Master Data: Big Data, Big Deal?

The answer is undoubtedly yes but that’s not really the right question. 

Last week saw the gathering of experienced finance professionals for iMultiply’s round table discussion, in Glasgow, on the increasing role of master data teams within the finance function. 

Alan Boyd, Supply Chain Finance Director for Harper Collins kindly kicked off the session by sharing his experience and the benefits of creating a master data team. This team sits between traditional IT and finance, analysing data to understand trends, behaviours and impacts. Alan acknowledges: “Our data team is now at the heart of every significant decision”. 

However, our discussion highlighted that the volume of available data brings a number of questions to consider:

What does the data say? 

The starting point has to be the creation and validation of the data sets. Many organisations think they are ready to start analysing data when the reality is that first they need see if the data they have is accessed efficiently, accurate and has the ability to be interpreted. Only once that is established can organisations move on to using the data to make informed and insightful decisions.

Who analyses the data?

Recruiting the right skills is currently very challenging as this is a relatively new function and as such the skillsets are still developing. Sitting between IT and finance means that you need individuals in IT to develop their analytical and business awareness skills and the accountants in the finance function to develop their technical skills with training on things such as SQL or Power BI. 

How do you best use this data? 

One of the challenges to creating a Master Data team that adds significant value is that everyone in the organisation now thinks they need the data before making any decisions. This can lead to the data team creating and sending numerous reports that don’t get looked at more than a couple of times. Alan Boyd believes data should only be used for strategic decisions. Everyone seems to want more data, yet there is a challenge in creating reports people are using. Alan’s suggestion: “Turn them off and see who notices!”. 

How do you ensure data integrity? 

Consideration needs to be given to who has access to the data, its original source, and treatment of legacy data. Most of us are making decisions on data which is ‘ish’. How do you move towards more accurate and timely data?

Andrew McClure, Master Data Manager at AG Barr concluded that it’s a journey to work out what works and what doesn’t. 

The consensus is that change with regards to the finance reporting landscape is vital to improving decision-making efficiency, confidence and capability. Evolution is also essential to keeping talent. Angela O’Hare, Head of Finance Data and Controls at believes “an awakening has to happen” with regards to upskilling teams to ensure relevant skills are available. 

iMultiply believes we need to be having more of these conversations to understand how skill sets and processes need to develop. Data isn’t a new concept, but the pace of change means the future is now. New job titles such as ‘Data Scientist’ can be confusing, as there’s a lack of understanding as to what these roles involve, and with no established career paths talent attraction can be difficult. However, what we’re learning is that data teams are getting fantastic exposure to senior management, the analytical skill set is becoming invaluable and there is a natural development opportunity for management accountants looking for a new challenge. 
So, it’s not so much Big Data, Big Deal? But more Big Data, Big Evolution.

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