The year 2020 was exceptional in every way for each of us. The global pandemic resulted in the famous digital leap, which has also set new demands on data driven decision making and especially the use of BI tools. In this blog, I gathered ideas on business intelligence and reporting trends for 2021.
Mobility, data literacy and data strategy as cornerstones of organizational success
This year, mobility, data literacy and data strategy are the main topics of business intelligence trends. I will describe them in more detail below.
A new location-independent way of working has challenged companies’ internal communications and data-sharing practices. The importance of the availability, accuracy and real-time nature of data is further emphasized, because it must be possible to make decisions based on up-to-date data, regardless of the location of the employee. The BI tools should also have smooth mobile capabilities.
2. Data literacy
Alongside mobility, this year’s business intelligence trends will emphasize the importance of data literacy and data strategy. More and more data is being created for companies, and BI tools are being introduced at an ever-accelerating pace. As BI tools become more common, it is worth noting that the system alone will not solve the challenges related to data interpretation. According to a recent study, only one-third of business leaders feel they can create measurable value from data, and only 21% of data users are completely confident in their abilities in working with data.
Data visualization is a great way to facilitate data analysis and understanding, but there is still a need for clear, common operating models and adequate training for data management. Otherwise, there is a risk that each user will interpret reports or dashboards differently. Users need to understand the source of the data and the way it has been processed in the report so that the company maintains a common understanding of the direction that the reports indicate.
3. Data strategy
Data is no longer intended solely for internal financial reporting; its uses are constantly expanding. The purpose of a data strategy is to help identify business needs and opportunities with regards to the data – what kind of data is really needed, how is the data used and what new opportunities are involved in the use of the data?
For example, several companies are considering the development of customer reporting, which often offers completely new business opportunities. A good example of this is the Finnish Vainu service, which has managed to commercialize the data it collects and analyzes about companies. Another aspect is the use of open data, which will become significantly more common in the following years. Data from companies’ own systems can be linked to open data from external systems, such as raw material prices or weather data from the Finnish Meteorological Institute. These can be used, for example, to improve the accuracy of economic forecasts or to increase sales efficiency.
Reporting trends - how to make financial figures understandable to everyone?
In reporting, the focus is clearly on increasing the comprehensibility of the data. BI tools, such as Microsoft Power BI, make data sharing smooth and easy, even when working from home. In reporting, it is increasingly critical to take into account the employees’ abilities and competences to use the tools also when working from a home office. Therefore, the CFO responsible for reporting must also think more carefully about how the data can be structured in a way that is comprehensible and easy to use.
When reporting financial figures, you should start with what you want the reader to do or know after seeing the report. Reporting is not meant to be done for the sole purpose of reporting, but the data should always influence the target group in one way or another. It is therefore important to identify the nature and target group of the report, as well as the potential preconceptions of the target group, before preparing the report.
For example, if your target group is professionals who are already familiar with the use of BI tools, you may want to prepare an exploratory report. This allows the user to split, filter and examine the data on the report independently. The report allows data to be drilled down and cross-filtered, enabling the user to make observations and discoveries from the data by themselves. On the other hand, if the target group is other employees who are not familiar with financial indicators, it is advisable to shorten the report and focus on summarizing what has happened, and why and how they will affect the daily life of the company.
In addition, when using BI tools, you need to think carefully about the visibility of the data. Does the changed situation create a need to limit the data based on the reader, or is it more useful if all the data is visible to the entire staff? Transparency in data sharing is good, but the amount of data can be burdensome to users.
I’m a Sales Manager at Pinja’s Digital Business area, and I’m also responsible for the development of the Business Intelligence unit. My passions include knowledge leading, sales, growth and service design. In my free time, I train for a half marathon, play golf and walk my dog.
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