How can a modern manufacturer leverage data to assist the increasing demands of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO)? The answer lies in the need for integrated software systems to organise data, provide real-time visibility and enable analysis to deliver business insights. By Craig Charlton, Senior Vice-President – Asia Pacific, Epicor.

Manufacturing is becoming one of the most sophisticated sectors in the world. With advances like robotics, cloud services, increased mobility, more connected devices and 3D printing, technological change presents a formidable challenge – even if the change is for the better.

Thanks to such modernised manufacturing processes and continual digitisation, today’s manufacturing company is exploding with critical data. Not only is the volume of data growing, it’s also becoming more dynamic and instant. IT departments have data from traditional sources (structured data) and new streams of digital data (unstructured data) to manage. Your organisation is also presented with the challenge of mining and analysing this data to help the company gain insight and drive action. Struggling with these big data challenges alongside the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and IT team is, perhaps surprisingly, the CFO.

It is common to retool a machine for greater output or to modernise equipment to increase speed on the product line. Epicor’s latest global survey, conducted by Redshift Research, indicate that there is much to gain from ‘retooling’ the financial operations division with new software, tools, functionality and systems to help tame terabytes of unstructured data and enable analysis to shed light on the future.

The survey found that CFOs in the manufacturing sector were the most likely to have basic financial IT infrastructures and rely on “gut instinct” for decision-making. To solve this challenge, they require access to real-time, accurate, dependable information with which to make critical business decisions. The modern manufacturing organisation can support its CFO with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that is capable of providing integrated access to vital data for sorting and analysis to help forecast projections, identify risk and take advantage of opportunities.

It may be easy to simply think of the CFO as the head bean counter. More often than is necessary, the relationship between the CFO and the IT department is a complicated one. But traditional roles are changing. The CIO is now often looked to as a source of innovation. Aside from upholding and protecting current infrastructure, IT is under pressure to “think digital”, be agile and ensure cost-effectiveness all at the same time. The CFO also feels this pain and needs to support digital technologies, while at the same time longs for access to the technology and information that would inform day-to-day, business-critical financial decisions. The two departments share key priorities and the business can only benefit from their collaboration. There is a path forward where the CIO and the CFO can work more closely to add value to the manufacturing business.

A full quarter of finance executives surveyed said their IT systems struggle to give them the information they need. Our CFO poll identified big data as one of the top three issues facing the finance department over the next two years, with one-third stating their finance systems need updating. Upgrading can be a daunting task, but there is a tremendous opportunity inherent in harnessing big data.

This is where an integrated, next-generation ERP system can help you adapt and grow. A high 80% of the companies that participated in Epicor’s survey found that ERP systems helped them work faster, deal with more complexity and make better decisions. The whole business, including the CFO, will benefit from access to the type of data analytics that a modern ERP solution provides.

Improved visibility into the manufacturing process makes it possible to track trends and identify problem areas such as wastage; it also facilitates precise quoting, accurate procurement and better planning. Not only does this help improve the manufacturing process, but all of this can have a direct impact on customer service, ensuring that you meet customer needs promptly and more efficiently. The availability of precise real-time data means manufacturers no longer need to make financial and business-critical decisions based on gut feel or past experience; they get a dynamic, end-to-end view of the intricacies of their business. This means informed decision-making, better budgeting and financial modelling, effective rolling forecasts and minimised risk.

The goal is to make data visible and useable by those that need it. To do that you must:

  • Deliver accurate data quickly.
  • Organise the data so that it delivers insight, not just numbers.
  • Leverage mobility.
  • Integrate data sharing across your organisation.

Manufacturing organisations can retool their business management software solutions to support production and performance as well as financial operations. This can fuel a revolution in the way that manufacturers use complex data to gain competitive advantage and grow their businesses. The benefits directly impact the bottom line.