Getting Executives the Data They Need – What Role Does SharePoint Play in This?

I’m reading through an HBR article, Chief Executives Define Their Own Data Needs. (I’ve not linked to the article because you must purchase it to read it; unless you have the back issue the article appeared in.) They go through the four common methods of getting information: By-Product Technique, Null Approach, Key Indicator System and the Total Study Process. Then, the folks who did the study at MIT Sloan offer their own methodology on how Executives should get information: the Critical Success Factors Approach.

The CSF essentially has several parts:

  1. A base set of CSF’s that are determined by the industry in which the business is functioning
  2. Competitive strategies and advantages
  3. Environmental factors such as government or regulatory influences
  4. Temporal factors such as a pending legal action or a major loss of a group of executives

An articulated process is needed to produce the decision points within these four verticals to know what information an executive needs. Note that for each executive, the exact information produced will be different. And depending on environmental and temporal factors, the information produced might be short-lived as well. But this information can’t be produced if it isn’t first organized and filtered in a way that noise is reduced as much as possible as the needed information is gleaned into a report. And not all of the information produced is document-centric, which is SharePoint’s strength. Instead, if you look at what could potentially be included in these four areas, you’ll find that the information needed will be structured and unstructured, web-based, databases, documents, list items, financial and personnel information. Getting the right information in a filtered, secured way across multiple systems – some of which are outside your firewall – is important and essential to getting executives the data they need.

Why would I care about this? Well, because I run a $4M business with 30 employees. We think we can grow to over $12M within the next 2 years. Managing growth can be difficult and the right information is needed. But the other reason I care is because SharePoint can form one of the platforms from which this information is gathered, and then filtered for the executive to digest. For example, Search and Alerts can be used to stay abreast of environmental factors. Right now, I use RSS and Feed Demon to stay up on the various data elements I need to know about. We could use Search and Indexing to this work.

What is even more interesting is that the ECM capabilities of SharePoint could be used to help provide an accurate context for our financial and risk information. Consider this quote from the IBM paper The New Value Integrator: Insights from the Global Chief Financial Officer Study:

If leaders had any lingering doubts about the need for business insight – and the integrated financial and operational data necessary to produce it – the “new normal” has eliminated them. Businesses and governments need more advanced data analyses, scenario planning and even predictive capabilities to contend with rising complexity, uncertainty and volatility and, in certain regions, sustained lower growth. The pressure is evident across the entire C-Suite. Eight out of ten CEOs believe their organizations are being bombarded with externally driven change, with many struggling to keep up.5 Chief Supply Chain Officers cite end-to-end supply chain visibility and risk management as their top two business challenges.6 More than 80 percent of CIOs rank business intelligence and analytics as their top initiative to enhance company competitiveness.7 From every angle, the business is demanding greater breadth, depth and speed of insight – and, now more than ever, these weighty demands are falling on Finance. At the same time, more data is available than ever before. It is flowing from more sources, including vast networks of partners, increasing numbers of intelligent devices across the value chain, and expanding process automation. A significant portion of this data has financial implications and will end up – whether in consolidated or detailed form – in Finance. This presents the Finance function with a tremendous opportunity. With the appropriate analytical capabilities spanning process, technology and talent, Finance can turn this wealth of financial and operational information into business among seemingly unrelated pieces of information and find patterns nearly impossible to detect manually. Adequately equipped, Finance can contribute to significant enterprise value creation. In many ways, Finance’s persuasiveness as strategic advisor hinges on having superior business insight capabilities. As one CFO from the Philippines pointed out, “It is not just about cranking numbers but framing them in a broader context that makes them more relevant to the decision at hand.”

SharePoint could potentially produce the final information that Chief Executives utilize, based on the CSF Approach. But this will require significant forethought in how information is organized – and in envisioning how information might need to be organized in the future. The BI capabilities of SharePoint will need to be exploited in a significant way to produce the information Executives need.

SharePoint can organize documents. It cannot organize monetary information nor can is really maintain connections between data points in an accounting package and its ECM package. When you look at the source-to-report process of selling a product to a customer with a payment on that product order, you’re moving through at least three major software platforms: CRM, ECM and Accounting. Depending on the product that is being produced, if JIT inventory is utilized, then you have a number of other systems that need to produce information that, in turn, needs to be related to surfaced information from other, dissimilar systems. SharePoint will have a very difficult time managing all of this and frankly, I don’t think SharePoint should be or could be the silver bullet to resolve this problem.

Financial information must be placed in a context to provide meaning to those numbers. If there is anything you’ll learn from Finance for Non-Financial Manager classes, you’ll find that you need to look at several financial reports to understand what the state of the business is and that understanding the context of that business is just as important as getting accurate numbers from the accounting system.

As I continue to look at how Executives think and how information arrives on their desk, I’ll continue to refine my thinking here on my blog.

Bill English, CEO