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Tactical BI for CFOs: a Blue Margin Webinar

By Suzanne Rains on August 1, 2022 1:16:56 PM MDT

“Visibility is the most efficient way to create a healthy culture and to move a company forward.”

– Jon Thompson, author of The Dashboard Effect

Blue Margin was invited by vcfo to lead a 1 credit hour continuing professional education (CPE) class certified through NASBA and the State of Texas. Jon Thompson presented on the subject of “Tactical BI for CFOs.” So that others might benefit, we condensed the webinar’s recording and provided it below, along with summary notes. (Please note: watching this recording will not qualify as a certified CPE course.)

Course Summary: Data visibility serves a critical role in scaling, creating value, and successfully managing a company. Learn how to get valuable insights from your data now, with minimal overhead. 


Dashboards - an F1 Analogy

Listen at Min 2:00

Running a mid-market company can be compared to driving an F1 racecar, but instead of having precise F1 steering wheel instrumentation (Figure A), business executives must often rely on a variety of spreadsheets, monthly reports, email updates, and ad-hoc meetings to manage their company (Figure B). What if the executive had the clear visibility of an F1 driver?

It would change everything.

Good Visibility: An F1 cockpit

F1 cockpitFigure A

Poor Visibility: The Midmarket Executive's "cockpit"

Executive cockpitFigure B


Define the Top 3 KPIs

Listen at (Min 7:10)

Getting better visibility into business is not as labor intensive as you may think, but before starting any project, it's important to clearly define the goal. Better visibility alone will not have the impact leaders need. In order for data visibility to drive change, leaders should start by identifying the top three value drivers (i.e. inbound leads, revenue per deal, employee utilization, etc.) that are most critical to the organization’s success in the next 12 months as well as the individuals/roles responsible for each of them. These metrics should be manageable and predictive of the outcomes to be tracked against. 


Ridding the Business World of Poor Data Visibility

Jon tells the story of how Blue Margin started (Min 8:34).

After selling a dot-com Y2K startup to a private equity firm and spending a huge percentage of management time tracking down details to report to the board, Jon and his brother Brick began a new startup in 2011, Blue Margin. At the beginning, they focused on helping companies employ Cloud productivity tools. But as the brothers shared their instance of SharePoint which featured the charts and graphs they had developed to monitor their own company performance, many clients requested that same visibility for their business. They realized they had landed on the root cause of almost all organizational problems - poor data visibility.  

Thus, the mission of Blue Margin as a business intelligence company was born – to rid the business world of poor data visibility. Brick and Jon discuss the critical role of visibility for the PE-backed executive on a recent podcast episode: Data Visibility and the PE-Backed Executive.


Drawbacks of Poor Data Visibility

Listen at (Min 12:15)

With poor visibility, employees from across the company are pulling from a collection of databases and spreadsheets to see what’s going on in the company.

This lack of central narrative causes:

  • Rear-view, reactive management and often a gap in the plan vs. the actual execution.
  • Conflicting metrics - different functions may define key metrics, such as net profit, differently.
  • Cultural decay - without a central narrative, suspicions and politics arise.
  • Weak accountability - without visibility, employees cannot be held accountable for their part of democratized ownership of the plan.
Without accountability, leaders fall to the illusion that they must alone hold the company together and force growth. It’s a recipe for disaster. Jill Belconis, strategic business coach and former YPO International Chairman, recently spoke on this subject on Blue Margin's Expert Insight Series: Jill Belconis on Scaling with Clarity and (Data) Alignment.


Benefits of Data Visibility

Listen at (Min 14:55)

Data visibility in the form of a dashboard brings clear, F1 cockpit instrumentation to a leadership team. It provides oversight, alignment, increased valuation, measurable accountability, and faster exits. When leaders have clear instrumentation, they can stop reacting and proactively manage. Operations become more efficient, productivity increases, and buried revenue is uncovered.

Measurable Accountability

When CoolSys moved away from an Excel spreadsheet and leveraged dashboards to operate their complex organization they increased operating margins by 4-5%. Regions and functions were held accountable to key metrics and it contributed to a 52% reduction in employee turnover. (CoolSys Case Study)

Operational Efficiency 

Smart Care Equipment Solutions had 47 people creating reports off of Excel spreadsheets before investing in BI reporting. With near real-time Power BI dashboards, they increased employee utilization by 4%. (Smart Care Case Study)

Increased Productivity

Elgin Fasteners had been relying on a workbook with multiple data sources that was generated once per month, so their ability to react was limited. BI had the greatest impact in their manufacturing operations. Their technician efficiency and utilization report allows supervisors to pinpoint inefficiencies, points of constraint, and opportunities for employee training increasing production an estimated 10%. (Elgin Case Study)

Improved Profitability 

Before deploying Power BI dashboards, Equilibrium Catalyst had been unable to track a breakdown of costs per carrier. Now they can identify that quickly, along with high freight costs. They are able to change carriers to save hundreds of thousands in costs. They also discovered approximately $1M in unbilled services. (Equilibrium Catalyst Impact)

Increased Valuation and Faster Exit

Adam Coffey, 3 time PE-backed CEO and #1 bestselling author of The Private Equity Playbook, says that companies with a strong business intelligence systems sell more quickly and for higher multiples. Read his interview from our Expert Insight Series: Adam Coffey and The Exit Strategy Playbook.


Three Common Pitfalls of Data Initiatives 

Listen at (Min 28:35)

According to NewVantage Partners, 91.7% of organizations are increasing data investment, but only 19.3% have established a data culture. Why does that gap exist?

Understanding (and avoiding) the following three pitfalls can help leaders create a data-driven culture where most fail.

  1. The IT Black Box. Many leaders make the mistake of assuming business intelligence is an IT project. However, IT cannot spearhead this project without a clear understanding of the business objectives. An operative analyst (someone to stand on the bridge between business strategy and technical implementation) is critical for BI initiative success.
  2. Waterfall Development Approach. Leaders may approach dashboard implementation from a traditional waterfall approach, trying to build the complete data infrastructure (i.e., data warehouse) before starting on any reports. This approach takes many months before any ROI is realized and it does not account for change and evolution likely to occur during development.
  3. Topic vs. Persona Centric Dashboards. Dashboards should be designed to serve a specific role's day-to-day needs. A dashboard that presents information on a topic without an understanding of how a person will use the tool, will be less effective and less likely to be adopted. 

How to Get Quick Wins

Listen at (Min 33:08)

BI initiatives are not like ERP implementations, and thus they shouldn’t be structured with a lengthy, expensive waterfall strategy. Follow this three-step process, instead.

  1. Identify the top three value drivers for your organization, your operative analyst, and executive sponsor.
  2. Identify an acute business need. 
  3. Identify a BI expert and work towards the first quick win. Use a dashboard to spotlight KPIs and track progress against the desired outcome. Design the report with the end-user and adoption in mind, and this quick win will drive further development.

Lead with Data Visibility

Great visibility - BI cockpit


If you'd like to explore how Blue Margin's team can help you use data visibility to drive growth and team accountability, contact us below!

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Suzanne Rains

Written by Suzanne Rains

Suzanne Rains is Strategic Partnerships Manager at Blue Margin Inc. With a MA in Human Resources and BAs in Marketing and Management, Suzanne unites an understanding of human nature and a keen interest in industry research to author thought leadership articles for today’s business leaders.