Ep. 8: Cate Long - Data Visualization

Cate Long, former Vice President of Professional Services at SAP Concur, talks about the connection between data visualization, data governance, and information systems, and explains how these different technologies can influence strategy. Cate is also a former Controller of multiple mid-sized manufacturing companies and is able to offer valuable insight surrounding the various conversations pertaining to technology and analytics in accounting. Cate brings her years of experience and expertise to Count Me In as she explains the importance of thinking about data visualization, data analytics, and data governance as a whole when presenting data in an effort to influence organizational strategy.

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Music: (00:00)
 
Mitch: (00:04)
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA’s podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I am your host, Mitch Roshong and with me is my cohost Adam Larson. Today we are going to hear from a former vice president of services for a fortune 500 software company about all things technology and analytics related. Adam, can you tell us a little more about Cate long and what your conversation was all about? 
 
Adam: (00:29)
Thanks Mitch. Absolutely. Cate was also a controller for a mid-sized manufacturing company and is now an investor for various startups. We talked about data visualization, data governance and information systems and how all the different technologies can influence strategy. Let's go to the conversation.
 
Music: (00:51)
 
Adam: (00:54)
So let's talk a little bit about your background and how you use data visualization to strategically impact organizational decision making. 
 
Cate: (01:02)
Hey, that's a great question. Hey, you know, data visualization never really came to mind to me when I first thought about and entered into my accounting career. I didn't think of that as a strategic thing, but it is top of mind. It's very top strategic tool that you have. It's been a key driver to help me get a point across to show data in an explainable, understandable fashion that really helps point out areas of concern or kudos that were doing something really well to any audience from talking to and when I was in a controller for manufactured people on the floor or leaders of specific departments up to board meetings where I had to really understand and explain any changes in our variables to that group. just any audience that needs the information to drive company strategy, which is to your question which is more the types of questions that I would be and data that I would be showing to management leadership or to board leaders. A couple of examples come to mind that really helped me help employees. One of them was really helping to enhance employee morale, morale that I'll get into that example. And then another one was a strategy on what we should be looking at as far as winning or losing customers. So the first example I worked as a controller for a manufacturing company that was privately held and we had just gone through a remodel of the office. So employees saw a lot of artwork and new furniture and a new video room where I was giving presentations and they were wondering really how that was going to affect their profit sharing plan and we started hearing rumors about it. People were griping about the remodel, which actually the remodel brought in a lot of value bringing in customers or whatnot and making it more comfortable for everybody. But what I was able to do is I generally showed financial information on a quarterly basis to leaders in different, various leaders within the organization. And so I really broke down visually. I'm not just talking about profits and losses and, and our productivity, but pointing out what EBIDTA was or earnings before interests depreciation, Texas and amortization. Because the profit sharing plan was based on sharing, you know, buying equipment artwork and, and furniture design didn't come into play there. So was able to show them that, no, that doesn't affect your profit margin or your profit sharing plan. So don't worry about that. So that was a kind of a unique example for that company. But something else that comes up a lot is how you're going to explain your KPIs and in looking at that and, and too in how businesses change over time, one of the big numbers that software companies look at is their customer retention. So typically software companies can start out selling to smaller companies or they can start up selling to fortune 500's, which is what the company that I worked for did. So they had a pretty higher customer retention, right? These large companies do not change softwares very frequently, so they always had a very high customer retention rate. But as we, as the years went on and we got more competition and we started getting into the middle and small market that number, although still very high, I could start to see some erosion and I made sure that in our data systems that we had fields where we were capturing whether this the company was a small middle or large market customer. And then also that we had reason codes that we were capturing about why customers left. Because the smaller companies of course there's more of those companies fold or they can get out of a contract or they, they changed softwares more frequently than a larger company. So by dividing that data and visually you know, showing it to the board that this is what's happening, then we were able to set new KPIs for those different sizes of companies. So thinking ahead, that's the kind of thing that you wanna think about as your visual, as you're creating your presentations and you're going to talk to different people, especially those top decision makers, you don't want to give them just one number for something and because that could go up or down and cause alarm, you want to make sure that they understand maybe some breakdowns in that information without overloading them with too much information. But showing that within these groups, that these are the goals that we want to look at or this is maybe even making suggestions about how you want to change your key KPIs 
 
Adam: (07:06)
In terms of goals and KPIs. Many times we automatically think of data analytics and data governance. So how does data visualization fit in with these when it comes to understanding data? 
 
Cate: (07:20)
Fantastic question because data governance data and analytics and visualization are all very intertwined and need to be thought about really as a whole when you're preparing presentations and also designing or having input into information systems. If you can visualize how you're going to present data, when you first think about where you'll get that data, how much detail is available, and how your reporting is formatted and what data is required. that's really getting into the analytics side of things because that's about, you know, how the data is designed what's out there for you. That also gets into spreadsheets and calculating ratios at the basic level, moving into design, reporting and forecasting. And all of those things are things that you probably have to visualize at some point with the data. So you gotta have the analytics behind it. And then with, with governance, it's really how that data is being captured. If it's being required to be captured, is there some kind of procedure that makes sure that it's getting captured the same way across the board by different divisions or different groups? If it's accurate, if it's contained securely, and if it's got integrity. I know you've probably all worked at places where sometimes you pull information from one system and it's a little bit different than from another system of your systems aren't the same. and that is something that, that you have to make sure that you're grabbing the data that is correct. and that it matches between systems. So visualization really a is something that, you know, you would think that's last. You're presenting all this data that's in your systems that you've designed, but you really have to think about it first. It's a strategic starting point and needs to be top of mind when you're thinking about what kind of data that you want to be looking at every day. 
 
Adam: (09:36)
So then how did you influence information system design to enhance data visualization,?
 
Cate: (09:42)
Influencing system design so that you have the data that you need to help run the business is one of your most value add talents as an accountant. I think my favorite activity as a controller really was that led me to pivot over to running implementation and account management services. Later on in my career was helping to design and improve systems. So any chance that you get or you want to be involved when your company is putting in a new system. Just a few years ago well the nineties, two thousands, it was more an ERP type of system that was going in or a customer and sales data, data system. And now the systems are more sophisticated, it's more predictive analysis and it's being created by a one or artificial intelligence. That's going to be the next big thing. It's already there. I don't know if any of you are using it yet, but starting to hear about it where you know, it's in the corporate boardroom. People may be in there presenting their information and the CEO has access to this artificial intelligence and it is also predicting things and giving in not only giving the CEO actual data that's happened, but predicting things. So it's kinda changing the game in there. So you really have to understand what that's all the systems how they're getting the data and what's happening there and making sure that what you are explaining or presenting is spot on with that data. I think more and more we'll see better accuracy in systems. We'll see. I think blockchain will help tremendously in that mismatch of data in different systems because that's going to make sure that that data is transmitted from one system to another in the correct way and an integral way. So I think you know, it's I don't know if it's gonna get easier. I think it's just gonna change in how you present. you could be in an in a meeting maybe it's not you presenting, but it could be, you know, the head of sales who's predicting some things or saying some things and then the CEO can turn around and say that, well my artificial intelligence or whatever they call, whatever he calls the reporting that he's getting is predicting this. And so it's going to become more of that kind of conversation of you know, is that, is everything driven from the data or are there other things going on that may be, are outside the data, but that's where you know, that system information is going to be coming more and more reliable and really understanding what's in there is is paramount for your career. 
 
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