Strategic planning

The strategic value of data hygiene: a guide for finance leaders

Updated: June 18, 2024 |

Jim Bullis

Head of Pre-Sales & Solutions, Cube Software

Jim Bullis
Jim Bullis

Jim Bullis has over 13 years of experience implementing CPM/EPM tools and other finance software, as well as consulting and supporting a wide range of clients from Fortune 500 organizations, to privately held corporations generating over $100M in revenue, to public sector entities.

Head of Pre-Sales & Solutions, Cube Software

The strategic value of data hygiene: a guide for finance leaders

We've all been there—stuck trying to make sense of a messy spreadsheet or dealing with the fallout from inaccurate data. For FP&A leaders, clean data isn't just a nice-to-have—it's crucial for making smart, strategic decisions.

In this blog, we'll explore why good data hygiene matters and share simple tips to keep your financial data in top shape. Let's dive in and see how clean data can level up your finance function.


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Understanding data hygiene

Data hygiene refers to the process of ensuring that your data is clean, accurate, and reliable. In the world of FP&A, this means having data that you can trust to make informed decisions. Without proper data hygiene, you risk working with outdated, duplicated, or incorrect information, which can lead to costly mistakes.

Why is data hygiene so important for FP&A leaders? Clean data is the foundation of accurate financial reporting and forecasting. It allows you to identify trends, spot opportunities, and make strategic decisions with confidence. Plus, it saves time and resources that would otherwise be spent on correcting errors and reconciling discrepancies.

Common data issues that FP&A teams face include duplicate entries, missing information, and inconsistencies in data formats. These problems can arise from various sources, such as manual data entry errors, integration issues between different systems, or lack of standardized data entry protocols.

Understanding and prioritizing data hygiene is the first step toward leveraging your financial data effectively. By maintaining clean data, you set the stage for more accurate analysis, better decision-making, and ultimately, a stronger strategic position for your organization.

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What is the financial impact of poor data hygiene?

Poor data hygiene can have far-reaching consequences for FP&A leaders, affecting both daily operations and long-term strategic decisions. When data is inaccurate or inconsistent, the entire decision-making process is compromised, leading to inefficiencies and potential missteps.

Here's a closer look at what can go wrong:

Operational inefficiencies

  • Time wasted: Teams often spend countless hours manually cleaning and verifying data. This time could be better spent on analysis and strategic planning, but instead, it drains productivity and delays critical tasks.
  • Delayed reporting: Financial reports and forecasts are essential for timely decision-making. When data is dirty, the process of correcting errors can push back deadlines, causing significant disruptions in reporting schedules.
  • Reduced productivity: Employees become less efficient as they are forced to focus on fixing data issues rather than performing higher-value tasks. This not only hampers individual performance but also impacts team morale and overall effectiveness.

Strategic missteps

  • Financial losses: Decisions based on flawed data can lead to severe financial repercussions. For example, overestimating revenue projections due to inaccurate data can result in overspending and cash flow issues.
  • Misguided investments: Inaccurate data can skew investment analyses, leading to poor allocation of resources. Companies might invest in projects with little potential while ignoring more lucrative opportunities.
  • Missed growth opportunities: Relying on incorrect forecasts can cause businesses to miss out on expansion possibilities. For instance, underestimating market demand due to faulty data can lead to stock shortages and lost sales.
  • Damaged reputation: Consistent data errors can harm a company's reputation, particularly if these inaccuracies reach clients or stakeholders. Trust is hard to rebuild once stakeholders doubt the reliability of your data.

Key benefits of data hygiene

Clean, reliable data is the cornerstone of effective FP&A. Maintaining good data hygiene helps FP&A leaders drive more accurate and strategic decision-making with confidence.

By prioritizing data hygiene, organizations can unlock the full potential of their financial data, leading to improved efficiency, enhanced decision-making, and better regulatory compliance. Here are some of the key advantages:

  1. Improved accuracy: Clean data ensures that financial reports are accurate and trustworthy, reducing the risk of errors that can lead to misinformed decisions and potential compliance issues. Accurate data also enhances forecasting, allowing FP&A teams to predict future financial performance with greater confidence.
  2. Enhanced decision-making: Good data hygiene enables FP&A leaders to derive actionable insights from their data, supporting better planning and resource allocation. Increased confidence in data quality leads to more decisive and effective actions.
  3. Increased efficiency: Clean data reduces the need for time-consuming manual corrections and reconciliations, streamlining workflows and allowing teams to focus on strategic tasks. By minimizing errors and inconsistencies, organizations can better allocate their resources, ensuring that time and effort are spent on value-adding activities.
  4. Regulatory compliance: Maintaining clean data is essential for meeting regulatory requirements and avoiding fines. Accurate data ensures that financial reports and other regulatory submissions are compliant with legal standards, simplifying the auditing process and making it easier to provide accurate information to auditors.
  5. Resource optimization: Organizations can optimize their resources by reducing the time and effort spent on fixing data issues, allowing FP&A teams to focus on higher-value activities such as strategic analysis and forecasting.
  6. Data-driven insights: Clean data enables FP&A leaders to extract meaningful insights that can drive business growth and efficiency. Reliable data supports better decision-making and helps identify opportunities for improvement.
  7. Audit readiness: Good data hygiene simplifies the auditing process, ensuring that accurate and complete information is readily available for auditors.

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Best practices for maintaining data hygiene

Now that you can see why data hygiene is so important and beneficial to your organization, it's time to answer the question on everyone's minds: How does one maintain clean, reliable data?

There are many tools and techniques you can use to keep your financial data in tip-top shape. Here are some actionable best practices that can help ensure your financial data remains clean, accurate, and reliable:

  1. Leverage FP&A software: Use specialized FP&A software to streamline data collection, validation, and analysis. FP&A software can:
    • Automate data cleaning and validation: These tools can automatically detect and correct errors, identify duplicates, and fill in missing data, saving time and reducing manual intervention.
    • Centralize data management: FP&A software provides a unified platform for managing all your data, ensuring that all departments input and access data through a central system to avoid discrepancies and improve consistency.
    • Facilitate data integration: Integration features allow data from different sources to be accurately combined and kept consistent, preventing errors during data transfers.
    • Enhance data accuracy and reliability: Advanced analytics and real-time insights help ensure that your financial data is always up-to-date and reliable.
    • Improve reporting and forecasting: The software can generate accurate financial reports and forecasts, supporting better decision-making and resource allocation.
    • Support data governance: FP&A tools often include features for establishing and maintaining data governance policies, ensuring compliance with data management standards
  2. Conduct regular audits: Schedule routine data quality checks to identify and fix errors, duplicates, and inconsistencies. Make it a monthly or quarterly task to ensure ongoing data integrity. These audits should involve cross-checking data entries, validating data against source documents, and using automated tools to detect anomalies.
  3. Implement standardization: Develop and enforce standard data entry protocols and formats across your organization. Create a data entry guide and provide templates to ensure consistency. Standardization includes defining data formats, setting naming conventions, and establishing procedures for data entry. Consistent data entry reduces the risk of errors and makes data easier to manage and analyze.
  4. Train employees regularly: Organize regular training sessions to educate staff on the importance of data hygiene and proper data management practices. Provide continuous education to keep everyone up-to-date with the latest procedures. Training should cover data entry standards, the use of data management tools, and the importance of maintaining data quality.
  5. Establish clear data governance policies: Develop and distribute clear policies on data handling, storage, and maintenance. These should include detailed guidelines for data entry, storage, and access, and be accessible to all employees. Data governance policies should define roles and responsibilities, outline procedures for data management, and set standards for data quality.
  6. Maintain regular updates: Keep your data management systems and software up-to-date with the latest versions. Schedule regular maintenance checks to ensure all tools are functioning correctly and can handle current data standards. Regular updates and maintenance prevent software obsolescence and ensure that your data management tools continue to operate effectively.
  7. Assign data ownership and accountability: Designate specific individuals or teams responsible for data hygiene. Clearly define their roles and responsibilities to ensure accountability and adherence to data hygiene practices. Data owners should oversee data quality, ensure compliance with data governance policies, and address data-related issues promptly.

Conclusion: become a clean, mean, data-driven machine

Keeping your data clean and accurate is essential for making smart decisions and running efficient operations. By following the best practices listed above, you can turn your financial data into a reliable asset.

Curious how Cube can help you maintain impeccable data hygiene and improve your financial processes? Schedule a demo today to see our powerful FP&A solutions in action.

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