UVA Darden CFO Roundtable Discusses Role of Data Analytics in Strategic Decision-Making

By Laura Hennessey Martens

CFOs from leading companies in the Washington, D.C., region took a chief data officer (CDO) perspective while discussing data analytics and business decision-making during a recent Strategic CFO Roundtable, hosted by the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Institute for Business in Society.

Convened on 7 September at the offices of Sands Capital Management in Rosslyn, Virginia, the roundtable members addressed the session’s top of mind topic, The CFO as CDO: Turning Operational Data Into Actionable Intelligence for Strategic and Competitive Advantages.

Representing organizations spanning across various industries and sectors, the CFOs shared how data can be used to guide growth and strategy, whether informing geographic expansion and market segment growth strategies in the retail industry, or generating pipeline statistics and predictive analytics to accurately track and project long-term contracts in the government sector.

While sharing the belief that data analytics can positively affect business outcomes, many of the roundtable members revealed that often strategic and operational decisions are not typically informed by sophisticated data analytics. In addition, many board members only moderately understand corporate analytics.

The CFOs also acknowledged there can be challenges with maintaining consistent and reliable data that can be shared among departments and decision-makers.

“Our problem has been [that] we’re a very data-driven company and we’ve always had great access to data, but we had it in several disparate systems,” said one member. “For example, the employee data was separate from the financial data … and there were three or four different forms of operating data that sat in some sort of warehouse management system and some was on our e-commerce marketplace systems.”

The roundtable members also stressed the importance of having meaningful data that is understandable and relatable to business leaders.

According to one CFO, “All of us struggle when we get a bunch of data and someone sends us a spreadsheet [and you say], ‘I don’t know what to do with this. How do I make it meaningful, and how do I find insights in a repeatable fashion?’ And then package that in a way that the end-users know they can run the underwriting report, pricing report or local market trend report and know they’re going to get something that helps them make competitive decisions.”

Despite the various challenges of data analytics, the CFOs agreed it is a valuable and interesting way to guide financial, operational and strategic decisions. As one member commented, “Data analytics is much more fun than worrying about debits and credits and compliance, so it’s a great place to spend time as CFOs and finance leaders.”

Additional insights from this session are available in the report, “Views from the C-Suite.” The next roundtable will convene in January 2018.

Roundtable members are selected CFOs from publicly traded and private equity-held companies headquartered in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Darden Professor Ken Eades and The ILEX Group Managing Principal and General Counsel Jane-Scott Cantus, an Institute for Business in Society Fellow, founded the Strategic CFO Roundtable in 2008. In 2013, the Strategic CFO Roundtable was adopted as a key initiative of the Darden School’s Institute for Business in Society.

About the Darden Institute for Business in Society Strategic CFO Roundtable

The Darden Institute for Business in Society Strategic CFO Roundtable is an invitation-only peer-to-peer forum for leading chief financial officers in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area founded in 2008. These roundtables provide a confidential forum for corporate financial leaders representing the varied industries of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to discuss and debate global and U.S. economies as well as corporate financial strategies and performance. Each session focuses on a Top of Mind (ToM) topic, a specific issue of current importance to the members.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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