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September 24, 2009

Get Dirty with the Data

A few months ago, I gave a public seminar on lean accounting to a large group of accountants and accountancy students. I was keen to stress the importance of accountants getting into the work areas to help operational staff understand and work with financial data.

After the presentation, a student came up to me and enthusiastically explained how an Enterprise Information System could be implemented to collect data from all the organisation’s other IT systems and display it on screens in the work areas – and in managers’ offices.

I smiled indulgently, after all it is a common desire among modern managers (is it something about men and technological gadgets I wonder ?), but I think it is the wrong way to go.

The issue is not about displaying the data, it is about touching it, feeling it, and owning it. If the people in your organisation’s work areas are trained in the data definitions and are responsible for collecting the data themselves; analysing and displaying it manually, then they will gain a much greater understanding of “how” the data works, and, therefore, how to improve performance.

It’s like with children. Show your child a nice picture of something they could make and he or she might be engaged for a while but will soon lose interest: they have no real involvement with it. Show your child how to make the model, step by step, and you will engage him or her for much longer, and provide learning and development that is invaluable for the future. Now you child is involved and has ownership over the process. It’s the same with data and improvement activity in business.

My point ? Don’t get tied up with technology, and the attraction of automation. True improvement comes from involvement and engagement. Getting “dirty” with the data will teach you more; engage your people better; and build the team more effectively.

Stop looking at that screen and get out there to where the data is happening !. Engage with the people and the processes, that how accountants can add most value.