From XU Magazine, 
Issue 23

Business intelligence: unlocking future growth drivers with data

If 2020 has shown businesses around the globe anything, it’s how to operate in times of extreme uncertainty. While many practices might have already been on the road to future-proofing their work, with automated processes to improve productivity and growth, the changes around the world this year have accelerated the shift to remote working.

Like so many other practices, you might have been left asking questions about effective remote practice management and secure online collaboration. You might also be asking how you can add value to your customers, who are invariably facing the same challenges. That is, if you weren’t already asking those questions before the first half of 2020.

There is a clear trend which links business intelligence (BI) maturity to business success. The most successful companies tend to put data at the heart of their decisions and strategies, helping them stay relevant and innovative beyond the capabilities of the competition.

The answers lie in your database. Have you considered how to unlock this data and make use of the information available to you? Do you have the tools to turn the information or insights that can be acted on into business intelligence?

A growing opportunity in your database

We have all seen the trend lines showing the amount of data we can access as businesses; it’s a vertical climb. Ask yourself – does that describe your practice over the last few years? Now consider whether your ability to turn that data into strategic or operational insights is growing at the same rate. For many practices, the latter continues at a steadier pace. For those practices, the gap between the two is simply an opportunity to better understand your business.

If you spend your time pulling spreadsheets, spending the first quarter of a meeting figuring out which spreadsheet is the right version or when the numbers were last updated, you are in a position to greatly improve your business intelligence capability.

Giving people a way to identify the places in the database where management by exception can occur, can give you a shortcut to the right decisions with the least amount of effort. That’s what we all want out of good BI.

Internally, that’s a BI tool connected to your central practice management databases. For client work, it’s a platform that pulls complex figures into eye-opening graphics, making it easier for you and your clients to make the right financial decisions.

Profitability and relevance: the aim of the game

Profitability and relevance are two challenges facing practices today in the face of current uncertainty and digitalisation. In uncertain times, clients might begin to shut their doors to new services and prospects may look elsewhere. Digitalisation is also disrupting the status quo with automated tools taking on compliance work that was, until now, the mainstay of many practices.

That said, both situations can be an opportunity to stand out from the rest with business intelligence tools. This can be difficult when you are bogged down in thinking about the operational effectiveness of a remote practice, and it’s a double-edged sword without the right tools.

The power of insights for your practice

There has never been a better time to look at your processes with a fine-tooth comb and ask if your practice can withstand the uncertain conditions it will face this year.

You are sitting on a goldmine of data ready to be tapped into for insight around changing behaviour, spotting cross-sell and upsell opportunities among your clients, and refining your strategy for future business growth. The real trick is having all that data in a suite of internal dashboards which automatically refresh.

BI tools can present that information in dashboards that show interactive charts and graphs. Decisions can then be made based on the analysis of this data. These dashboards provide a multi-dimensional overview of the business in real time, bringing together management information that would usually be presented in multiple different ways and locations.

Think of your practice management and client database. The status quo for many is that data is kept in Excel spreadsheets that need weekly manual refreshing, which requires intensive data input, leaving little time for analysis. Without a tool that allows you to visualise your data and share insights across your organisation, you could easily miss changing behaviours and trends. BI tools can connect to hundreds of data sources, bringing data to life with live dashboards and reports.

These dashboards give you a view of practice activities all in one place, improving engagement within the practice, and the ability to gain meaningful insights using the data generated enables better decision-making.

How to turn data into insights

Consider first what it is that you want to track. Profitability, cash flow, break-even point, WIP, debt and billable time are just a few that spring to mind. What data do you have available and what aspect of your practice would you need to see to get the full picture? As a start, here are some goals you could consider:

  • Concentrate on profitable business areas
  • Ensure adequate cash reserves
  • Clearly understand your market, customers and their habits
  • Manage chargeable and non-chargeable timesheets
  • Forecast cash flow
  • Reduce overdependence on a single customer
  • Control and optimise growth
  • Improve practice management

All these insights are key during uncertain times. BI tools can raise awareness of where time and resources are being spent and can offer some good management insight about where to gain efficiencies. Imagine being able to track all these factors from a single location.

Now that you have your house in order, what power can business intelligence give to your client services?

Making a difference to your clients’ businesses

Any major change in business and economic landscapes often trigger businesses to review their professional services, such as their accounting. To mitigate the challenges they face, businesses might look to new practices for fresh ideas and advice on how to survive the change. This is an opportunity for your practice to shine, both to existing customers and to prospects, with valuable insight.

Who better to advise a client on how to improve their profitability, prepare forecasts and build a strategic narrative? Accountants have the intuition, experience and resources to guide them through the changes and help them put their business in the best financial state possible. You will be expected to advise on the impacts that businesses should prepare for, both from a financial and technical perspective.

For your clients, business intelligence can mean actionable insights and information that can inform their strategic and tactical decisions about products, pricing, competition, markets, investments and budgets.

You can become their partner of choice in these troubling times by providing them with this insight. It is also an opportunity to help your customers hit the ground running in recouping lost profits and growing their business.

However, that is not a feasible growth prospect for your practice if gathering those insights takes more time than you can bill. You need to be able to keep your data and actions in the same place rather than performing the analysis in one application and acting on it in another.

Facilitate a data-driven culture for data-driven conversations

Data, metrics, KPIs and information are just that, without the value add and experience of your practice. Data storytelling and financial advice is key. Visually arranging these figures to inform business and growth-nurturing conversations with your clients will be where you add significant value.

Visual reports foster data literacy that enable conversations with your customers and help them to truly understand the data and be participants in the analytical conversation, from the moment of discovery to the resulting business decision.

The tools of the insight trade

Our development is always driven by our focus on customer success, so we can help you when it matters most during times of uncertainty. With that in mind, we have worked to create tools that enable insight, both to your practice and to your clients.

Integrating business intelligence with CCH Central

Our priority is providing timely, actionable insights in an end-to-end digital environment that empowers you and your clients to make informed decisions and deliver impact when it matters most.

We have developed a bespoke set of Power BI dashboards using the data housed in CCH Central, showing:

  • a single practice management overview tab containing WIP, aged debt, recovery rates, billing assignments and more
  • weekly or monthly targets for your practice
  • the full picture of your practice progress, from the partners to the practice employees leader boards to motivate and encourage growth
  • decomposition trees of WIP by any dimension including client name, partner, employee or assignment type
  • chargeable and non-chargeable insight by drilling down into where time is spent

Our teams will work with you to create a single intuitive set of dashboards from the data already in your CCH Central database today. These dashboards aggregate data from CCH Central visually into one place and can refresh each hour without the need for manual intervention.

Strategic BI dashboards like these are delivered in an interactive manner, enabling you to ‘slice and dice’ your view of the data in several different ways to become a data-driven, growth-orientated practice. The graphical displays, charts and graphs easily depict trends, opportunities and problem areas. There is even the option to put these dashboards on screens around the office, should you wish to do so.

Introducing the new financial planning platform for client insight

Wolters Kluwer is also launching a brand-new cloud-based financial insight platform called finsit in summer 2020. It turns complex figures into eye-opening graphics, making it easier for you to have insight-rich conversations with your clients and provide proactive advice. It has been developed exclusively for accountants who want to strengthen their offering by exceeding expectations and creating added value for clients.

finsit is a periodic reporting tool that will enhance your output, provide key insights, help identify advisory opportunities within your client base, and provide clear reports and KPIs which are easy for the client to understand and interpret.

With it you can provide a standard set of dashboards and reports using data from many of the major bookkeeping products being used by your clients, such as Xero, Twinfield, Exact and Quickbooks.

Growing through uncertainty

Business intelligence is a key part of managing your practice through uncertainty and remaining both profitable and relevant. Both are linked to the operational effectiveness and the value you add to your clients. Making the most of the software to enable data-centric, insight-rich business decisions will not only see you through uncertain times but future-proof your processes for opportunities to come.

Strategically investing in business intelligence means you can use data to unlock future growth drivers for your business. Many key learnings and observations may be patiently waiting inside your database to be unlocked with the right analytical tool.

Often, with a long-term BI project, the potential value that can be achieved is linked to the creativity of the minds involved in the analysis. Asking “wouldn’t it be great if we could see this…?” may well unearth the next big discovery in your data, and it becomes easier to act on those ideas when you have a strong toolset that’s able to quickly assemble the answers.

Why leave it there?

To find out more about Wolters Kluwer

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