Visualisation for management

Feb 10, 2020
Chartered Accountants in management positions can lead the way by encouraging their teams to use data visualisation tools.

By Richard Day and Alannah Comerford
In this series, we explore the power of visualisation and data analytics and the benefits to Chartered Accountants at any stage in their career. The FAE syllabus has been updated to include some data analytics tools and techniques, and this will bring all newly qualified Chartered Accountants into contact with Tableau, Alteryx and UIPath.
In the December issue, we suggested that visualisation tools provide advantages beyond Excel in analysing data. They represent a game-changer in terms of drilling down into information and unlocking the value in a company’s data. Chartered Accountants in management positions can lead the way by identifying opportunities to derive significant benefits and ensuring that their teams experiment with these techniques.

Management reporting

The area of management reporting often provides a rich vein for visualisation opportunities. Most teams have some element of such reporting, and there is likely to be a traditional management reporting pack. This pack may contain many pages of information and is likely produced many times over for different business units within an organisation. Pages and analyses are rarely removed from such documents and, as such, they have often grown over several years. This reporting pack may, therefore, represent an unwieldy block of information in the standard tabular format with perhaps a sprinkling of graphs.

Incorporating data visualisation would present the opportunity to simplify management reporting by presenting complex information on a reduced number of schedules with the ability to include multiple business units in one presentation. It would also allow the user to drill down into individual business units interactively. It may also be helpful to present information that compares results by business unit, by product or by some other relevant category such as location or customer segment. All of these analyses are possible without visualisation, but delivering them all without making the report interactive would result in huge files with many tabs. The report would become almost as unwieldy as the current versions produced. Visualisation is critical if you wish to include a vast amount of analysis in one simple, easy-to-navigate file.

It is always useful to review the information provided in such reports, taking account of why the various elements are needed. Considering the introduction of visualisation could complement a determination to bring clarity and a fresh perspective to collating and reporting the data. This would facilitate the selection of the right types of visuals to meet reporting objectives.

Improved use of reporting and dashboards of this type should assist in the analysis of trends and patterns in all aspects of performance, whether financial or operational. It helps managers understand trends and can turn management reports into critical tools for decision-making.

Project reporting

Given the level of organisational change, there are always projects ongoing. We recommend the introduction of visualisation to the reporting currently used in these projects, from status reporting to issue management. The combination of the visual presentation with the interactive ability to drill down elevates this reporting. Stakeholders can view the overall status in a very speedy fashion and easily focus on issues causing delay or aspects that are of particular interest.

Citizen-led analytics

The above may encourage managers to introduce data visualisation into their regular reporting, which represents a business-led scenario. We also recommend a citizen-led approach where the team members, and Chartered Accountants in particular, are empowered to use analytics techniques, including visualisation, to improve how regular and ad hoc analytics are carried out day-to-day. This requires the chosen tool for the organisation to be made available to all team members, along with basic training.

Managers can be hugely influential in the success or otherwise of this approach, and it represents an excellent opportunity to bring positive change to the team. Management can drive the tone at the top, but most opportunities to use visualisation will be identified by those who routinely compile and present analyses. Groups that share success stories and present their analyses will also contribute to a successful rollout and will prompt others to think about how these techniques could be useful in their area.

We could discuss more examples in terms of the possible use of Tableau or similar tools, but we recommend that you make a start – whether you are in management or just starting your career as a Chartered Accountant.

In the next issue, we will explore the advantages of manipulating data in a more robust and repeatable way to support the production of these useful visualisations.

Richard Day FCA is Partner, Data Analytics & Assurance, at PwC Ireland.

Alannah Comerford ACA is Senior Manager, Data Analytics & Assurance, at PwC Ireland.