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Data driven business intelligence begins with data integration

- Top tips for getting your finance and procurement data in order.

We are all striving for the ability to make data-driven decisions. Whether it is using data to find patterns, identify emerging trends, or extract insights that are not obvious from the surface. But how many of the following scenarios sound familiar? Perhaps your data is not accessible, or it is not stored where it should be? It takes weeks for the team in question to react to your enquiry and produce a report? Even a timely report may not be in an accessible format. With large spreadsheets or manual formulas, offering very little actionable insight. Perhaps the data you are looking for is stored in multiple systems, which do not talk to each other and contain duplicate data. With unreliable, out of date, or conflicting data held between those systems, how on earth can you tell which one is the one source of truth?

If those scenarios sound familiar, you are not alone. With the business system landscape continuing to get more and more complicated, with numerous new systems being used alongside legacy platforms, the importance of data integration and interoperability continues to grow. Take, for example, the purchase to pay (P2P) process. A resilient, future proof business needs to have complete and on demand visibility over its committed spend and outgoing liabilities. However, to maximise those insights and realise the associated benefits, your P2P processes and systems also need to be connected to a wide array of business applications, such as ERP, Human Resource Management (HRM), Logistics, Warehouses, Supply Chain Management, Accounts Receivable or Accounts Payable. A properly integrated system will provide you with access to a range of on-demand data insights such as:

  • Consumption analytics
  • Bid analytics
  • Contracting analytics
  • Price benchmarking
  • Market intelligence
  • Supplier risk and performance analytics
  • Spend analytics
  • Transactional analysis
  • Invoice compliance analytics
  • Travel and Entertainment analytics
  • Payment terms analytics
  • Payment analytics
  • Value tracking 

Armed with these insights, businesses can drastically improve cash flow and save money. However, many businesses still fail to see the connection between saving money and increasing profit. After all, increasing profit through sales during a global pandemic can be incredibly hard, but putting spend and procurement processes in place can be a lot easier. To do that, it is important to have seamless connectivity between your business processes through a meticulously planned and successful integration initiative.

For most businesses, digital transformation is a constant journey, rather than a quick fix. Even for the most tech-savvy, some information is likely still stored in a way that is inaccessible to some of the team members, who could benefit from having access to it. There is not a business in the world that planned to have multiple data platforms that are unable to talk to one another, making any meaningful data analysis and real-time reporting almost impossible. But, understandably, as businesses have grown and evolved, new systems are utilised to support new business processes and models. Typically, those implementations are made progressively, and data integration is, at best, an afterthought.

Fortunately, this is a problem that can be resolved, here are some practical steps that your business can take to get on the right track:

  • Define your Goals – It is important to have well-defined goals for any data integration project, and those goals should form part of a wider business objective. For example, having a complete view of your business’s spend could be a business goal. To achieve that, your integration plan should set a goal to integrate all your areas of spend - direct, indirect, expenses and travel. Defining your goals will also give your IT team critical guidance for which type of data should be integrated and which methods they should use.
  • Align your People - If you need to integrate your spend data, you are going to need the support of your IT team. But, who else do you need to get onboard? Accounts. Finance. Procurement. Make sure you involve the key stakeholders and the subject matter experts in your team. After all, they are the teams who are going to analyse and report on the data. While one of the advantages of integration is increasing the number of people with access to your data; it is likely that not everyone needs to handle that data. A lot of teams have access to data that they do not need. That is why limiting access to data, not information, is as important as instructing the people working with your data how to do it properly. Map your data stakeholders. Focussing on the teams who will interact with both the data and the information.
  • Data Management and Security - Security and data are inseparable. While integration implies the 'movement' of data, it may also involve commercially sensitive information. It is important to identify all the systems where any sensitive data is stored, and then assess how you can protect that data during the integration phase, and, ultimately, when the data is stored where it should be. Governing access to that data is key. As is the observability of data consumption amongst your teams.
  • Building vs Buying - Whether you are looking to build the integration in-house, utilise a third-party to build a manage the integration, or if you decide to use an integration software. Your options all come with very different resource requirements and prices. If you have developers with integration experience in your IT department, they may be able to build a custom integration in house, rather than you needing to buy a packaged solution. However, building your own integration typically means that you will also need to manage and maintain a codebase that is not central to your business and is difficult to change.

It is critical to remember that the goal of an integration project should not be just a technical solution that enables the various IT systems to exchange information between them. When this is the case, the solution design can often lead to an excessive mapping exercise and a complex integration framework that is very rigid and difficult to develop further in the future.

Getting the right balance of technology, people and processes is key. To gather the insights required for any integration project you need to map out your existing processes, people and technology and identify the key levers for adoption, success and any exception cases that you need to be aware of.

Businesses that have already embarked on digital integration and transformation programmes, including spend and payments data integration, are now reaping the rewards and successfully navigating the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the last few months have been a test for many, all businesses will be able to take valuable lessons from the crisis that will enable them to future-proof their organisations through investment in effective and relevant digital transformation.



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Jussi Karjalainen

Jussi Karjalainen



Member since

19 Mar 2019



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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

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