How to Set Goals and Benchmarks to Streamline Finance Data
As finance teams are expected to provide predictive, actionable information that can be used in a timely way, the pressure for accuracy and speed have continued to increase. Teams are drowning in a never-ending flow of account data as purchases are made, customers acquired, and bills paid because of the limited availability of resources to manage and analyze the information. The idea of optimizing this workflow is daunting when it can barely be managed, but the reality is that optimizing it is the only way to break free of the cycle so you can start focusing on more strategic efforts.
Improving the accuracy and speed with which your team can produce meaningful reports and insights will hinge on the plan and tactics you use to optimize the flow of data.
First Things First
Before you can optimize your process, you need to decide how you want your team to add value to the business. What are you optimizing for? Only then can you decide on goals and strategies. If you don’t have a clear picture of what you’re trying to achieve, you won’t be able to optimize for it.
How do you do determine what you’re optimizing for?
Find a Role Model
Who’s doing it right? What are your peers doing? Sign up for events, webinars, blogs, podcasts. If you’re not sure where to start or who to look to, LinkedIn can be a great resource. Search through published pages and group discussions to find out what other people are signing up for or who has opinions you agree with.
Think Outside the Numbers
Finance teams can have an impact on areas of the business that aren’t strictly about credits and debits. Customer support claims or employee turnover can be indicators of what’s to come – being involved in that information will help you act faster in the future. Finding ways to preempt financial data can increase your agility in responding. Think about what indicators will matter to the business and how they would impact your reporting.
Read the Research
Companies like Deloitte and Robert Half have both recently released benchmarking studies for finance teams. They highlight what other companies are facing for challenges and also their plans for implementing technologies or processes to improve. There are several other resources for similar studies and research that may contain information more specific to your industry or type of business.
Setting Goals and Benchmarks
Using the information that you’ve found from peers and research, and focusing on how you want to ultimately add more valuable insights to your business, will determine the type of plan you develop.
One way to think about these benchmarks and goals is to break them down into categories and subcategories. For each of these categories, you can set individual goals and strategies, as well as establish much clearer benchmarks.
Technology and Systems
What technology or system can you implement that will increase your speed and access to the data? Specifically consider how your peers are building out their cloud accounting stack and using technology.
Things to consider with how a technology or system will impact your goals is to look at the impact of:
- Automation: is it automating a task that is time consuming? how much of an impact will it have on your workflow?
- Integrations: can you use it with your existing systems? does it help data flow from one source into another?
- Customization: can you customize the system to track the information that is important to your business? can you keep it inline with your existing systems so that the data is standardized across platforms?
Head Count & Functions
Build goals and benchmarks around the composition of your team. Make sure that your team is the right size for your bandwidth and that you have coverage in the areas you need. Is there a specific function missing on your team that will help you achieve your ultimate goal? This will be a good time to review how your team is structured and what your strengths are, especially if you are introducing technology to automate tasks.
Cost is always the underlying factor of adding technology or new team members. Know what you have to spend or want to spend going into your planning. This will keep expectations in line and help you make decisions and tradeoffs. Consider cost savings to be had by implementing new systems to offset costs elsewhere, or by restructuring your team. Set benchmarks around the ROI of your plans so you can clearly see the value and cost savings of your decisions.