The What, How, and Why of Seamless Data Integration in Finance

What are the most important points you should know about agile data integration and the value it can create for you and your financial team?

In a few minutes you will have learned exactly this!

When operating with an increasing amount of data, the need for several different software and systems increases. The need for faster financial insights based on valid high-quality data also increases. Especially in the uncertain and changing times we have experienced for the past year, it is more important than ever to present forecasts and recommendations to solve problems and keep your business going.

To stay relevant as a finance professional, you must deliver recommendations to influence management’s and board’s decisions. This can be achieved by automating the parts of your workflow where you are using a lot of time on manual processes and where the risk of errors is high.

When using multiple types of software and systems in your finance department, agile data integration becomes an interesting factor to look at when automating processes in the workflow.

Using agile data integration for handling, processing, and presenting financial data is a simple way to ensure a smooth automated workflow at the finance function. Data integrations come in many different forms. Some of the most common ones are Robotics Process Automation (RPA) and Application Programming Interface (API).

Use data integration to optimize the workflow and influence decisions 

In finance today we often talk about how to optimize the workflow in order to deliver faster real-time insights for management to base their decisions on. We want to work smarter to be more efficient and as a result gain time for the in-depth financial analysis which can improve our business. So we want to be efficient and fast but at the same time we also want to be able to trust our data and increase the data quality.

To do this there are 5 hot topics when talking about trends in the finance function 2021, we need to have our eyes open to:

        1. Big data: Big data involves a large volume of data from different sources,  handled by different software and people.

        2. RPA: Robotic Process Automation is all about letting robots take care of manual, tedious tasks to save time and minimize the risk of errors. 

        3. AI: Artificial Intelligence is manufactured intelligence demonstrated by machines. It is not seen so much in the finance function yet, but we foresee it will soon be a big part of the finance department as well.

        4. Machine Learning: Machine learning using machine power to estimate the future by creating forecasts.

        5. Visualization and communication: The role of finance professionals is changing, and it is becoming your job to communicate and present relevant recommendations based on realtime insights made from trustworthy, quality data.

Avoid drowning in data and communication overload  

As the finance department gets access to more and more data, it becomes increasingly important to structure all your data but communicate only the relevant parts. You must keep the big picture in mindotherwise you will get lost, overinformed, and confused. Data and communication overload will result in you confusing management and the board too, because they will be drowning in data. Instead of facilitating a faster and better decision-making process you will end up slowing it down. 

To avoid this overload, you have structure for your data so you know what data to present, how to present it to get your message across, and when to present it. Here, agile data integration between your systems will be a major advantage for you and your team. By using, for example, APIs or RPA to handle manual workflow processes when processing data, you free up time for cognitive and creative tasks like making in-depth financial analyses and recommendations based on your analysis. You also minimize the risk of errors when, for instance, moving data from one system to another.

It is from this perspective that implementing agile data integration into your workflow will be a differentiating factorOn a practical level, it means that you save timereduce the risk of errorsand increase the efficiency and flexibility of the workflow. It also means that you get to do the tasks that challenge you on a professional level and deliver results which can add great value to your company. 

4 steps to implement agile data integration in your finance function

1) The first and most important step to take when implementing agile data integration is simply to get started! 

Your agenda needs to have a plan for how you and your team can access and use more data faster to be the catalyst for faster and better decisions at your group.  

But how? You might ask.  

Start by slowly getting to know and use the tools and integration services you find interesting during your off-hours. The next time your manager is asking for a specific report, then show your manager how easily you managed to deliver it with the help of software and integrations. It might seem like a small thing to do but doing a little is better than not doing anything at all. Getting started on using agile technology is the one thing that can prevent you from lagging behind in the finance business. 

So, get going!

2) Step number two on the way to smooth and automated data integration is to be proactive.  

I can sometimes be frustrating in the beginning because there can be a lot of roadblocks and it can seem like you will never get to the finish line. But you should focus on the tasks you actually can do rather than the ones you can’t do at the moment.  

 For instance, focus on the skills you have at your department and take the lead on the tasks which can be done very quickly by you and your team. This apporach will get things done, as opposed to waiting for IT to create a set up of data integration between your software. This way, you will have control of the project and will be able to deliver results and move closer to your final goal. 

3) Step three is to begin with the end, so to say. Think of your end goal: What is it that you want to communicate? 

There are several ways to achieve your goal, but along the way, you need to consider: 

      • What should your future report look like in order to achieve your goal?
      • What tool should you use in order to get the look you want for communicating your data?
      • Which other tools are needed to communicate with your reporting tool? How can you ensure an agile flow of data from one system to another when trying to get a message across based on your data? 

4) Step four towards implementing and using data integration in your finance function is to put first things first. 

You must start by taking small steps and focusing on the tasks that you can do. But, as previously described, it is equally important to prioritize these tasks and the plan you have made to succeed.  

If the tasks necessary are not prioritized, othedaily tasks and deadlines will stop you from getting to the finish line. You will lag behind not only with your plan but also as a finance professional since you will be stuck in the same pattern while others embrace agile data integration and other workflow automation projects. 

To avoid ending up in this situation, it is important that you prioritize and follow your plan to ensure the implementation of agile data integration in your group. 

If you find it hard to plan and get started, then find some role models for how your reporting can look. Follow these role models, maybe talk to them to get inspired and exchange ideas – networking is gold in this kind of process. Look to bigger companies within your industryas they could be reporting something you would like to report too, but on a smaller scale.

There is no way around agile data integration 

The reality is that there is no way around agile data integration the modern finance function. Remember it is all about decision making and how to facilitate better and faster decisions supported by valid quality data. That is the overall outcome. We tend to look at all the data we gather and sometimes drown in it, which is why the big picture is so important to keep in mind.  

So ask yourself: What is the big picture at my business? 

When you know what it will take for you to get the bigger picture then convince your management this is the way to go through results. Start for yourself by, for instance, exploring how to get data from your ERP system to your consolidation or reporting system. Take small steps and when you have something worthy of showing, then present it to managementso they can see all the benefits of agile data integration and workflow automation. 

Would you like to see some real-life examples of agile data integrations and learn more about APIs?  Then click the link to watch the webinar, Seamless Data Integration for Finance Professionals. Or read more about how data agility is becoming a competitive advantage in finance