Date posted: 10/05/2019 4 min read

Five essential steps to becoming more data driven

Finance expert Hema Patel outlines five ways finance professionals can become more data driven.

In Brief

  • Finance expert Hema Patel, advises the best place to get started becoming more data driven is simply having the curiosity to ask more questions about what the data means.
  • Patel believes the onus is on finance professionals to guide their colleagues along the data journey
  • Patel suggests understanding the bigger business picture is critical to employing data to make good decisions

We speak with Hema Patel CA, former General Manager of NZ streaming service Lightbox and finance expert, as she shares her top tips for finance professionals hoping to better leverage the power of data in their careers.

With technology underpinning almost every aspect of business today, there's more opportunities to leverage data than ever before. It's time for finance professionals to dive in and get data savvy. Here's how.

1. Be curious

According to Patel, the biggest asset a finance professional can have is simple curiosity.

"Accountants oversee the numbers, but they have to do it with curiosity. Diving into that curiosity a little bit further and staying curious is key because that's when we start asking questions, which is incredibly important," she says.

It's through asking questions finance professionals can learn how to better interpret the data, what the statistics really mean and, most importantly, how they can be applied to make more informed business decisions.

2. Learn to translate

When you are naturally savvy with numbers and data, it can be easy to get carried away with high level mathematics that excites you, but may lose your audience's interest.

Patel says, "If we are going too hard on the numbers and too hard on the financial impact, we can alienate people along the way."

"Data and numbers can be really scary for a lot of people, but if we simplify things and explain them in a way that people understand, we can take our stakeholders and the other people in the business, on the journey with us."
Hema Patel, General Manager of Lightbox.

3. Be a business partner

Patel says being able to translate complicated data sets into easy-to-read and understand key takeaways gives finance professionals an opportunity to provide colleagues and clients with much-needed business advice, founded in data insights.

"The opportunity is there to work with other stakeholders in the business to really understand what problems they are trying to solve, while applying our numerical or financial smarts to help them make better decisions," says Patel.

4. Dig deeper

As powerful as data is, if it's not employed with a strong understanding of the wider business context it can lead to poor decision making, Patel cautions. "For example, [New Zealand streaming media service] Lightbox has seen something like a 25% uplift from changing the way that we sent emails and that sounds super-impressive. However, when we dug a little deeper and I asked a few more questions to understand that number better, I realised the impact was only about 1500 customers… I thought, 'Is there something else we could have done or that we can spend our money on to get more than 1500 customers?'".

Therefore, while comprehension of numbers is important, Hema says knowing what to do once you have them should be the next priority.

"Data can be interpreted to make decisions, which are not necessarily the right decisions, if we have not considered the whole puzzle," she says.

5. Just get started

Don't let a lack of data, or not yet having data functions fully embedded in your business stop you from getting started on your data-driven journey.

"When Lightbox started, we had no ability to extract our data. If someone was watching something, we had no idea what they were watching. We needed it in the very early days, so we started from the ground up. We gradually just started building a few things in, such as market research, for example, that helped us to understand our brand. We then had some very rudimentary reporting that came out of our systems, which told us how many customer sign-ups we'd had that day," Hema says. "Over time we've evolved, but you have got to start somewhere."