to start things off, Marilyn and Sebastien, can you tell us a bit about what you do in your role?
Marilyn: Yes, absolutely thanks Adam, it's great to be here. I lead a team of data analytics specialists in our national analytics practice, we're also known as the One Analytics Team. And one of the key areas we focus on is helping our clients transform and modernize their decision support and reporting capabilities to get more data driven insights and more forward looking solutions with advanced analytics. We work with all functional areas across the organizations, including the finance function on transformation initiatives or very targeted mandates such as M&A due diligence or value creation. And this is where I've been spending a lot of my time these days.
Adam: Great, Sebastien?
Sebastien: For me, Adam, Sebastien Doyon, I'm leading three managed accounts across the firm in consumer and transportation sector. But I am a CP and I also, most of my career spent it in business transformation, including finance transformation. Another great thing that I tried to do for the firm is to to help you deploy finance of the future services in the marketplace. And I'm also involved in delivering such work and generally do it by bringing together practitioners from different parts of the firm. I'm in regular contact with a few dozens of CFOs as well on a regular basis to run tables and different types of events.
Adam: OK, so I think we have the right team for this important performance conversation and we can help to bring in some some insights from CFOs, from advanced analytics. Like this is going to be a really good discussion. So maybe, Marilyn, let's jump in and start with you. How about an overview of what you mean by performance in finance transformation?
Marilyn: Sure. Adam, you know, because I spent a lot of time with data like leading with performance requires better insights for better decision making. So I'll speak from it from that angle. So it really does mean better reporting, some more insightful reporting, predictive reporting and strategic reporting. So the way I think about it also is, you know, traditional financial reporting and management reporting in most organizations, it's often looking at what happened with more of a historical lens. We're looking to kind of turn that around and make reporting more insightful and which focuses on the why. So reporting that enables speech insight with ability to drill down into the details, slicing and dicing the business by region, by division, by product categories, by sales reps even. You get the idea. This is really to uncover the root cause, the why, if you're able to explain the why, identify the problematic trends in a speedy kind of way. That's what we're looking for. And that would be helpful. So getting to these types of insights with speed, collaborating with the business to correct the trends that we're seeing that may be problematic, or taking corrective actions to drive decision making, that would be high impact and helpful in improving financial performance. And to get to this type of reporting, there is a lot of different data points and data sources for this type of reporting. So the good news is the finance team often is in a really great position to provide these critical insights because they have access to governed good quality data. They are in a unique position to help the business make better decisions and ultimately become more effective strategic partners. And I think this could be even more impactful if they can provide forward looking views of the buesiness, driven by data, more predictive financial performance, even predictive risk monitoring and simulations to support decisions that will be even more impactful as finance service provider to bring value to the business.
Adam: Alright. Some great comments there. And Sebastien, what's your take on that one?
Sebastien: Listening to Marilyn here, definitely what we talk about here is is becoming a true business partner, right. So finance has transformed itself many times over the past decades, I would say. But yet the organizations and their ecosystems have become more complex as well. So it's been it's been quite difficult to achieve that vision of becoming a true business partner. In many cases, technology was not always available nor used in a way to deliver against the CFO's ambition. That's that's what I've observed at least. Today I think it's much easier to to organize the data and turn it into insight for the business due to the new technologies that are also available out there. So for me, leading with performance is really about the impact. The impact the finance function will have to make your decision really deliver superior and what I would sell, say, more predictable financial performance. It's about making sure that you proactively, constantly realize the right activities, as a business partner, as finance, and these activities should be normally aimed at what they should be aimed at. Well, monitoring performance, Marilyn talked about that, but also challenging the business, advising the decision makers and decision makers are not just like top executives. There are people on the ground as well. Right. And business. And it's more importantly about coaching them, coaching these people across the business. Obviously, you can achieve this when you've done three things, you've eliminated waste in your finance function, your processes, you implemented fit to purpose processes, you align your organizational structure and you upskill your people. Some of some of these concepts have been discussed on previous Finance in 15 podcasts. I strongly believe that sustainable world class organizations must have a world class finance function. Performance is the pinnacle of a financier.
Adam: All right. Well, thanks both for for the answers to that question. I think you've really sort of painted out a very ambitious agenda, which a lot of finance teams have. I think there's a perception that the finance organizations are willing to deliver more. And with the right set of solutions, processes and partnership with the business in place, that can really happen. And we've certainly seen that happen over the past few years with with some organizations just really turning this this element of performance on its head. So fantastic summary. OK, so let's keep going on that Marilyn. For finance leaders focusing on the performance stage of the transformation. What are some of the tools that can help and how can they get started on the journey?
Marilyn: Yes, making some investments in new tools is really important to enabling the teams, but I'd say that it's not just about the technology and that there is a need to ensure that the process and people impacts are also considered together with the tools decision. There needs to be a vision and a roadmap and making sure that this all connects and interplays well together. So having said that, there are many local tools that are user-friendly for data preparation, data visualizations like Power BI and Tableau being the most popular these days. And for data modeling, building out predictive models, you will need tools such as Python and R, and let's not forget about data itself. There needs to be an investment in data in order to make these predictive models that we're all talking about here. Third party data, external data to embed into your own internal data is really important to consider. And I also suggest thinking about catalyst hires with specialized skills to augment the current finance teams. These hires are often a good way to kickstart and accelerate the upskilling journey for the teams. I find that often helpful.
Adam: How about we get a little further into that, how can finance teams go about addressing performance? What are some of the best practices for figuring out what they need to do? Marilyn?
Marilyn: Yeah, happy to address that. You know, underpinning performance is data and analytics. Right. So the finance teams that I know of are typically really great at dealing with data using Excel like they are really great at Excel documents. But, you know, there are new tools like Sebastien kind of mentioned earlier on and know with new tools really requires new capabilities. And if they embrace that, then really they can get into the more advanced, more impactful reporting and analysis so finance teams may need to upskill on these new tools to really make the most of the data opportunity. So a good starting point would be to understand the current maturity and readiness of the finance function. And in terms of conducting a current state performance readiness assessment is where I'd like to start. And this really takes a look at the function from our people process and technology perspective. And it just doesn't need to be a lengthy process, but will help uncover the gaps and lay out a plan and roadmap for moving forward and getting started. We recently did this with a sizable finance team at one of our clients and discovered that there was a strong desire among the team to move towards a data driven insights culture. But what they found was there were significant gaps in skillsets and capabilities and a lack of access to the right tools. So their roadmap involved digital upskilling of their full team, making an investment in licenses to get them the right tools, identification of analytics use cases with the stakeholders, prioritizing those use cases. And we also helped provide some white glove services to support them through their journey and creating proof of concepts and pilots working with them side by side in a collaborative way and helping them through these targeted use cases. And now they're well on their way towards a performance driven function. So it really depends on where you are from a maturity perspective. Every organization is at a different stage and readiness. So I would really highly recommend a performance readiness check is what I call it. But some kind of a current state assessment.
Sebastien: Well, on my side, maybe, I think Marilyn, you've covered most of it. I'd like to maybe add a few more comments around these performance metrics, assessments or within this track. I think for me, it's quite important to connect these exercises with the needs of the business. So when you're working on such things, it needs to be you need to go beyond finance and talking to people in finance. So let me give you a few examples of the things we can do there. So typically, what we would do is we would also do a voice of the business type of survey that consists in reaching out to all your stakeholders, understand their needs. And how do you perform today as finance? Another example would be to evaluate if your teams are using or well versed with industry research, global or emerging trends, benchmarking. Are they using these to enrich their business analysis or financial analysis? I think it's quite important to bring an outside in view. It's often much needed in many organizations. And finally, maybe the last example or the last point would be to really make sure that the assessment takes an end to end view of the performance related process. Are these processes in our organization only within finance or largely within finance and my perspective, finance is only the steward of such processes, right? It really they really are business wide processes and the business needs to see them as as value added processes that everybody needs to contribute to.
Adam: That wraps up part one of our discussion with Marilyn and Sebastien about performance in finance, and why it’s an essential component of the finance transformation journey. Thanks for listening, and I hope you’ll take away some valuable insights from the episode.
Stay tuned for part two of our discussion where we get into the depths of performance in finance transformation and the experts share their tips for leaders just getting started on their journey.
Adam: Hello, and welcome to Finance in 15, a new PwC Canada podcast that explores finance transformation and what it means for leaders in the finance function. My name is Adam Boutros, and I’m your host.
This is part two of our episode on performance in finance transformation, the last but not least of the 3 Ps of finance transformation. Again, I’m joined by Marilyn Wang, Partner in our One Analytics group at PwC Canada and Sebastien Doyon who leads our Quebec finance transformation practice. In this segment, we discuss trends around performance in finance and the tools leaders need to get started on the performance stage of their journey.
Sebastien, let's come back to you. What trends are you seeing around performance in the finance function?
Sebastien: Well, we could be spending an hour just on that Adam, a few I would say probably four or five comes to mind right now that are worth mentioning today. So I think the first thing, connecting with improving trust in the data is crucial. We see it, a lot of companies investing in data management, data quality. I think people recognize that there's been a lot of investments in technologies, but not enough around data and quality data is is the foundation. Second trend, I would say, is integrated business planning. And this point is not a new concept, right? It's it's been around. It's sometimes even different names been used for that concept. However, we see, we see it taking off right now and we see a lot of leading organization really integrating strategic capital sales operations and talent planning in one framework more and more. The third one, I think, is about rationalization of reports, and this one has been around for quite a bit, reports and metrics, I would say it's really about focusing on what matters most and stop producing tons of metrics and reports that they're not really helping the business or not moving the needle. The fourth one, which is quite an important one, is forecasting accuracy. There's always been a need or recognition that we need to forecast more rapidly. And there is always that balance of good enough forcast versus precisely wrong forcast, right, but I think as as the new technologies and new business practices are being adopted, I think the focus on accurate forecasts is is is quite important. In fact, it could really help you optimize your business resources and and deliver better financial performance over time. More frequent forecasts is also something that has worked because more frequent and a very dynamic market, like what we're observing in the past years, is really helping you seize business opportunities and course correct as well. I would say the last but not least, going back to some of my points before, it's really about increasing the level of quality time your business finance business partners are investing side by side with everybody in the business, a business partner. I mean, if you let me expand a bit on that Adam. A business partner must be present, must observe, must listen, must inquire, must challenge. It all should not be really to crunch numbers and produce reports. It should be about working collaboratively with the business and having a constant dialog around. First, how do we perform? Second, how will we perform? And third, what should we do to improve or to deliver on our plan together?
Marilyn: Those are really great points, Sebastien. I think you hit it bang on for many of those points. And I would also add that I'm also seeing from a trend perspective, because there's this growing need for data analytics to inform on some of these better forecasts that you talk about. Digital upskilling is a big trend that I'm seeing. Like they I think- finance organizations are really seeing that the people aspect is so important in driving the sustainable change that they are investing in digital upskilling. So it's great to see. And there is also a growing interest in automation solutions that I'm seeing within the finance organization as well. So those are the trends that I'm seeing from my perspective Adam.
Adam: OK, and let's keep going, because I'm also having a lot of conversations around tools, solutions, technologies that can really accelerate this journey and start to bring the insights that drive performance. Marilyn, you know, how how can organizations get started on that part of the journey?
Marilyn: Yeah. So investments. Right. Making some investments in the new tools is really important to enable the team. And I'd say that it's not just about the technology, though, and that you need to consider the process and the people impacts, as I was saying earlier, because there will be some upskilling that will be required. But all of all this to say is that there needs to be a vision and a plan as you move forward. And having said that, there are many low code tools that are out there that are user friendly for data preparation, data visualizations, data modeling. So you might be familiar with tools such as Power DI and Tableau. Those are more and more popular these days. Now introducing some more advanced tools such as Python and R and building that in and embedding that into reporting. We'll get you some more impactful predictive insights. And don't forget about the data. Right, data is also something that you can invest in. And if you are thinking about predictive modeling and predictive insights, you do need to bring in that external third party data into the mix. And so that's something to think about. And one last thing is to get started, I find some organizations maybe to think about considering Catalyst hires, and that will give the team a boost in terms of their capabilities and having somebody there to help take them through the journey in these specialized skills. This is always super helpful. And these hires often give give the teams a kick start and accelerate the upskilling journey for the rest of the team.
Sebastien: For me, technology is the enabler, definitely saw these tools are extremely important to progress. But let's say for the basic or normal information and performance needs of a business, acquiring tools and rolling them out is almost the easiest part for me. The key is really to work on their adoption and adoption of related best practices and training people, training people to bring an outsider's perspective, as we discussed before, to be good at storytelling. To be effective in designing intuitive dashboards and reports, I think is important, right, that needs to go hand in hand with these tools that you're acquiring if you don't make this into a program. I think you're making a big error. I would also mention lastly, the importance of investing across the business, not just in finance, to improve financial and digital literacy. In the end, I mean, delivering superior and predictable financial performance requires everyone to be more well versed into financial performance and decision support.
Adam: All right, well, this has been a fantastic discussion. Thanks so much, Marilyn and Sebastien, for sharing your insights here. And, you know, I think you touched on a lot of powerful concepts that really will resonate across the C Suite. And that can be really important in starting on these finance transformation journeys is getting the buy in of the other members of the the C Suite beyond the CFO, because those are the the projects that are most successful. And when you when you get to performance, that's really what's in it for such a broad part of the organization, if they can see the outcome on the other side. And and that looks like having more timely data, more predictive and just, you know, things coming together that can really drive the performance of the organization. That's really what companies are after. And thanks to our audience for listening to this fascinating two-part discussion. If you missed part one, be sure to go back and listen to it now so you can learn the fundamentals of performance in finance transformation.
I hope our discussion has given you some tangible ideas about how you can lead your business by planning for the future. I know a lot of organizations struggle with data, but we’ve also seen how there are a lot of solutions and tools that can help.
To learn more about how we can help you, visit our website, www.pwc.com/ca. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on this podcast series, so be sure to stream, share, subscribe and leave us a review. I’m Adam Boutros, and this is Finance in 15.
Marilyn Wang has more than 16 years of consulting experience at PwC Canada, focusing on data and analytics solutions leading to better decision-making. Marilyn specializes in value creation by applying advanced analytics in the deal life cycle, including market growth and expansion strategies, due diligence, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) integration, cost take-out and restructuring, valuations and corporate finance services.
Sebastien Doyon is the Lead Relationship Partner for priority accounts and Future of Finance Leader in Quebec. Sebastien has more than 25 years worth of consulting experience and has helped clients solve complex business problems in areas like finance, enterprise performance management, resource optimization, cost reduction programs, M&A integration and business transformation.
National Assurance Markets Lead, Future of Finance Leader, Partner, PwC Canada, PwC Canada
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