Big Data, Big Capabilities: Developing the Senior Finance Professionals of the Future to Exploit the Benefits of Big Data
In this article, the academics working on the ICAS funded project on the topic of Big Data (BD) for Senior Finance Professionals, introduce the origins and objectives of their research.
BD are “high-volume, high velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making and process automation” (Gartner et al., 2012).
BD has had a significant impact on both how and what information senior finance professionals/accountants access and use to inform their decision-making. BD can lead to a range of benefits for businesses; for instance, it can enable innovation and knowledge creation (ICAS).
However, professional bodies (such as ICAS), policy-makers (such as the House of Commons) and researchers all point to the need for senior finance professionals/accountants to acquire new capabilities if they are to make more informed decisions by using BD in their decision-making processes. These new BD capabilities, often misunderstood or overlooked, should become valuable tools as the finance/accountancy professions position themselves to benefit from BD (ICAS, 2020). This project will focus on senior (i.e. strategic/board level) financial professionals/accountants with responsibility for commercial decision-making.
The research team and the project
The core research team comprises Professor Maureen Meadows and Dr Alessandro Merendino, both from Coventry University, UK.
This project will explore the capabilities required to support decision-making to maximise the use of BD for finance professionals.
The study aims to address the following research objectives:
a.To examine the main capabilities that senior finance professionals/accountants need to acquire, in order to make good use of BD in their decision-making
b.To analyse the main obstacles to the roll-out of such BD capabilities
c.To propose how senior finance professionals/accountants can acquire and develop a portfolio of these new capabilities.
In order to address these research objectives, the project is divided into three phases over a period of 15 months.
The first phase is a preparatory phase that will examine existing research and knowledge on BD capabilities. It will map out the current debate on the BD capabilities of finance professionals/accountants, both in the academic literature and in practice, through desk research.
The second phase will gain a more nuanced and in-depth understanding of i) which BD capabilities finance professionals/accountants need to develop to make good use of BD in their decision-making; ii) the main obstacles to acquiring BD capabilities. It will do so by interviewing finance professionals/accountants in large UK companies.
The third phase will take the form of a workshop with senior finance professionals/accountants with a range of levels of expertise in BD. This workshop will be held as a half-day seminar in collaboration with ICAS, where a variety of senior finance professionals/accountants will be represented. The aim of the workshop will be to validate initial findings, and to gain the input of senior finance professionals/accountants in order to explore how they might be able to acquire the portfolio of capabilities identified during the previous phases.
Policy and professional implications
This project will bring together senior finance professionals/accountants to understand how BD applies across different areas of finance/accountancy (such as digital technology). The finance/accounting profession can and should engage with BD by, for instance, using predictive models (ICAS, 2020). However, this requires a novel set of capabilities in order to deploy BD for the success of the company.
First, this study will contribute to the enhancement of senior finance professionals and accountants’ knowledge/skills concerning how BD can be used to make more efficient/effective decisions.
Second, this project will seek to prompt a change in organisational culture regarding BD. We seek to demonstrate the importance of BD capabilities for senior finance professionals/accountants across the organisation; and we argue that an enhanced understanding of the benefits of such capabilities can drive an improved organisational approach to BD.
Third, this project will deliver evidence to regulators and standard setters, like ICAS, to inform the public debate and policy development on which BD capabilities senior finance professionals/accountants should invest in and acquire to maximise the benefits of BD in finance/accounting.
Finally, as per ICAS’ interests in “Technology Thought Leadership”, BD offers great opportunities for business and senior finance professionals/accountants, while also requiring the development of new skills. As clearly stated by ICAS, BD is a critical aspect of decision-making; ‘how we use it and create value with it is vital for the next wave of professional services’ (ICAS, 2020).
Our project clearly contributes to this debate by providing an enhanced understanding of which BD capabilities senior finance professionals/accountants should acquire and what the main obstacles are in the roll-out of such capabilities.
The results of Phase 1 and 2 will be available from March 2022.
If you would like to find out more about this research project, or if you are interested in participating as a respondent in this research, please contact the ICAS Research Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org.