How can business analytics and other key skills boost your career

By on 19th February 2016

As business growth drives a healthy demand for finance and accounting professionals, companies are on the lookout for professionals with general accounting skills.

A solid foundation is key, including knowledge of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the framework for all financial accounting, and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the global equivalent of GAAP. The latter is becoming increasingly relevant as companies expand their operations internationally.

Greater reliance on business analytics

Today’s companies are facing the awareness that they need to focus on big data and how to effectively tap it. Why? Insights from business analytics used to be “bonus” information. Nice to have, but of limited use. Today, the ability to analyse data to support strategic decisions is essential for any business hoping to remain competitive.

Close to half of finance leaders acknowledge this need. In a recent Robert Half survey, a large portion of chief financial officers (CFOs) interviewed said strong technical skills are important to succeed in accounting and finance. This means business analytic skills, such as business intelligence and data mining, are vital for aspiring accounting and finance professionals.

As businesses become more reliant on their financial teams to deliver strategic advice, strong technical and analytical skills will become important for finance professionals. With more and more information, there is an emphasis on employees to help analyse and communicate strategic advice.

Organisations with larger accounting processes may have specialised analytical software, such as MicroStrategy, IBM's Cognos Business Intelligence and Oracle’s Hyperion. Each of these advanced accounting tools harvests data with the aim of identifying opportunities to be pursued and problems to be solved.

Knowledge of business analytics is a key to stepping up the career ladder for finance professionals. Organisations need candidates with advanced skills, including:

  • Business intelligence. Business analytics requires a deep understanding of the systems used to gather information. Consequently, there’s more pressure on finance professionals to hone their business intelligence skills. Even a basic understanding of how information systems are structured can make it easier to work with an IT team and intelligence analysts.
  • Data mining. Obtaining raw data is one challenge, but turning that data into actionable insights is quite another. Data mining often requires strong mathematical skills, and financial professionals with a background in statistics are at an advantage. Finance team members can also help guide data collection and ensure that the correct issues are being measured.
  • Data-driven decision making. It’s not always obvious or easy to know how to make decisions based on big data. Yet it’s the kind of strategic responsibility that is increasingly falling to the finance department. Moving forward, team members must be able to react quickly to new insights — and have the communication and project management skills to help stakeholders across the organisation understand their findings.

Sharpening those skills

Business analytics skills are crucial in today’s data-driven world, but they aren’t the only attributes in high demand. Enhancing specific software skills is an investment that can pay handsome dividends. Here are some ideas for doing that:

  • Excel training. Many software publishers run workshops or offer courses to help users get the most from their packages. For example, the Microsoft Office Specialist Expert (MOS) certification includes Excel training. This most widely used program in finance contains a range of useful tools such as analytical formulas, pivot tables and customisable charts.
  • SQL courses. Finance professionals with database skills such as Structured Query Language (SQL) are at an advantage, and the ability to use it can prove lucrative. Courses from both online sources and certified training providers teach how to use SQL to store, query and manipulate data in ways that can be much more flexible than options found in off-the-shelf software packages.
  • ERP tutorials. ERP software analyses data from ledgers, balance sheets and financial statements to generate reports that help finance professionals make decisions regarding purchasing, inventories and product planning. Online tutorials for your specific ERP solution are a good way to ensure the best results from the tools.

You can also boost your career by acquiring certifications or earning specific degrees. The Robert Half Accounting and Finance Salary Guide for accounting and finance lists ACA, ACCA or CIMA as the sought-after accreditations as the in-demand qualification finance and analytical roles.

If you’re already working full-time with little time to devote to honing your business analytics or other skills, your employer may be more willing to help you these days. That’s because, in today’s job market, it’s not a simple matter for companies to find the top finance talent with the analytical skills they need. As a result, many businesses are working to develop the skills of their current employees, so speak to your manager about additional career development that they can provide you.

If your employer doesn’t offer training, consider volunteering for projects that will help you gain business analytics and other skills. They could make the difference between success and failure in the future.

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