Aubrey Joachim

Data, data everywhere – where’s the analytics for insight ? by Aubrey Joachim

  • Are Sri Lankan organisations lagging behind?

Aubrey JoachimWe live in an era of ‘big data’. The volume of data in the world is doubling every five to six months and its growth is exponential. 

Every large organisation has around 200 terabytes of internal data – one terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes. In addition every organisation has access to significant amounts of external data. 

Eighty per cent of data is unstructured or semi-structured. Blogs, tweets, Instagram pictures, human movements, etc. are all extremely valuable sources of data that are captured today by a plethora of digital-enabled devices such as sensors, point-of-sale scanners, digital cameras and the like. The proliferation of data in today’s world is a huge opportunity that organisations must exploit. Easier said than done!

This is the big challenge facing most organisations; firstly do they have the required data, and secondly do they know how to employ analytics to derive the insights that will help them gain a competitive advantage. 

Many organisations lack the ambition, sophistication and leadership to use big data. A recent study of Australian organisations indicated that 90% are lagging in their use of data to improve their bottom line. Fifty-six per cent of such organisations have the opportunity to improve their bottom lines by over 50%. It was only in less than 10% of organisations that data and analytics were integrated into all business decisions, including real-time information. 

If this is the Australian finding what then would be the Sri Lankan situation? A cursory observation of Lankan organisations is sufficient to indicate that the opportunities exploiting big data and analytics are significant.

Big data by itself does not deliver outcomes. Something must be done to the data in order to derive insight and generate value. Analytics is what enables data to produce insights. This is why one cannot talk of big data in isolation. Big data AND analytics is the combined formula for success.

Understanding big data is easy. Organisations have had some form and quantum of data for centuries. As we now recognise, the quantum and type of data has increased exponentially. While the basics – financial data, customer data, product data, etc. have always been available, today there are other forms of data such as sentiment data, location data, weather data, etc. that organisations are able to have access to. 

How much and what type of data organisations have depend on their ability to capture such data and more importantly recognising what data they need in order to derive value and competitive advantage. What then should they do? This is where analytics comes into play.

Analytics is about the extensive use of data for identifying trends, patterns and projections based on analysing different types and categories of disparate data that should be used in fact based decision making. 

For example, what will be the uptake of a new product? Which customers are likely to leave? How can external drivers be exploited to deliver value? These are vital questions that business leaders are seeking answers to for strategic decision making. The age of backward looking historic information is gone. Today is the era of forward looking insights. Predictive analytics is the need of the day.

There are a number of analytic tools and techniques, and today there are powerful software platforms that enable insights to be churned out at speed. It is these aspects that most organisations are struggling with; what analytic tool to use and what software platforms are best to use. 

Of course there is the secondary challenge – do employees have the skills and competencies to understand the organisation’s business model, harness the data and identify the relevant analytic tool to use and then the competence to use the software?

How then do organisations go about transitioning to a data driven organisation? The first step is to recognise where they are positioned on the journey – in other words what is their analytical capability? Organisations go through various phases on their big data and analytics journey. An organisation is analytically impaired when it does not recognise the opportunities or does not have the data to progress. 

The next level is where there are pockets of localised analytics across the organisation that may be driven by individuals who recognise what they can do in isolation. An organisation is at the stage of having analytic aspirations when it has begun to recognise the opportunities from going down the data and analytics journey on an enterprise scale and take steps to do so. 

Organisations at the top of the pyramid are those that are analytical companies and analytical competitors. This is the world of the FAANG organisations – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google.

Therefore, where do Sri Lankan organisations position themselves on the big data and analytics journey? Have business leaders recognised the huge opportunities they are missing out? Do they have a data strategy for their organisations? Are they encouraging their staff to develop skills and competencies in data and analytics? What investment are they making in technology to be ahead of the curve and beat the competition? These are strategic questions that senior leaders should be considering.

In an era where it is the survival of the fittest in the age of business disruption exploring the benefits of big data and analytics is not an option it is a must. This is where smart organisations – large or small – are moving towards. Smart managers are leading the way. Are Sri Lankan managers ready for the challenge?

[The writer, FCMA, CGMA, is a past Global President of CIMA (UK). He is a global trainer and presenter and works with large organisations on finance transformation initiatives. He also runs public and in-house workshops in Sri Lanka.]

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The strategic role of the finance function: The path to relevance –
by Aubrey Joachim

Aubrey Joachim

During my term as Global President of CIMA nearly a decade ago, the theme I chose for my year of leadership was a single word – ‘relevance’. The word relevance is perpetual. It is contextual to when it is used. It is extremely applicable to the finance function and the finance professional of the day. They must be relevant to the audience they engage with.

At the time I flaunted the word it was clear that the role finance played in organisations was shifting from one of being passive and reactive to
one that was more proactive. Management accountants had to shift their focus from just historical financial statement preparation to participating in actively managing their organisations. Today that expectation has jumped many notches.

Every major global accounting body is boldly promoting their members as ‘business leaders’ who can strategically take organisations forward. The challenge is for finance professionals to live up to this high expectation placed upon them when they are employed in industry and commerce. In an attempt to force this realisation professional accounting bodies have not only enhanced the learning of strategy related subject matter in their syllabi but also included strategic case studies in examining the competence of their students. CIMA (UK) was one of
the first global accounting bodies to introduce strategic case studies into their examinations to ‘roadtest’ students’ ability to think strategically.
Today, most professional accounting bodies do so.

Finance professionals are the best placed in their organisations to provide strategic decision support and lead from within. While strategic outcomes are the responsibility of every function in an organisation finance is able to recognise and coordinate the entire sequence from strategy formulation to planning, budgeting, forecasting, and performance management. This role is crucial in driving strategic outcomes and tangible wealth creation in organisations. In effect finance professionals play a key role in strategy execution.

With robotisation and automation relieving finance of the transaction processing and other bottom end tasks that it once performed, finance professionals are increasingly being called upon to add strategic value.

Many finance professionals do not recognise this opportunity to step up to a more important role. Finance professionals do not realise that unless they play an active role in organisational strategy their involvement in budgeting, forecasting and management reporting is merely
mechanical and could also easily be robotised. It is only through contribution to strategic thinking that they can really contribute to tangible
value creation.

What therefore constitutes strategic involvement for finance? There is much ambiguity around the meaning of strategy in organisations. Strategy really is a set of decisions and actions taken by an organisation to achieve an outcome. In commercial organisations
the ultimate outcome is almost always value creation – for two parties; a customer to whom value is delivered by way of a product
or service, and the organisation that hopefully derives profit.

Critical strategic thinking is what enables an organisation to deliver customer outcomes and shareholder wealth. It is in this space that finance professionals can exert the biggest clout. At the heart of any organisation is a business model that enables the delivery of value. Such business
models must be strategically nurtured and managed. Today every business model is being disrupted. The basic business model of bringing
together a buyer and a seller at a village market has evolved into what is now the giant online platforms such as Amazon and Alibaba where almost anything is bought and sold. The business model of radio and television has been disrupted by the digital platforms of Spotify and YouTube.

What do such shifts in business models mean to the customer value proposition and the organisational cost structures? This is where smart
finance professionals must work alongside business managers to innovate new business models, commercialise the outcomes and optimise
the organisation’s financial position. This requires a high level of commercial curiosity and critical thinking.

The complexity of managing 
organisations is increasing. Managers across the entire business require significant strategic decision support in their quest to achieve the strategic outcomes required of them in their respective roles. This is the opportunity for finance professionals to step in, lift their game and play a key role in working alongside such managers in jointly delivering business value. Traditionally finance professionals have helped manage organisations in the context of a rear view mirror providing after the fact information to these managers.

Those days are long past. In today’s dynamic business environment managers must be provided with forward looking insight that will support their decision making to best effect. This is a major mindset shift for finance professionals. It is however opening up new opportunities for them to excel in.

The shifting landscape of the finance function is driving the next generation finance professional into new and exciting areas. While the accepted domains of traditional finance such as regulatory reporting and governance controls have their place, the new playing fields for the finance professionals are in the areas of strategy, business performance, big data and analytics as well as the use of leading management
accounting tools such as activity based methods, balanced scorecards and dynamic budgeting and forecasting.

These new pursuits are supported by powerful technology both in the hardware and software space. In addition the proliferation of huge amounts of data must be harnessed. Finance professionals do not have an excuse for not playing a strategic role in their organisations.
This is the only way for them to be relevant.

[The writer, FCMA, CGMA, is a past Global President of CIMA (UK). He is a global trainer and presenter and works with large organisations on finance transformation initiatives. He also runs public and in-house workshops in Sri Lanka.]

Source: FT Sri Lanka

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Future of the finance function is business partnering –
By Aubrey Joachim

Source: FT Sri Lanka

Aubrey JoachimEvery facet of business and commerce is being disrupted. Technology is changing how products are manufactured and how services are being delivered. Social media, digital transformation and drone technology are influencing news cycles and the procurement cycle. New business models are emerging – Uber, Airbnb and Netflix. The finance function is no exception – it is being disrupted. Finance professionals must respond.

What therefore is the future for finance professionals whose traditional roles of recording and reporting financial information in organisations are being robotised and automated? Or the future of auditors when blockchain technology is widely used? A third of the audit graduate intake of an Australian BIG4 firm last year did not even have an accounting background! When machine learning takes over, the displaced human accountants must transform their roles to provide a different value proposition if they are to remain relevant. What does this new transformed role look like?

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Sri Lankan flag flies at lofty heights –
By Aubrey Joachim

A migrant becomes the first woman CEO of a top 20 Australian Corporate. That’s not all – she enters the exclusive domain of white males. Of some 238 giant global financial institutions she becomes one of perhaps half a dozen female CEO’s ever and one of only 2 women of colour. She deals in billions of dollars – a sharp contrast to her petite physique.  She is Sri Lankan.

 

Shemara Wickramanayake deserves all the accolades she is receiving across the globe and from the highest levels. Bankers, financial analysts and commentators at the highest levels are demonstrating extreme confidence in her appointment. She drove Macquarie Bank’s share price eight fold since 2009, playing in a field that few would dare to – infrastructure investments.

 

This is not the first time nor will it be the last when Sri Lankans punch above their weight on the global stage. Yet, while individual performances reach great heights, as a nation we are found sadly wanting. Even within the many expat enclaves across the globe that Sri Lankan diaspora has settled in they are unable to collectively leverage their rich heritage and intellect. Is it not time that we sit down and settle differences such as cast, creed and ethnicity? We are a one people from one country even though we are dispersed across the globe. Surely if Ms Wickramanayake can break glass ceilings and barriers of colour in a multi-cultural Australia, all Sri Lankans could do the same.

 

Sri Lankans across the globe should come together in congratulating Shemara Wickramanayake and wish her all the best at the helm of Macquarie Bank. May her tenure be long and propel Macquarie to even greater market capitalization. It certainly is a proud moment for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans in Australia. I am sure Shemara will not mind us all basking in the reflected glory.

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A World Cup lesson in multi-culturalism –
An opinion piece by Aubrey Joachim

 

While the Australian politicians, media shock-jocks and the north-shore and Turak types argue the down sides of migration, multi-culturalism and refugees, the world was given a world cup lesson in why and how these perceived negativities can be turned into a positive and how countries can benefit at a stadium in Moscow when the French national team played Croatia in the FIFA 2018 World Cup final.

Seventeen members of the 2018 cup-winning French football team were either born overseas or have parents born overseas. They come from Congo, Cameroon, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Algeria, Morocco and DR Congo – all former French colonies. It is being said that France spent half the nineteenth century conquering Africa so they could build their 2018 team. Of course as seen by the Western world today it is wrong for a country like China to exercise its influence!

At the start of each game one saw every one of these proud French players have their hands on their hearts as they sang the La Marseillaise – the French national anthem. Some of the background stories are astounding. Paul Pogba from Guinea lived in a Paris ghetto and played his early football on the streets when he was discovered. He is a superstar. And Kylian Mbappe one of their leading goal scorers – and young players in the tournament, still in his teens is today the most expensive player in the world. I wonder how France’s migration and refugee debate will shape from now on.

The French team is not alone in harnessing the benefits of migrant, refugee multi-culturalism. Beligium, Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland, England and even the might Germany had such diverse multi-cultural talent in their ranks. And, we are not even taking into consideration the other European football giants such as Italy, Spain, The Netherlands who did not make it to the final 32 in Russia.

Even the Socceroos it must be said enjoy the benefits of multi-culturalism. Most of the players have recent migrant roots. The youngest player of the entire 2018 tournament was Socceroo Daniel Arzani of Iranian descent. Will he be another Mbappe? Would Australia even have had a world cup team if not for multi-culturalism? And what about the lovely Lucy Zelic the SBS host who stood by her philosophy of giving the highest respect to every player with her perfect name pronunciations.

While the 2018 World Cup tournament would perhaps be the greatest and most exciting of the 21 previous events, which was condemned by some countries because it was perceived to be a ‘Putin-Russia’ show, it has also shown the world that even a country as young as two decades and a population of less than Sydney – Croatia can be finalists, the most important lesson the world-game has taught the world is how humans from any part of the planet can integrate for a better outcome. Surely this is a message for the politicians and anti-migrant/ refugee lobby anywhere on the globe.

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Oh it’s crying time again ….. Tears will not wipe out Cricket Australia’s woes – An opinion by Aubrey Joachim

The Musketeers have spoken. The first was heartbroken that his hard earned spot in the Australian national team was given away free to another player. The (former) skipper was saddened over the effect his lack of leadership and undisciplined weakness had on his ‘old man’ and mum, and the last and most truant musketeer was sincerely apologetic to his wife and two daughters. Of course there was the token ‘written-for-them’ apology to Australian cricket fans, the cricketing world, kids and so on. However, the genuineness of their remorse must be judged by carefully observing the point during each of those apologies when their voices choked and the flood of tears gushed. Were those tears for us the cricket fans, the gentleman’s game, the Australian nation or for their personal considerations? Watch the press conferences again.

There was another tearful camera-fronting episode from none other than a man who encouraged his charges whom he coached and the Australian public “to send home crying” the English Ashes captain of a few years ago. Well, who is crying now all the way home from Jo’berg – and a million dollar pay packet? It was the same boof-head who during his playing days hurled racial abuse at a Sri Lankan player. God has cruel ways to meek out justice and humble the wicked. My hunch is that the firings and the tears are not over. Cricket Australia CEO is still avoiding the inevitable guillotine. While the captain and vice-captain scuttled the ship, the CEO must take responsibility for the flawed organisational structures and toxic culture.

Of course the Australian cricket supporting mobs are not immune from blame. They encouraged the boorish behaviour as long as their ‘heroes’ humbled the opposition by hook or by crook. Therefore is a reciprocal apology a fitting finale to all that has happened – fans apologising to the musketeers? Will the mob change? One thinks not. Already the tears seem to have done the job. Even high profile commentators are referring to the three musketeers as ‘champion blokes’, ‘a decent young man’ and wishing them back into the team with comments like ‘the punishment is too strong’, ‘they will be accepted with open arms’. When will they learn? The most important question is ‘Will the wider global cricketing community accept these truants?’

The ‘Ka-boom’ show needs a bit more review. For a person whose macho and rustic on-field behaviour made him the ‘attack dog’ of the Australian team, his arrival home brought out the true coward in him. Walking out into the waiting throng of journalists at the airport this thug hid behind his young daughter and wife. If there is an overwhelming reason not to select him for any Australian team again it is that the opposition will have a whole new litany of sledges to serve up to him. His arrival to face his organised press conference was equally comical. What made him think that a kiss and a hug of his wife as he entered the chamber would appease the questioning mob? Was he playing to the gallery? It might have worked for the older listeners of talkback radio, but not with the journos.

As for cricket Australia it was another emphatic ‘fail’ for their PR performance at the Sydney Cricket Ground shutting down questions and playing watch dog. With nothing being said it said everything! It certainly ended up as a Conn job! And oh, will there be sponsorship opportunities from tissue manufacturers?

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Between sandpaper and a hard place. Cricket Australia’s sad plight – An opinion by Aubrey Joachim

‘After all cricket is just a game’, ‘They are young men who made a mistake’, ‘he’s a decent young man’ ….. these idioms are flowing thick and fast from some ex-cricketers, media commentators and sections of the Australian community who are aghast at the apparent severity of the sanctions being ‘offered’ to the three musketeers. But what is not realised is that sports is not ‘just a game’ anymore. It is big business with wide ramifications across a whole spectrum of society. Cricket itself is a business, it is financially propped up by other businesses to the tune of billions, creates thousands of jobs directly and indirectly. Therefore, the fate of the three truant musketeers was not just in the hands of their employer – Cricket Australia (CA) – alone but influenced by a number of outside stakeholders. In handing down the sanctions CA had to take all of these factors and stakeholders into consideration. The ramifications run much deeper than the idioms. Cricket Australia is already beginning to see red in its ledgers with major sponsors who want to protect their own brands withdrawing their investments. Consider the multiple knock on effect – including the supposed ‘innocents’ in the team whose earnings are reduced because of their contracts being linked to the CA sponsorship pot.

There are many case studies akin to the situation currently facing Cricket Australia. Some thirty years ago the famed Body Shop – whose founder Anita Roddick received global accolades for her work in environmental and social reform – came to serious grief when a picture of underage Indian kids employed in their factories surfaced. Similarly a picture of young Pakistani boys stitching soccer balls with their bare fingers just prior to the 1994 Soccer World Cup caused serious reputational damage to a major global sporting brand manufacturing those balls. On 24th March 2018 the TV images of an Australian cricketer’s crotch has had the same impact not only on Cricket Australia but on brand Australia – surely a future case study in marketing and risk management.

Cricket Australia will have to be pragmatic in its way forward. A serious review will need to be conducted into how a multi-million dollar asset (the Australian cricket team) was entrusted to a leader and deputy leader both of whom seriously lacked the maturity and competencies to manage their responsibilities. It is common knowledge that all they know is cricket. Does cricketing prowess alone lay claim to the captaincy role? Is it the case that in most instances the ‘best player’ is not necessarily the best captain of the team? Leadership in any context requires exceptional levels of multi-disciplinary skills – including emotional intelligence, self-control, people management skills, communication skills and even commercial acumen. It certainly appears such skill were lacking in the ‘leadership team’ of the Australian cricket team that was hurtling towards its disastrous crash. And crash it did on that fateful day and the resulting casualties are many.

While sponsors are sending a strong negative financial message, Cricket Australia corporate leadership are stumbling from one faltering step to another.  A Roman Emperor named Nero was once in a similar situation. A further proof that cricket is not ‘just a game’ is ratified by the CEO seemingly hiding behind the veil of legality. This being the case should the way forward be for more checks and balances to be introduced in handing over their most precious asset – the national team – to future leaders. Psychometric testing of leadership candidates might be a good start.

As for the fleeing sponsors, Cricket Australia might be well advised to look for a manufacturer of sandpaper who might see an opportunity!!

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The Cricket Australia governance plot thickens Lessons in corporate governance – An opinion by Aubrey Joachim

Last Saturday the whole world were given a front row view of how ‘not to cheat’ by apparently three musketeers of the Australian cricket team. This morning the whole world was given a lesson in how not to run a high profile organisation when the CEO of Cricket Australia gave a pathetic display in front of the world’s media. It made Mark Zuckerberg seem a star when quizzed about FB’s recent failures. And this is the problem with all sporting organisations which are today massive business organisations – lack of quality governance and managerial leadership. What the CEO did not realise is that his performance only ratifies what has been the root cause all along – governance failures from the very top. It is said that a fish rots from the head. In addition one would question if the public facing leaders of the organisation – the CEO and national captain have even been provided coaching in fronting the media. Footage of the captain’s press conference after the incident and this morning’s CEO press conference will be used by media coaches in how not to do it.

So, what now from here? With the millions of Australian cricket fans baying for blood the CEO has failed to quell the issue. In fact he has made the situation worse. Therefore is it now time for the Chairman of the board to step in? I once heard a well-respected Australian company director saying that the relationship between the Chairman of the board and the CEO is one where the Chairman hires a (good) CEO, supports him or her when they do a good job and FIRES him or her when they fail. This is the quandary facing the Chairman of Cricket Australia this morning.

The business consequence for Cricket Australia is now even more dire. Why would corporate sponsors have confidence in an organisation whose decision making and culture right from the top is now seriously suspect? The three musketeers made a flawed decision over a ‘working lunch’. The organisations senior management had 72 hours of consultation and an in-depth audit and yet seem to have come up with an even more flawed decision. Corporate marketing managers will be seriously concerned.

It is not surprising that Cricket Australia has leaders who are Boofs. There certainly seems to be more than one such!

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Good governance is equally applicable in sports – fall-out from the great Aussie ball tampering scandal – An opinion by Aubrey Joachim

Regulators of the game, Prime Ministers, sponsorship stakeholders and the sporting public are all concerned and disturbed by a little piece of yellow tape shoved down the pants of a cricketer. Seems pretty bizarre, right? However, when such an incident has virtually brought a country to its knees by embarrassing it in front of the whole world and potentially has multi-million dollar impacts across a number of fronts it is a serious concern.

How could such a situation have arisen in a space where Australia has always considered itself to be world leaders – not only in the context of its ‘perceived’ superiority on the field of play but also the moral guardians of the spirit of the game? In Australia cricket is not merely a sport but a corporate juggernaut – almost a billion dollar direct revenue generating pursuit where the players earn six to seven figure incomes on the field and many multiples of that amount off the field. Sponsorship stakeholders of Cricket Australia and the big name players bank heavily on driving their own revenues from associating their names and logos by placing their faith not only in performance excellence but also in the honesty, integrity and fair play in return for parting with multi-million dollar cheques. The financial multiplier effect is exponential.  Does Qantas pay millions of dollars to have its logo on the cap worn by a self-confessed international cheat? This is why the great Australian ball tampering scandal is of such concern.

But how did a once proud sporting nation get to a situation where it is made to grovel in the dust by the acts of a cheating sporting captain, his ‘leadership team’ and a seemingly naïve apprentice player who blindly carried out the whims of his seniors and now will forever have to live with memories of his crotch emblazoned on TV screens around the world? While the world’s focus is on a few men in white who will – hopefully – rue their actions for the rest of their lives, the real leadership team have so far escaped scrutiny. In reality when that infamous crotch is aired by the world’s media it is also the portrayal of the governance within the sport.

What happened in Newlands, Capetown during the third test match between Australia and South Africa has been very long in the making. Serious questions must be asked of the governance and risk management processes within Cricket Australia’s governing body. With its reputation in tatters questions must be asked if appropriate risk management and oversight processes were in place. Its revenue line is significantly influenced by reputation. At this current juncture of broadcast rights negotiations the ball tampering fracas is a multi-million dollar problem for Cricket Australia. Was the culture within the organisation conducive to high moral and ethical standards from the board room down to the field of play? It is said that the culture of an organisation’s board and senior management sets the tone in an organisation. Was this the case? Was the board aware of an impending disaster that has now eventuated? Were there scorecards which monitored non-financial metrics such as team culture, player behaviour, coaching standards and culture, off-field incidents, social media comments etc? Keeping track of the financial bottom line alone would not suffice. The board should have realised that such metrics were key to protecting their product offering and hence revenue potential. If Cricket Australia was a listed company its market capitalisation would have taken a massive hit and the CEO and board would be accountable to the shareholders. Australian cricket has certainly been bowled middle stump!

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