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How to Get Department Heads to Give a Darn About Dashboards

By now, it’s clear that CFOs are expected to do far more than provide accurate reporting. When seeking out strategic advice, CEOs turn to their finance chiefs a whopping 72% of the time. But just as finance leaders must become trusted advisors, the amount of data they must manage is exploding. By 2020, digital data will hit 44 trillion gigabytes, which would fill a stack of iPads extending to the moon more than six times.

As the pace of change continues to accelerate, then, CFOs must act as pilots, according to a recent PwC white paper. That means stepping into the cockpit and guiding their businesses through turbulence, aided by cutting-edge dashboards that allow them to develop “what-if simulations” and make mid-course corrections when necessary.

These new, real-time dashboards allow not just the finance team, but a wide variety of stakeholders across the company, to update operational information and engage with data in far more impactful ways.

“Watch the webcast “5 Principles of Killer Reports and Dashboards”

Here’s how to create the dashboard your management cockpit needs.

1. Make it visual

Spreadsheets fail because they present data as an indecipherable sea of numbers. Francis Anscombe, a statistician who created Anscombe’s Quartet, showed that when people look at numbers, they’re hesitant to draw conclusions. When the same info is presented visually, they’re more empowered to spot trends and stories within the data. Some 40 years after Anscombe noted this phenomenon, a survey by Aberdeen Group showed that managers who use visual data tools are 28% more likely to find timely information than those who don’t—and 48% are able to find what they need without help. When your colleagues look at a dashboard and see an alert that they’re off-budget, they can figure out what’s gone wrong, rather than having to email the finance department and wait for an answer. That real-time access to KPIs as clear graphics creates a win for everyone.

2. Make it accessible anywhere

Tablets, smartphones, and laptops are now pervasive, and people expect to be able to access data from anywhere. Sticking with a financial dashboard that can only be accessed from the office is a surefire way to ensure your colleagues won’t use it robustly. By empowering people to use the dashboard on a tablet or a phone, at the soccer field or on the couch, you can ensure that they are constantly engaging.

3. Make it self-service

A financial dashboard that alerts a budget manager or department head that they’re off target is a good start. But if that end user can’t then drill down into the data to explore the underlying details or make their own analysis about course-correcting, the dashboard doesn’t go far enough. Forget the tools that require the finance team to consolidate numbers—all they do is ensure that every colleague will have to put in calls to IT or finance for basic information. To really empower employees, you want drag-and-drop capabilities and real-time access.

4. Make it meaningful

The financial reports that the inventory manager needs are understandably different than what HR directors might want to access. Yet too often financial dashboards present the same info to every end user. Savvy finance leaders instead start with a conversation—asking department heads what reports they need, what data is essential—and then tailor info accordingly. That means budget managers and directors aren’t swimming in a tsunami of irrelevant data, and they’re more engaged with and empowered by the dashboard.

Watch the webcast, “5 Reasons to Think Beyond Spreadsheets”

Our CFO Indicator Q3 2017 survey explores CFOs’ confidence relative to data and technology, as well as their progress in moving toward a “single source of truth” (single source of financial and operational data). Results reveal that Finance has successfully cleared what we believe to be one of the most significant hurdles—their hesitancy to store data in the cloud. Read our other CFO Indicator reports here.

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