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Combatting the data deluge

June 22, 2021, 9:00 AM UTC

Good morning,

“CFOs now more than ever are being asked to help develop and champion the coherent data strategy,” says Barbara Larson, senior vice president of accounting, tax, and treasury at Workday. “It’s key to the transformation that they’re leading. And it’s not just the financial data, but it’s all the operational data across the company.”

Finance’s Key Role in Building the Data-Driven Enterprise is a recent report based on the findings of a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services pulse survey, sponsored by Workday. The financial and human capital management software company trades under the ticker WDAY and is Fortune’s CFO Daily partner. The report looks at how the current data explosion is coming from all directions, both internally and externally. 

Of the more than 160 finance function managers and executives surveyed in industries including manufacturing, financial services, and energy, 90% said the volume of data collected and used has increased over the past two years. About 83% of finance organizations regularly use people data and 77% use sales data to supplement to financial accounting data, the survey found. In addition, half the financial organizations use external information such as census data, and 47% use supplier data.

Larson shared how she and her team combat data deluge—technology that can integrate and manage internal and external data with automation creating a “single source of truth.” Workday’s “intelligent data foundation” can analyze high volumes of data that comes in from multiple sources, she says.

Barbara Larson, senior vice president of accounting, tax, and treasury at Workday
Courtesy of Workday

“We can enrich it, transform it, add calculations, even create the associated accounting, and then analyze that data at scale,” Larson says. The foundation is intelligent as it “continues to get smarter over time because the Workday applications that are feeding into it actually have machine learning that is built into the core transactions,” she says. 

An example? “We’re just getting started on our first three use cases,” Larson explains. The data is coming from different external sources. Workday’s investments are in Clearwater, a cloud-based SaaS provider, FX hedge transactions are in Capella, hedge program management software, and its employee stock-base comp is with E-trade, Larson says. The intelligence data foundation reconciles Workday’s ERP [enterprise resource planning software] with the external operational systems, and automates the entire end to end process, including reporting and analytics, she says. The process takes place at the end of the month, the accounting is automated, and “we’re just reviewing, and focusing on anomalies and trends,” she says.

The HBR survey found 77% of respondents relied on manual processes to collect and use data. Most survey respondents said they expect finance will employ A.I., machine learning, or predictive analytics to some extent in the next three years. 

In the current competitive environment for new employees, having digital tools can be a great way to attract talent, Larson says. “In my experience, finance talent is going to migrate to companies that have aggressive automation plans,” she says. “Nobody wants to sit at a desk and go from spreadsheet to spreadsheet, reconciling data and doing manual journal entries.”

See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

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