We spoke to two experts during a recent LinkedIn Live lunchtime event called Hear from your peers: Building your skills and your practice with data analytics. The panelists shared their expertise and answered questions. From that discussion, here are four steps they recommend to get started with data analytics.
- Get a baseline understanding.
Jim Gilbert, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is the founder and principal of his firm, Jim Gilbert, CPA. When his firm began to adopt data analytics, he started small. First, he made sure his staff had a basic understanding of the principles and key terms — such as business intelligence and data analytics. Getting a basic education through self-study, reading or even college courses is key.
Once you grasp the basics, Gilbert suggests that you pick one of the many available business intelligence (BI) tools and start playing around with it. His staff did that and tried to build some graphical representations using their firm’s in-house data. He says it’s easy to get started and is not a heavy lift. Next, they started mining their own data and continued to increase proficiency with the BI tool.
Gilbert says he uses his computer every day to analyze data. He believes CPAs' current skills give them an advantage in data analytics. CPAs are already analytical, have a solid financial background and know how to look at data. Adding a BI tool allows CPAs to help clients and their businesses even more and be the go-to, trusted adviser.
Panelist Maria Pollieri recently retired from Oracle, a company that designs comprehensive analytics solutions for businesses. She says that the most important things to ensure a person’s success are curiosity and an appetite to consume data.
- Explore data resources
Using internal and external data leads to better decisions. The more data you accumulate, the more value you add. An abundance of data means you can more easily identify trends and patterns. With the explosion of big data and new data sources, outside data will only grow more important. There is a plethora of outside data resources if you only know where to look, according to Pollieri.
One suggestion is our government’s public data. Pollieri notes that governments have an open-data policy and annually create a massive amount of data. She suggests downloading those data sets and analyzing them to hone your skills. She offers more suggestions for outside data in the recorded LinkedIn Live.
- Articulate the value
If the source of truth is data, what’s the best way to get there? Convince your clients or your C-suite to begin to use data analytics. Start by talking with your clients and leadership about how using their data can help the board of directors, the C-suite and employees make better decisions. Gilbert’s quote during the LinkedIn Live summed it up nicely: “Having information in real time — not yesterday’s data, today’s data — to make decisions creates sustainability for employees, decision-makers and companies.”
You can also explain how time-consuming report writing and other traditional skills are becoming less important. Data visualization means you don’t have to learn and use cumbersome report-writing skills. The system tells you the best way to visually represent the data — whether it’s a bubble chart, pie chart or doughnut chart — saving you and fellow employees time to focus on more strategic work.
- Create new value
Collect, aggregate and integrate data and then offer that quality data to everyone in the business. The same goes for your BI tool. Give the entire staff access to it so that you can eliminate outdated reporting that offers static information. Firms and businesses need a data analytics tool that connects to their data and outside sources for real-time decision making with up-to-the-minute data.
For more insights from our conversation with Gilbert and Pollieri, watch the full LinkedIn Live event. If you need more resources to start your data analytics journey, read our free data analytics experiential brochure What is data analytics? And what does it mean for accounting and finance professionals? Be sure to check out resources throughout, including the Digital Mindset Pack, which offers free CPE to AICPA® members through Dec. 31.