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Emerging FP&A Roles and Managing the Data Explosion: "Which Does My Team Most Need?"

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You probably know him as "The FP&A Guy." For nearly 15 years, Paul Barnhurst has been a leader, influencer and educator in the FP&A community.

It was 2019. At Solera, I'd just been promoted to FP&A Director for the first time in my career and I was trying to figure out how to make the biggest impact in my new role. My biggest challenge was data--we had multiple billing systems and struggled with reporting customer revenue for our top customers in one unified view. My first hire was a contractor who specialised in working with data. He had no finance experience.

This was one of the best decisions I'd ever made. He was our FP&A team's first-ever dedicated data person, and our CFO quickly realised the value of having someone who could make magic with our data. It was like having an FP&A magician on the team. He immediately found ways to clean and normalise our data so we could automate processes such as sales commissions and monthly revenue reporting while we waited for new systems. After a few months, we hired him full time. And over the next year, he became my go-to resource. When he left a year later, our data was in a much better state to support the business. To replace him, I hired someone with a stronger background in forecasting and planning.

When the most important thing the business needed was data insights, I hired a data person. And when the data was in good shape and the business needed support for its individual units so I could focus on the general manager's needs, I hired a planning person.

This taught me the importance of assessing:

  1. The key business's objectives
  2. The key skills needed to accomplish these objectives

While data is important, we shouldn't focus only on hiring data analysts, data scientists and data architects (you'll understand later why I'm highlighting these three FP&A roles). At the end of the day, as FP&A professionals and leaders, our goal isn't to manage the data explosion. It's to ensure the business makes the best decisions possible on deploying the next dollar of capital to generate the greatest return for the business.

In this blog post, you'll learn:

  1. The most needed FP&A roles
  2. Why FP&A teams spend so much time gathering and processing data
  3. How to address FP&A team resource needs

FP&A Roles

A recent FP&A Trends report identified five emerging roles we're seeing today in FP&A that teams must have to succeed in planning and forecasting to fulfill the demands of the business. While none are "magician" like my hire, these roles are:

  • Analyst
  • Architect
  • Influencer
  • Data Scientist
  • Storyteller

During the panel discussion Contemporary Skills for Strategic Finance Professionals at Excelerate =SUM(it) 2022, I was asked which FP&A role I played. I said I'm none of the five and that there were two more I noticed emerging: "Interpreter," and my role--the "Connector."

FP&A Roles

The audience was then polled on which role was most needed for their team. The top three answers were:

  1. Analyst (34%)
  2. Data Scientist (19%)
  3. Architect (14%)

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Given the data explosion we've seen over the last two decades, is it any surprise that the most needed roles are ones that work with data daily? A 2020 survey conducted by the Association for Financial Professionals found that FP&A teams spend 49% of their time collecting and validating data. The main reasons FP&A teams spend so much time gathering and processing data are:

  • Lack of access to source systems
  • Inaccurate or error-prone data
  • Systems that do not speak to each other
  • Underskilled team members
  • No master data, multiple versions of the truth

As teams struggle to find ways to more efficiently manage the amount of data they need to collect and validate, they continue to look for people with strong data skills.

How To Address FP&A Team Resource Needs in 6 Steps

This framework will help you understand which key skills your FP&A team needs to best meet the business's needs.

  1. Identify the key business objectives you need to accomplish in the next 6-18 months.

  2. Identify the key skills and resources needed to accomplish the key business objectives.

  3. Assess your team's current skills against missing required skills.

  4. Review assessment with leadership and address if other teams in the business can provide missing required skills and resources (e.g. Can they provide a data scientist on a part-time basis?).

  5. Develop a training plan to address your team's key skill gaps.

  6. If necessary, develop a hiring plan to add resources to address your team's key skill gaps.

Every FP&A department needs to have the ability to work with data, but we also need to tell the story--with the business insights generated from that data--to influence the business. The next time you're hiring someone for your FP&A team, analyze your objectives, your resources and the key skill gaps most needed before making your decision.

In the end, we need to ensure the business makes the best decision possible on deploying that next dollar to generate the greatest ROI.

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