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Every business looks for certain indicators that help better plan for or respond to what's coming. For Polydeck Screen Corp., that often means staying one step ahead of the weather.
Historically, this has been a matter of instinct for the maker of mechanical screening solutions for the aggregate, coal and mining industries, with more experienced employees using intuition to decide when to reduce inventory and when to stock up. But, as the growing quantity of data the company collects has offered more potential insight into how best to manage this balancing act, management has looked to tap corporate performance management tools and financial analytics embedded in its various systems to help bring operational and financial data together.
Polydeck's business is greatly influenced by heavy rains that pretty much bring the company's clientele to a standstill. It's critical that Polydeck's leadership be prepared for the significant increases in inventory that inclement weather brings, as well as the ramped-up demand that comes with dry weather.
"Knowing how to make those decisions can make or break our year," said Pete Hicks, director of IT at Polydeck, which is based in Spartanburg, S.C.
"It's all about critical timing and understanding the ebbs and flows of our customers," said Hicks, who answers to and works closely with CFO Clint Shuford. "Seeing the data in a timely manner and being able to pass that data on is vital to the success of the business."
This has proven to be a significant challenge in an environment that requires superior business intelligence capabilities to reach across a variety of applications residing both on premises and in an array of cloud settings. The tools have simply not been up to the task.
"You need to combine daily data with financial results," Hicks said, "and it's not easy to use a financial platform and then connect with other systems to get at that data."
With few other tenable options, Polydeck started creating spreadsheets. The problem was there wasn't a whole lot of control over spreadsheets, and as they proliferated and moved through the company, they were saved in numerous states, the data and processes therein got monkeyed with and getting to the truth became more difficult.
Taking advantage of financial analytics with cloud-based platform
Polydeck has found an apparent solution by using software from Host Analytics to combine its financial results and daily operational data and use the resulting comprehensive view to inform decision-makers. The company employs as many as 500 people globally, with sales and manufacturing operations in Peru and Chile, in addition to the U.S. All of the operational and financial data from those three entities is combined in Polydeck's data warehouse every day, and Host Analytics generates insights from that married data.
Mark BauerSenior vice president of product management, Host Analytics
Mark Bauer, senior vice president of product management at Host Analytics, said more companies are looking to give their finance teams better visibility into operations this way, with a goal of identifying business anomalies early, thereby minimizing the impact on the bottom line.
"There are significant opportunities in finance to take full advantage of the historical data and forecast the future," Bauer said.
But, to extract predictive insights from combined operational and financial data, Polydeck needs something the software vendor can't provide and is in short supply: in-house data expertise. The company has deduced that it's much more likely to get those skills by hiring recent college graduates than trying to train its veteran finance workers with more data sophistication.
"Most financial people aren't that good at data mining and data analytics," Hicks said. "That field has to crank out more kids who are learning that and understanding that."
According to Hicks, finance workers are not easily convinced to adopt a new way of thinking, which makes bringing in fresh perspectives all the more challenging and important. What Polydeck really needs are people skilled in data science who know querying languages, understand how data combines and aggregates, and can build effective dashboards.
"You have to have someone who fully understands how data is moving around the business to get that need met," Hicks said.
Eventually, Polydeck's leadership envisions having a data-centric finance staff working closely with an IT support team that's expert in converging data sources into useful information. Then, the company can take its next big step into AI and machine learning in an effort to make its financial analytics even more predictive and its business that much more competitive.
"We're getting ready for that being our next step once we get all the analytics set up in a way that's consistent," Hicks said. "Having something that lets us see what's in front of us, something we can trust, that's when we'll really see domination in the market."
The mere suggestion that market domination can be achieved through superior financial analytics should be enough to get just about any company to jettison its reliance on financial history and plant itself firmly in the here and now, with an eye on where it's headed. That's where the real value is.