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How Self-Service Analytics Will Boost Your Accounting or Finance Career In 2020

In 2020, self-service analytics could be the superpowered accelerator your accounting or finance career needs to get to the next level.

Ten years from now, if you were to look back at your career like it was a superhero movie (and you will, of course—our Disney overlords will require it), everything before self-service analytics will probably look a lot like the first act: the beginning of the movie, where the hero is a good person with a good life—but something’s missing.

You’ll remember the introduction of self-service analytics as the kickoff of the second act—where the hero gains his or her powers and takes the first steps toward learning to use them to make the world a better place. And once you’ve mastered self-service analytics, that’s when you reach the third act—unleashing the potential that was inside you the whole time to take down the villain and save the world.

You might ask yourself how big a deal it really is to change the way you’ve always done things—sure, your data processes are full of duct tape and holes, but hey, they get the job done. But by relying on spreadsheets, you’re like Thor without Mjolnir or Iron Man without his suit. Self-service analytics isn’t just about boosting your day-to-day processes—it can spark an entire career transformation, completing your hero’s journey and giving you the rights to make the sequel however you want.

Enough set up—let’s dive into the three-act story of your accounting or finance career, with self-service analytics as the turning point.

Act I: Accounting without self-service analytics

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re somewhat satisfied with your accounting or finance career. You might be like Peter Parker—the important people in your life love you and regularly praise you for your intelligence and accomplishments, but you still want more. Or maybe you’re even like Tony Stark—at the top of your field, appearing from the outside as the man or woman who has everything, but yet there’s still something missing.

That sense of dissatisfaction may be due in part to the large amounts of time you spend working with data. A study by IDC found that professionals who primarily use spreadsheets for data preparation and analysis spend 28 hours a week in spreadsheets, and waste eight hours a week performing redundant data tasks. Tax professionals may have it the worst—they spend more than half their workday gathering and preparing data.

You probably also get asked questions (usually by other departments) that you’re either not sure how to answer or you know that determining the answer won’t be worth the time it takes—20 hours of research and number crunching to give a salesperson a talking point he or she uses for 15 minutes in a presentation? No thanks.

So why is gathering and preparing data so inefficient for most accounting and finance professionals? The main culprit is data glut—most organizations have too much data spread across too many systems that don’t talk to each other, requiring manual intervention to put all the pieces together. Ninety-four percent of organizations have multiple data sources, and 60% have five or more.

Answering a simple question like, “How much money is our marketing campaign bringing in?” requires you to painstakingly pull structured data from countless spreadsheets and an alphabet soup of CRM, ERP, and other software platforms. But how often is all the data you need even where it’s supposed to be? You’ll probably also have to gather unstructured data from emails, memos, text messages, notes on the office fridge, etc.

If that weren’t enough, increasingly strict regulations and reporting requirements make your job even harder, necessitating new transparencies and redundancies that slow you down even more.

The time you spend gathering and preparing data for reviews, reconciliations, and analysis is holding your accounting or finance career back. You’ve proven that you’re worthy, so where’s your Mjolnir or your Green Lantern power ring that lets you achieve at the level you know you’re capable? Enter self-service analytics.

Act II: Self-service analytics for accounting and finance superpowers

This is it—your radioactive spider bite, your super-soldier serum, your gamma bomb that unleashes the beast inside you (except, you know, in a non-“Hulk-smash” kind of way.) Adopting self-service analytics is the beginning of your accounting or finance career’s second act—that critical moment when you gain the power to outwardly transform into the hero you’ve always been on the inside.

The right self-service analytics platform reduces grunt work, automatically gathering and blending data from every source. It pushes all data to a centralized database and plugs it into formulas that produce the insights you need, automatically and repeatably. Suddenly, performing reviews and reconciliations and generating reports are no longer journeys into “Excel hell”—they’re things that happen in the background, requiring minimal oversight or input.

With your focus shifted away from manual data tasks, you can win your day back and spend more time on the things that matter—like finding revenue and cost-cutting opportunities that will make you the office hero and push your career forward. Answering questions like, “How much money is our marketing campaign bringing in?” no longer causes you to break out in a cold sweat because you know determining the answer is as simple as pushing a button.

But gaining superpowers means so much more than just fixing your old problems. Imagine if Peter Parker’s story ended when he knocked out the school bully, Flash Thompson. No, gaining superpowers from self-service analytics will allow you to develop new abilities and proficiencies that will take your career even further.

With self-service analytics, you can develop more accurate and intricate forecast models, helping your business predict its financial future and take the right steps to improve it. You can look at the effect specific trends are having on your bottom line and determine the best ways to respond. 

You can find ways to optimize existing financial processes, eliminating waste and increasing margins. You can answer more complex questions like, “What would happen if we launched this product in these 50 stores across this geographic area?” allowing you to explore a wide variety of scenarios to discover opportunities your business doesn’t even know exist.

As your self-service analytics skills grow, you’ll likely discover abilities we can’t yet predict—like when Spider-Man realized that buzzing in his head was a sixth sense that could warn him of danger. Self-service analytics open so many possibilities that it’s impossible for us to account for them all now—but many of them are ones we’ve just discovered in the last few years, so it stands to reason that there are more out there waiting to be found.

Now this is where the story really starts to get good.

Act III: Transforming your career and your business with self-service analytics

You might be wondering why we keep referring to “self-service” analytics rather than just using the term on its own. That’s because we want to draw a distinction between complex analytics platforms that only data scientists can use and simplified solutions that allow accounting, finance, and every other business department to easily access the data and insights they need—without writing code or going back to school for IT certification.

A self-service analytics platform is just that—a platform on which all members of the business, regardless of technical sophistication, can create new data partnerships among IT, analytic teams, and lines of business. Whether you are an analyst or data scientist, you can solve even the most complex analytic business problems, with less time and effort, to drive business-changing outcomes across your organization.

Over time, the use of self-service analytics changes the culture at a business, enabling it to make more decisions based on data rather than gut instinct. Suddenly everyone is a data expert, and new ideas are coming from everywhere. HR finds a sales opportunity in Detroit the rest of the company missed. Marketing sees a way to streamline manufacturing and production. Accounting develops a killer PR strategy. With self-service analytics, the chains come off and the business can start succeeding at levels its founders could never have imagined.

And if you’re the one who championed self-service analytics at your business, a lot of the credit for that transformation will go to you. But even if it doesn’t, you’ll still gain specific accounting and finance advantages that will allow you to do and see more, faster and easier. Loki, Thanos, and all six versions of the Joker* don’t stand a chance.

Let’s take a look at one of these specific benefits across each of the accounting and finance disciplines:

  • Tax: Self-service analytics enable tax professionals to easily and repeatedly perform correlation analyses to identify drivers of effective tax rates and disparities between statutory and effective rates.
  • Audit: With self-service analytics, audit professionals can easily perform end-to-end process testing and control validations and identify high-risk patterns earlier.
  • Finance and FP&A: Finance and FP&A professionals can use self-service analytics to more easily perform risk-weighted asset calculations for capital, interest rate risk modeling, sensitivity analysis, liquidity reporting, and compliance.
  • Accounting: Self-service analytics enable accountants to create more transparency at review through automation in data extracts and accrual calculations and seamlessly pass accounting details through to the journal after approvals are made.

Supercharge your accounting or finance career with Alteryx

There are a lot of analytics platforms out there. So which one is the best for accelerating your accounting or finance career?

From an accounting and finance point of view, analytics platforms generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. General-use products providing few-to-zero specific accounting/finance functions.
  2. Traditional accounting software with some analytics capabilities shoehorned in but lacking the raw power of general solutions.

Only Alteryx gives you the best of both worlds—a superpowered, proven, self-service analytics platform that’s been specifically customized to automate and enhance the tasks and processes most critical to accounting and financial success. 

“When I use Alteryx, I feel like I just got the star power-up in Mario Kart,” said Jessica Chen, manager of marketing analytics at Alteryx.

This is your big hero moment—don’t let it pass you by. With Alteryx, you can finally free your workday from tedious, manual tasks and allow more time for the strategic analysis needed to unlock your superpowers and maximize the potential of your accounting or finance career.

Learn more about Alteryx >

* Yes, we’re aware the Joker has taken on dozens of incarnations across different media. We went with six because that’s the number of different ways he’s been portrayed on the big screen in feature-length films: by Cesar Romero in Batman: The Movie, Jack Nicholson in Batman, Mark Hamill (voice) in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker.