“Data intelligence is the key to driving business decision-making and strategy.” – Tracy Hockenberry
In our latest Expert Insights Series installment, Jon Thompson hosts Tracy Hockenberry, Senior Program Manager at Eaton (85,000 employees worldwide) and former Senior Director of Enterprise PMO at New Story Schools, an Audax portfolio company that worked with Blue Margin to focus the team on the critical value creation metrics.
If financial transformation is a path to value creation in the middle market, then innovative data strategies and effective BI project management are strong predictions of a successful outcome.
Lisa Nix, Transaction Advisory Services Practice Leader for LBMC puts it this way, "The lack of investment in financial systems, controls, data analytics and processes is common in the middle market and becomes an operational challenge early after the deal closing. The development of a scalable, cloud-based data architecture... becomes necessary for a buyer to deploy successful integration strategies and realize pre-closing deal synergies.” (Pitchbook, 2022, p.20).
Read on to understand an expert's view on the vital role that project management plays in BI development, and by extension, financial transformation.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are Tracy’s and do not necessarily represent those of Eaton or her previous employers.
- Structuring BI projects for financial transformation
- How to inspire end-user adoption
- The why and how of hiring external BI partners
- Consider starting your BI project without clean data
Structuring BI Projects for Financial Transformation
“The shortest way to getting to results is taking time for design.” - Tracy Hockenberry
Financial transformation hinges on well-designed projects; starting well equates to ending well. Tracy recommends the following:
- Identify your “data mobilizer.” Who in your company understands both the business strategy and the numbers? Who is best suited to act as a bridge between the data and the growth plans? (Read more about selecting your data mobilizer here.)
- Engage (all) your project stakeholders. While limiting participants can shorten the project cycle, key stakeholders should be engaged from the start to create buy-in and prevent backtracking.
- Align on goals and outcomes. This is a critical step - do not “pass go” before aligning your project requirements with the executive team's goals and expectations.
- Define project roles and responsibilities. RACI charts are particularly helpful in outlining: Who is accountable for the decision? Who needs to be consulted prior to a decision? Who is responsible for performing the work? Who needs to stay informed on progress?
- Drive organizational and individual change. To ensure your project drives behaviors and decisions that improve outcomes (e.g., increases sales, decreases delivery times), rather than focusing on project outputs (e.g., dashboards and a data warehouse), include change management principles in your design; don't overlook humans' natural resistance to change.
Inspire User Adoption: Get Your Employees to Actually Incorporate Data in Their Work
People don't change without new inputs. If you want your BI project to drive meaningful change, it comes down to adoption.
“Organizational change requires individual change. But why should an individual change; what’s in it for them? Organizational change is collective individual change.” - Tracy Hockenberry
Tracy recommends using relationships to build a bridge to adoption. Sitting down and listening to end-users' perspectives on the current state and their pain points provides insights into the project requirements that will stimulate adoption.
It's also important to keep dashboards simple and clear, centering on the top two to three metrics. (For more information on increasing adoption, listen to our podcast episode: Four Simple Ways to Improve BI Adoption.)
Hiring an External BI Partner: Why and How
Some projects can be managed in house, while others benefit from outside expertise and specialization.
In an overwhelming trend, most firms rely on outside partners to implement their data strategies, with only 10% completely owning their data management functions (S&P Global, 2022, p. 12).
To evaluate whether your firm should seek outside support, Tracy recommends asking the following:
- What do you need to accomplish and how quickly?
- Do you have the skillset internally? If not, do you have time to onboard or uptrain staff?
- What is the cost of increasing internal resources vs. outsourcing?
She concludes that if you’re looking for specific business intelligence capabilities and the time/cost to staff internally is outweighed by the benefit of orienting the team to key metrics, hire a partner to maximize ROI.
To that point, in Pitchbook’s Q3 2022 U.S. PE Middle Market Report, according to LBMC’s Accounting and Assurance Practice leader, John Mark McDougal, “Having ‘blue-ribbon’ technology, reporting, and processes in these crunch times where significant decisions are needed quickly increases an organization’s probability of success” (Pitchbook, 2022, p.21).
If you decide to work with an external partner, Tracy advocates for an open flow of communication, standing check-in meetings, clear “point people” on each side, and a RACI chart to stay aligned on responsibilities.
Start your Data Analytics Project Without Clean Data
“Start with a well-planned project, then clean up your data as you go.” - Tracy Hockenberry
At the beginning of a project, the reality is you rarely have the clean data you need. While clean data is ultimately critical to employee adoption, experts advocate for not letting a lack thereof hold you up from meaningful progress. Consider using the project to expose data quality issues and cleaning up the sources as you go (not the other way around).
Once her team's project was mapped, Tracy used this approach and dove in. Moving quickly meant learning lessons along the way, but the gain outweighed the pain. Based on that experience, Tracy recommends that others don't delay exposing their data to the team. In her words, “Fail fast and fail forward.”
A few parting thoughts from Tracy:
“To lead any business initiative, start by thinking about your current state of data. Data intelligence is key to drive business decision-making and strategy. Is what you're doing now [with data] appropriate for your current state? Are you going in the right direction, solving the right problems? Is it scalable?”
About Blue Margin
Blue Margin helps PE and mid-market companies quickly convert data into automated dashboards, the most efficient way to create company-wide accountability to the growth plan. We call it The Dashboard Effect, the title of our book and podcast. Our mission is to accelerate your value creation plan.
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- Listen to our podcasts on best-practice BI project management.
- Download our book, The Dashboard Effect.
More Expert Insights Series Interviews
- 2023 BI Strategies: Top Insights from PE and Mid-Market Executives
- One Rock Capital: Top Line Growth Strategies
- (2022, December 13). Q3 2022 U.S. PE Middle Market Report. Pitchbook.
- Golub Capital Middle Market Report. (2022, December 1). U.S. Middle Market Growth Shows a Positive Surprise. https://golubcapital.com/pdf/gcmmr-q4-2022/
- S&P Global. (2022, June 21). The race for data: PE reboots its approach to analytics. S&P Global Market Intelligence. The Race For Data: Private equity reboots its approach to analytics (S&P Global, 2022) | Savvy Investo