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Cloud Analytics: Look Before You Leap

29 June 2017

By Michael Talbott, Global Product Director, BOARD International

Like most types of enterprise software, the world of analytics is moving into the Cloud faster than smoke in an updraft.  The list of advantages is irresistible to businesses of all sizes.  Economies of scale, savings, scalability, elasticity, faster time to value and access to a world of data and collaboration are but a few.

According to research firms, the global market for Cloud analytics is predicted to triple by 2020, exceeding $23 Billion USD from $7 Billion last year, and a host of not-so-adaptive vendors have emerged to chase those dollars.

But as with all revolutionary changes in our industry, a dark side has emerged which business and IT leaders need to keep a wary eye out for as they evaluate potential platforms and solutions for planning and analytics in the Cloud.  Simply put, very few Cloud analytics and planning platforms deliver all of the advantages they claim, and which customers need.

As an extension of an earlier BOARD blog, I offer below major real-world requirements you need to verify in selecting your Cloud-based analytics, planning and reporting solution, and the questions you need to thoroughly explore with potential new vendors:

 

1. Cost-effective scalability and elasticity
  1. Will the proposed system scale to meet your needs now and five or ten years from now?
  2. Can it handle the required granularity and volumes of data?
  3. What about query and processing performance?
  4. And can it handle high concurrency?
  5. Lastly, can new computing resources be easily provisioned to expand the system’s capacity?

 

2. Efficient integration and consolidation of data from a wide variety of disparate data sources
  1. Does the proposed system have the tools necessary to provide a unified view of high quality data for the business?
  2. Can the system easily connect to every type of data source, internal and external to the business?
  3. Can data feeds and transformations be automated?
  4. Can it handle bi-directional data exchange from/to various systems?
  5. Will the platform ensure quality and security of the data, but not at the expense of flexibility business users require?
  6. Will the system allow continuous data feeds without impacting users?

 

3. Empowering business users to implement their own solutions for faster time to value
  1. Can business users own the solution?
  2. Does it provide the right tools users need?
  3. Can the system handle the most complex requirements?
  4. Can it handle your company’s or department’s custom models?
  5. Can users easily create their own reports and data models?
  6. Can they easily incorporate new data into the solution?
  7. Can they easily modify the underlying models and data structures?
  8. Can the system perform both analysis and planning? Planning inherently relies on detailed data that should be sourced from an analytics system. Integrating separate analysis and planning tools is a costly and complicated proposition.

 

4. Improved access to information and collaboration
  1. ​ Can analysis and applications be easily created and shared across teams without geographic, language or technical boundaries?
  2. Does the system support coordinated workflow steps and authorizations?

 

5. Streamlining administration and maintenance of computing resources
  1. ​Are backups performed automatically?
  2. Does security meet or exceed global IT standards?
  3. Are software upgrades handled seamlessly for customers?
  4. In multitenant environments, can the system guarantee a minimum level of system resources for a customer?  Or are their resources simply pooled with other customers and subject to outages by unexpected usage spikes? This is a common pitfall for many Cloud vendors.
  5. For those applications judged to not be a good fit for the Cloud, can the system be configured to run some applications on-premises and others in the Cloud. Can these on-premises applications be seamlessly moved to the Cloud in the future, if warranted?
  6. Can structural modifications to databases and applications be migrated safely and easily between different instances (e.g. development, testing and production)?

 

Sadly, marketing and sales hype from most Cloud analytics vendors is far from reality in 2017.  To ensure a successful Cloud implementation of your analytics, planning and reporting solutionsit’s imperative that you perform a comprehensive review of all the critical features you need.

Don’t just take a vendor’s word for it either; you must demand that they show you every aspect of configuration, and prove that it can handle both the scope of data required and the number of concurrent users you will need to support now and into the future.

 


Has a New Era of Self-Service Reporting Arrived?

8 June 2017

By Gary Simon , Chief Executive of FSN and Leader of the Modern Finance Forum

At first sight, the notion of self-service reporting appears attractive. End users get the information they need on-demand and the finance function is relieved of the tedium of serving up reports month after month, not knowing whether business operations are using the information they are providing or even looking at it.

The issue has risen to the top of the pile because the modern finance function is under pressure like never before.  A recently released survey, “The Future of the Financial Reporting” (you can get your copy here) identifies that over the last 3 years’ average headcount has remained flat for 40% of finance functions and reduced in 25% of cases.  And all of this against the background of relentless change and complexity.  The idea of empowering users to help themselves to the information they want holds obvious appeal for hard-pressed finance professionals looking to offload some of the burden of their work.

But the move to self-service reporting is far more nuanced and profound than simply improving finance function productivity. There are deeper questions around data integrity, the suitableness of self-service tools and finally, whether the organisation as a whole will be better off as a result.

As things stand, the quality of data is a real concern.  For example, the confidential survey identifies that 40% of finance professionals doubt the trustworthiness of their own data, 55% worry that financial controls are not working and 50% concede that not all documents and disclosures have been updated with the latest changes to accounts.  It begs the question, why would the finance function want to do its ‘dirty washing’ in public?

For other organisations, there is the challenge of keeping up with information demands.  47% struggle to add new sources of data to regular reporting and only 40% have managed to formally identify how new sources of data could give them a competitive edge.  Unveiling reporting to the masses risks leaving as many questions unanswered, as answered.  Finance functions that open up their organisation to self-service reporting could find themselves exposed to more work than they had bargained for.

Finally, there is the knotty problem of which tools would work best in the hands of users.  The research finds that most organisations are still strongly wedded to their spreadsheets.  Just 32% of CFOs believe that finance functions will be able to move away from spreadsheet reporting by 2030.  And although spreadsheets have been the backbone of regular reporting in many organisations they do not lend themselves to the ad-hoc reporting demands implied by a self-service model.  The likelihood is that organisations will need to offer a range of reporting tools so that users can choose the tool that suits them the best.

But the other side of the coin is that there are organisations that do not harbour concerns about data quality, who have integration capabilities to quickly bring on new data sources and have introduced more sophisticated reporting and query tools.  For these frontier organisations self-service reporting could be liberating, allowing end users to drive new data-driven insights that open up new vistas of opportunity and growth. For those organisations that are open to experimentation and innovation, self-service reporting may just provide a glimpse into a better future.

 

Click below to download the FSN’s Future of Financial Reporting Research 2017 :

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