Better data analysis is top 2014 priority of CFOs, says survey

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Data - and how it’s managed and analysed - will be a top priority for finance executives in 2014 and one of the primary areas where IT will be expected to contribute to overall business growth, according to a recent survey from American Express and CFO Research.

In the poll of 154 senior finance executives located in the UK and US, the vast majority (96 percent) agreed that they will need to extract much greater value from financial and operating data in 2014, using it to drive business planning, discover new market opportunities and improve administrative processes.

Almost half (48 percent) agree that the delivery of more effective data analysis tools is the most valuable way that IT can contribute to growth. That said, the same proportion still see IT’s most valuable contribution as helping to cut costs. Either way, four out of ten respondents say they plan to increase real spending on IT over the course of the next year, albeit only moderately. Just 8 percent plan to increase IT spend by 30 percent or more.

Rather than taking more radical steps in data analytics, IT will be expected to make smaller, incremental improvements to current platforms and integration, with almost six out of ten respondents (59 percent) saying that they still consider ‘big data’ analytics to be a supplementary form of analysis - and add-on to more traditional business intelligence approaches. In other words, companies are focused on developing their core analytical capabilities, first and foremost.

Getting financial and operational data mobile, however, is a concern, with three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) saying their companies need to make better use of mobile technology in 2014, in order to enable employees on the move to retrieve vital business information (cited as a goal by 42 percent of respondents); enabling them to share data and make better real-time decisions (34 percent); and providing them with up-to-the-minute access to data, so that they have a true picture of changing business conditions (30 percent).

"CFOs continue to seek out technology which allows them to improve business performance and increase employee productivity," said Jay Cary, vice president of digital in the global corporate payments division at American Express. "Mobile in particular is leading the way - both because of CFOs' familiarity with the technology and for the real-time benefits it offers employees. As data analysis grows in importance, we expect to see similar investments in big data analytics and cloud-based solutions."

Overall, the survey finds that the IT changes that companies are most likely to focus on implementing in 2014 include integrating existing information systems (cited by 44 percent); acquiring or deploying new applications or tools (41 percent); and upgrading existing systems (32 percent).

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