Everyone talks about how much data they have available, but more and more, companies, and FP&A teams in particular, are struggling to make use of that data. In 2010, we collectively created 1.2 zettabytes (a trillion gigabytes) of new data. Eight years later, it ballooned to 33 zettabytes per year, and it’s expected to soar past 175 zettabytes of new data generated annually by 2025.
With so much information available, it becomes increasingly difficult for humans to work with it effectively. We can’t be expected to spot trends or opportunities, see mistakes and gaps, or notice the anomalies and inconsistencies across millions of individual data points. And, because we’re pressured to do more and to do it faster, we run on faith that errors or gaps will either be too small to matter or large enough to be noticed eventually. But they do frequently get past us.
First, AI Solves for Too Much Data
FP&A teams work daily with huge datasets pulled from across the organization. You have to aggregate and categorize and summarize the data just to make it manageable, but then you’re only seeing the totals and averages. You’re viewing the top of the proverbial iceberg while the bulk of the data–where the gaps, errors, and inconsistencies live–is hidden beneath.
Technology is solving this challenge using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Yes, those are much-hyped terms, but you experience the value of AI dozens of times each day. Think of how your navigation app guides you around traffic jams, your music streaming service queues up just the right song, and your email app finishes your sentences in context as you type.
AI can instantly parse through huge volumes of data to find errors, alert you to potential issues, and dramatically improve predictions and forecasts. That intelligence is based on billions of points of underlying data, and you don’t have to think twice about how it works… it just works.
Then, AI Helps FP&A
Human error is inevitable. Everyone makes mistakes. And, even the best of us can mistakenly hit the wrong key or make an errant click without realizing it. AI helps by highlighting those mistakes so you can take another look and use your human intelligence and judgement to determine a fix. It’s easy to see how that works in an email or document. But, consider how AI will alert you to potential mistakes across the millions of numbers no human could ever review in a timely manner.
Error checking and correction are just table stakes for AI. Here are a few ways Planful is using AI to specifically help FP&A processes become better, faster, and more effective.
- AI gives FP&A teams more confidence. AI takes on and speeds up the tedious work of searching for errors and locating interesting trends so you have more time to think strategically and investigate potential opportunities. FP&A teams will spend less time checking and double-checking, and more time making smarter recommendations and more impactful decisions, all with much more confidence in the numbers.
- AI dramatically improves FP&A predictions and forecasts. More data leads to better predictions, but only AI can handle today’s data volumes with speed, accuracy, and granularity. FP&A can now use more data from across the business to build accurate forecasts that take more variables into account and consider more internal and external influences. AI can also spot estimates that fall outside of past norms, even making appropriate suggestions as it alerts FP&A to the potential outliers.
- AI allows FP&A teams more collaboration with the business. Much of our knowledge transfers happen in conversation. Being remote and losing those conversations magnified the value of that information. AI fills this gap by factoring in operational dependencies, like time, seasonalities, performance, or region, with the financial insights often held by the people on FP&A teams. That creates more time to work with the business on strategy and decisions, model novel scenarios, and solve unique challenges.
- AI makes FP&A technology more usable. Just as email apps consider the context of your sentences to make intelligent recommendations, AI can understand what FP&A teams are trying to accomplish and guide users through the process. This coaching will ease complex data analysis and modeling, keep an eye out for anomalies and patterns, and present results in the proper business context. For non-technical folks in FP&A, it’s a game changer.
There are many, many more areas where AI and ML are already helping streamline FP&A processes. Whether spotting anomalies, errors, and variances, finding relationships in millions of data intersections, or eliminating hours of manual review, intelligent technologies make FP&A faster, more agile, highly efficient, and smarter, and there’s so much more to come.
Empowering FP&A Teams
Here’s where the power of AI hits the road: AI is now available across the Planful platform. It includes everything you need, without third-party AI tools, and no need for data to travel back and forth between systems. You won’t even need to consult a data scientist.
Predict: Signals is a native Al/ML anomaly detection technology that’s designed to act like a million extra sets of eyes to help you find anomalies, identify patterns, and augment your efforts with intelligent forecast recommendations. Predict: Signals is the first of a range of product releases in the Planful Predict suite, a collection of native artificial intelligence and machine learning products that will be released in 2021 and beyond.
It makes you a better you, and your team a better strategic partner for the business. And, best of all, it’s available now.