How do I reskill finance teams for BI and BA in the AI era? 4 tips from experts

How to use BI and BA in the AI era for reskilling any finance team

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Two different forces have come together to create the perfect excuse for reskilling finance teams in data analysis-related disciplines. The first one is the adoption of automation and AI in the business world. As stated by Andy Ruggles, principal, PwC and Libby Duane Adams, chief advocacy officer/co-founder of Alteryx, “the need for upskilling, reskilling and automation technology has never been higher––and 75% of CEOs believe this shift toward automation will continue.”

The second force is the lack of skills in the market. According to a McKinsey Global survey, 87% of respondents say they either are experiencing skills gaps now or expect them within a few years. Furthermore, “when asked where the greatest need exists, they most often say data analytics, followed by IT management and executive management.”

These two forces have already created a supply and demand problem in the financial world. In fact, a FDM Group report found out that “three quarters of workers in the financial services industry believe it is being ‘held back’ by a lack of digital skills and gaps in the workforce.”

Considering the above, training in Business Intelligence (BI), Business Analytics (BA), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly seen as an important factor to remain competitive in the market. But how do you reskill and upskill your finance team in data analytics in the AI era? Let’s find out.

What are the most valuable skills for corporate finance professionals?

Before exploring the tips that different experts gave us about reskilling finance teams, it is important to have an idea of the kinds of specific skills and techniques that finance professionals should acquire today.

Considering that BI, BA, and AI are all under the umbrella of business analysis, there is a significant overlap in terms of the skills that people need in order to use any of the aforementioned technologies. The following is an overview of the hard and soft skills that you should keep in mind when thinking about reskilling and upskilling your finance team:

Along those lines, the following are some of the techniques that are used in the different analyses that are at the core of BI, BA, and AI.

When it comes to reskilling and upskilling finance teams, you should keep in mind some of the trends that are defining the future of finance, especially in terms of improving decision-making processes and reducing operations tasks.

According to the McKinsey & Company article “Finance 2030: Four imperatives for the next decade,” the companies that want to improve their decision-making processes need to focus on training, “particularly in analytical, data-visualization, and debiasing techniques and technologies.”

Along those lines, reducing operations tasks requires a new finance operational model nurtured by digital skills across the finance organization. “These capabilities may include programming bot algorithms, using analytics software, or learning how to translate business data into actionable insights,” states the McKinsey article.

When we asked Seb Taylor, VP of BIDA Certification at Corporate Finance Institute® (CFI), about the kind of approach that companies should follow when implementing a process of reskilling finance teams, his suggestion was straightforward: “I would ask them to make their way through the syllabus of courses” of the Business Intelligence & Data Analyst (BIDA)® Certification, which includes the following:

  • Data transformation & automation
  • Data visualization
  • Data modeling
  • Coding
  • Predictive analysis
  • Statistics

According to Taylor, this kind of training takes analysts who know how to work in Excel and transforms their ability to work with data and analysis using all the most widely adopted tools and transferable skills. “So honestly, if a finance analyst completed BIDA, and its final exam, I would have significant confidence in their ability to produce quality analysis, at speed, and make use of modern tools,” states Taylor.

Acquiring this kind of technical know-how is crucial. However, you should also provide training in soft skills such as communication and problem solving. According to Stephanie Lachman, president at Projerra Management, the “best skill is knowing how to interview your stakeholders, understand what they want, and develop a prototype quickly.” Along those lines, she also highlights the value of skills in elicitation and solutioning.

Upskilling and reskilling finance teams [4 tips from experts]

Like any process dealing with human capital, reskilling and upskilling your workforce is something that needs to be done the right way. We reached out to some experts and asked them one simple question: How would you implement the process of reskilling finance teams? The following are their insights.

1. Focus on individual development needs and align them with broader strategic objectives

According to Leo McKeague, executive director and cofounder at eMFusion Global, there are some key elements that need to be considered from the very beginning to ensure effective upskilling. “To start, I suggest identifying skill gaps and developing tailored learning paths for key roles, coupled with executive support, to ensure effective upskilling. This approach should focus on individual development needs while aligning with broader strategic objectives,” explains McKeague.

He also emphasizes the importance that personalized learning and executive support add to this process. “For example, a VP of FP&A might need advanced analytics training, whereas an accounts payable clerk might start with basic data skills. Personalized learning tracks can boost motivation, and securing executive backing is essential for resource allocation and long-term success.”

In order to carry out this process correctly, McKeague suggests implementing the following key steps:

  1. Conducting thorough skills assessments to define targeted capabilities
  2. Curating individualized learning paths using diverse methods
  3. Gaining executive commitment for resources and support
  4. Encouraging adoption through incentives and opportunities for growth
  5. Integrating AI into training programs for accelerated learning
  6. Employing agile methodologies to demonstrate value
  7. Upholding strict standards for data governance, ethics, and transparency

Finally, he also recommends beginning with self-paced online training, followed by practical application and group workshops or external courses for deeper expertise. “Embracing AI as an augmentative tool can significantly boost productivity in finance,” concludes McKeague.

2. Bring excitement, practical training, and accountability into the process

Anders Liu-Lindberg, co-founder, partner, and CCO at the Business Partnering Institute, has a clear idea about the approach that companies should follow when upskilling/reskilling their finance teams. The following are the four pillars of that approach:

  1. Ignite the team: Make them excited about the change and help them see what’s in it for them.
  2. Provide training: Train the team in the new skills you expect them to have.
  3. Practice: In between training modules ensure people have practical assignments relevant to their work where they can test their newly learned skills.
  4. Evaluate and improve: Follow up with team members on an on-going basis to keep them accountable to work in new ways while also collecting feedback on how to improve the upskilling program.

As far as the criteria that companies should follow for choosing the skills they want to bring into their finance team, he acknowledges that there’s no simple answer to this as it should align with the company’s overall goals.

However, he provided us with a practical tip to deal with this. “We recommend creating a functional capability model for what skills team members need to be good at to succeed in their roles. From that you can measure the gaps between as-is and to-be and design your training plan accordingly,” stated Liu-Lindberg.

We also asked him about how companies can measure the effectiveness of their reskilling and upskilling initiatives, and he said that it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. “However, we would always recommend that you measure yourself on business results, stakeholder satisfaction, and your documented value add.

3. Create opportunities for practice and only use content to support skills

When it comes to upskilling, many companies make the mistake of choosing the content of their training before having a clear idea about the skills that their teams really need. Egle Vinauskaite, learning strategist and director at Nodes, uses this common mistake to explain her rationale about how to approach this process in the financial world: “Just like with any upskilling, start with the skill you want to develop in your people and not the content they should consume.

Along those lines, she also highlights the importance of providing people with feedback and the opportunity to put into practice the content they acquire as part of their training. “Once you’re clear on the skill, create opportunities for practice and only use content to support it. Giving people content without practice and feedback, no matter how well-produced that content is, will never be enough to develop skills,” explains Vinauskaite.

4. Build out a learning program with solid focus and assessment

Jeffrey Klebanoff, a finance expert with significant experience implementing reskilling and upskilling processes at the corporate level and member of the Executive Council for Leading Change, provided us with very good tips about how to conceive and manage these kinds of processes.

To begin with, he highlighted the impact that upskilling and reskilling can have on basic finance functions. With things like automation, BI, or AI, you can automate reporting, analytics, and transaction-based processing so people are spending less time on manual work and report generation and more time on analysis, which is something that helps companies to have better insights around data.

“The better reporting, the better analytics you have, it is going to improve the information and insights you are giving out to the business either internally or externally so those are some of the areas that get improved as a result of having these enhanced skill sets,” explains Klebanoff.

Apart from the above, Klebanoff also believes that there are many important reasons that justify an investment of this kind in any given company. The following are some of them:

  • The market is dictating that these skills are really important.
  • In order for businesses to stay competitive, they need people who can do this.
  • Recently, AI has become such a competitive advantage for companies.
  • We are in a digital workforce and we need to become a digital workforce.

But, how do you implement a reskilling/upskilling process within your company? According to Klebanoff, you need to do two things. First, you need to have a focus on what you’re trying to upskill in. Second, you need to do an assessment of where people are and what their interests are in each one of those areas you want to reskill and upskill them.

Once you are clear about those two things, you need to come up with a learning plan and a learning journey for your finance team. This is a critical part of the process because it will allow you to build out the different learning paths for the different skills you want to bring into your organization.

As a result of the above, you will end up with different training available for people based on their interests and where they are. Once you build all that out, you will have a “learning program that you can manage and monitor, and see how people progress,” explains Klebanoff.

Along those lines, it is also important that you are able to measure the effectiveness of your reskilling and upskilling investment. Even if you can use certifications or assessments to measure that, “the business outcome is the real true measure of ‘is it working?’” explains Klebanoff.

And how do we measure that? He suggests finding answers to questions such as the following:

  • Do I see less manual work because I trained people on how to build automated reporting or BI?
  • Do I see the improved results as a result of less time spent on report generation and more time spent on analytics?
  • Do I have more automated processes as a result of having something like AI because now my people know how to build AI?
  • Is there a reduction in time that it takes to produce reports?

Finally, Klebanoff reminds us of something very important: When implementing these kinds of processes, you should set a time frame with targets and milestones. Yes, upskilling and reskilling should be an ongoing process within a dynamic company, but you can’t just let this process be an infinite time period.

Upskilling and reskilling finance teams: an imperative for automation and AI

Considering the increased adoption of automation and AI across the finance world as well as the current skills gap in the market, reskilling and upskilling finance teams in data analytics tools and techniques is no longer an option but rather a modern imperative.

Implementing this kind of process, however, is something that requires a holistic approach that should be guided by a solid talent management strategy (coupled with executive support) and a clear understanding of the skills you need and the learning paths you want to provide for key roles across your organization.

Even if implementing something like this can be quite demanding in terms of the required efforts that you need to invest in the process, it is certainly the most effective way to update your finance department and stay competitive in the years to come.

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The experts who have written or contributed to this article are independent from Beebole, and their contribution doesn't serve as endorsement for our company/tool or their past/present organizations, employers, or associates.
Writer specialized in finance, tech and SaaS. Apart from writing, he loves football and cultural walks around Rome.


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