There’s nothing quite like baseball’s opening day to spark nostalgia for the old ball game. Three games are scheduled for Major League Baseball’s opening day this Sunday, promising that familiar crack of the bat and singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the seventh inning stretch. Yet—peanuts and Cracker Jack aside—Major League Baseball is in many ways keeping pace with changing times. Would you say the same of your finance organization?
In baseball specifically, teams are embracing technology and analytics to inform decision-making, identify and recruit the most productive players, and enhance performance and results on the field. Today’s top companies are doing the same.
The trend toward analytics, popularized by the 2011 movie Moneyball, has accelerated in the last decade. Baseball has always been a statistics-heavy game and lends itself to the strategic application of analytics and key metrics. What is happening at the ballpark can be replicated at your organization with your finance team taking the lead on offering strategic insights and business-critical information to help guide decisions and improve forecasts and results.
Here are a few pitches that have paid off in baseball that your finance team can also hit out of the park.
Single: Tap technology
Baseball clearly has evolved from filling out a scorecard with a chewed-up pencil to high-tech computer analytics. Geekwire last year reported that one unnamed team has tapped the power of a Cray supercomputer to crunch the numbers.
Cray Vice President of Marketing Barry Bolding noted that 95% of relevant baseball stats have been created over the last five years, making some of the traditional tools to track and analyze statistics obsolete.
“They are gathering so much data that a single person with an Excel spreadsheet can no longer analyze, in a sophisticated way, all the data they have,” Bolding told Geekwire. “They need bigger and bigger computers to be able to analyze the data.”
Your organization likely faces a similar and growing challenge—with CFOs projecting the amount of data that finance must handle will expand exponentially in coming years. The sheer amount of data—and the pressing need to be able to draw strategic insights from that data—will require finance to rely less on Excel and more on new technology to improve analysis and present data in interactive and engaging ways as actionable information.
Double: Improve decision-making
As one of the premier hitters in baseball, Andrew McCutchen has spent the vast majority of his career batting third in the lineup for the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is understandable considering that for decades, conventional wisdom held that the three spot was where your team’s best hitter should be slotted.
This year, McCutchen is expected to often bat second in the lineup, based on clear evidence from statistical analysis that batting second offers more opportunity for your best hitter to experience offensive success. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the change is tough for an old-school manager, noting “the challenge for me is that for 47 years the baddest dude in the game hit third.”
Yet, the metrics have convinced Hurdle to venture outside of his comfort zone and make a decision based on hard numbers. No doubt, there are plenty of decisions and processes at your organization that fall into the that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it trap. Yet when your finance team can generate data-driven analysis and insight—and use dashboards to present information in easy-to-understand ways—you go a long way toward convincing business partners to initiate changes that will benefit the entire organization.
“Our geeks are good,” Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon told the Chicago Tribune prior to the Cubs’ breakout 2015 season. “I’m getting some very good info. They present it in a way that I don’t have to do as much.”
Specifically, Maddon was looking for data analysis on pitchers batting eighth in the lineup, as opposed to ninth, as has been the norm for decades. He ended up making the switch multiple times during the 2015 season.
Baseball managers don’t need—or want—to pore over detailed spreadsheets or the intricacies of complex formulas. What they need is information presented with clarity and sound rationale to help them make better decisions faster, whether it is which player to select in a draft or where a pitcher should bat in a lineup.
The same approach goes for the chief marketing officer or head of product development at your organization. Leveraging data visualization and other engaging approaches can improve collaboration with business partners, a key priority for CFOs seeking to work cross-functionally across the organization. Dashboards can allow you to present information in clear and creative ways, providing business partners the relevant information they need to move forward, without burying them in data.
If you can get some company leaders to proclaim “our geeks are good,” you know you are on the right track.
Grand slam: Build an analytics culture
When it comes to baseball, what the fans see on the field hasn’t changed too much over the years. Yet, the activity behind the game has undergone a dramatic transformation. As Vince Gennaro, an MLB consultant and president of the Society for American Baseball Research, noted “organizations are building analytics cultures from the bottom up.”
By developing a corporate culture of analytics that embraces and encourages the strategic use of data and technology, you can create a competitive edge that assures every year is a winning season.
Are you a sports fan? Baseball’s not the only game in town … read more best practices and team tips that can help your finance organization:
- For basketball fans
Embrace the Madness: 5 Ways to Coach Your Finance Team and Drive Value
- For football fans
Quarterback Qualities: What Finance Leaders Can Learn From Football Pros
- For outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, and skiers
Adventures in Finance: Planning Tips From a Polar Explorer (Part 1)
Adventures in Finance: 5 More FP&A Tips From a Polar Explorer (Part 2)