It’s no secret that client expectations for real, decision-shaping insights into their businesses are on the rise. For firms, delivering on these expectations isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Most were built to provide reliable, accurate, timely accounting — not detailed insights across clients, day after day. Shifts in people, processes and technology are all required to deliver business insights at scale across a firm’s client portfolio — with data analytics capabilities serving as the engine propelling the strategy forward.
Beyond ad hoc analysis
In this context of a true advisory practice, “data analytics” doesn’t mean simply having a CPA spend a little more time with a client’s spreadsheets to extract insights on a given issue. It’s the discipline of gathering data from the client’s accounting systems and others they use to run their business — using both templated and custom analysis tools to identify patterns in the data — and routinely distributing those insights in ways that clients can easily understand and act on.
Transforming the value equation for firms
Firms that have already begun delivering analytics-driven insights to clients have seen the transformative potential for their practices. In the client’s eyes, they move from being an important vendor providing commoditized services to a critical business partner capable of supporting the client’s core strategies. Firm professionals are invited into more conversations about more sensitive aspects of the client’s business more frequently. Clients ultimately see the value and are willing to pay more for receiving it, quarter after quarter.
From “what just happened?” to “what’s next?”
One of the most widely touted benefits of analytics lies in its ability to help clients anticipate and prepare for what’s next in their business, not just look backward. For legal and accounting purposes, it’s important to know what happened last quarter. But for business purposes, it’s more valuable to use that data in tandem with other data sources to determine what’s likely to happen in the upcoming quarter. That’s where the latest analytics capabilities, in the hands of experienced accounting professionals, can make all the difference.
Beyond one-on-one service … to your entire client base
As valuable as today’s analytics tools are for clients, they’re just as valuable for the firms that help put them to work. Scale is one big reason why — reports, visualizations and automation tools that work for one client can often be easily templated and applied in similar situations for other clients, with minimal rework. As a result, when firms notch analytics successes with one client, they can extend the same capabilities to other clients quickly — and reach new heights in terms of revenue, relationships and reputation.
Analytics tools: What to look for
The amount of data generated and gathered is surging across industries, and demand for data analytics technologies to squeeze the full value of all that data has never been higher. As a result, new analytics tools and packages are being launched every day. Whether as add-ons to existing software packages or as standalone tools, there are more data analytics capabilities for the accounting profession available today than ever before. That makes choosing the right tools for your firm and clients even more important. While there are entire webinars, conference sessions and full-length articles available on this topic, a few top-level considerations are worth mentioning here:
- Low degree of technical or programming skills required
- Capabilities that are easy to maintain over time
- Smooth integration with existing firm/client solutions
- Intuitive reporting and other outputs
These are only a few of the attributes firms should account for when evaluating data analytics solutions — each firm should develop its own checklist based on conversations with a range of internal stakeholders.
For more on this topic, join us virtually or in-person at the upcoming AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE23 for ‘The Data Driven Finance Leader’ featuring Nicole Ksiazek, Director, SIAP Strategy and Sales, Sage, and Elinor Litwack, Partner, Outsourced Accounting and Advisory Services, GRF CPAs & Advisors.
In addition, here are a few more resources to help you learn how you can take your firm's data analytics capabilities to the next level and drive higher value CAS engagements: