MicroStrategy case study
5 GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR EMBRACING ANALYTICS ACROSS YOUR ORGANISATION
By Phong Le / Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, MicroStrategy, from a post dated October 2017.
I recently had dinner with a few fellow CFOs in the D.C. area, including those of us from Nasdaq listed and private companies. We talked about how to extend analytics beyond the financial arm of an organisation. I’d like to share my thoughts on the direct correlation between transparency and profitability, and how the democratisation of data and adoption of analytics and mobility can be critical to improving operational efficiencies across the enterprise.
I’m a fundamental believer that the companies that will be successful in the future are those who use data to innovate on their processes. The way we’re approaching this at MicroStrategy is having the larger organisation embrace analytics in everyday business. Our CEO, Michael Saylor, has a saying that “we drink our own champagne.” What that means is that we use our own analytics platform – the one our global customers deploy to drive business success – for our own corporate systems.
As many know, we have been focused on overhauling and building top-quality systems that are used to run the business. Giving our people the key metrics they need to run their respective business units – from planning, HR, recruiting, and consulting, to tech support, product development and our overall employee portal – has been tremendously beneficial to the business. And within one fiscal year, we increased our operating margin from zero to 25 percent. While there is still more work to do as we continue on this journey, here are the five elements we used to achieve that result.
When MicroStrategy started its journey to increase profitability, we had more than 200 business units with profit and loss responsibilities. We knew that our staff were spread thin, so we reorganised our entire organisation’s hierarchy – department, division, group, business unit – establishing a chain of accountability. Simultaneously, we made the respective decisions to pay business units based on profitability and sales, and service members based on revenue. By sharing information and increasing transparency, everyone gained dashboard insights into what all levels of the hierarchy were doing for the company, their individual accountability to the metrics, and their specific responsibilities to direct reports. We empowered our business owners with the information they need – 40 dashboards containing key metrics on their mobile devices – so they know what they can do to improve performance.
Would you ask a retail store manager to run a business without at least letting them see the daily register report? Chances are you’d have no problem giving them unlimited access to the register report. We felt the same should be true for our business leaders. Empowering employees to have autonomy over their area of the business can take many forms….enabling them to create their own future projections and ad-hoc reports while combining data from multiple sources and inputs, providing the ability to see reports in real-time and drill down into detailed information like ‘Travel & Expenses’ or ‘Historical Trends’, and giving access to leaders to view their forecasted performance at any time are some examples. We feel this can help business units make more informed decisions.
We knew early on that performance data would have to extend beyond managers in order to imbue the entire workforce with a sense of responsibility for the business. By using access control lists to protect sensitive data and metrics, we set up dynamic subscriptions that distributed targeted information to exactly the right employees. These employees not only received actionable data, they could also open dashboards from the office or on-the-go via their mobile devices. We saw a direct correlation between the employees who access these reports and those who perform well. A little knowledge can go a long way.
Speaking of empowerment and transparency, it would have been difficult to engineer a turnaround if stakeholders’ responsibility was limited to simply receiving and consuming information. We needed a structure that could provide seamless access to data while also giving users the ability to modify reports, make them better, create their own, or even change the structure without involving IT or compromising our data. We accomplished this by using automated Command Manager scripts that made updates to governance models as necessary and security filters with overrides for operational functions that kept data to a single version of the truth. Again, we knew how to accomplish this as an enterprise software provider. Furthermore, it was easy to deliver the desired interactivity to end users because it’s standard out of the box.
We rolled out our entire financial forecasting and budgeting platform within three months. This included connecting the system to more than 10 data sources, deploying dashboards and reporting across our entire organisation, and continuously making necessary updates and improvements. In tandem with our company-wide deployment, we also created accountability for profit and loss, improved our organisation’s data quality and accuracy, and enabled more effective management and development resources – and it was an even bigger success than we imagined. From the outset, our goal was to increase profitability, which we did by 25 percent.
While many CFOs would find it counter-intuitive to increase transparency and allow individual business units to own key metrics, MicroStrategy’s initiative to “drink our own champagne” has me convinced that doing so can be critical to financial operations. In this case, we were able to move the organisation’s financial sheet in a positive direction, achieve positive results, and reach our goals without exhausting resources. In the process, we learned that it was more important to focus on the speed of early deployment and employee adoption rather than making the process perfect. We found the best route to improvement is to demand results from our leaders and empower every employee with the tools and data-driven insights to deliver on those results. No matter what the goal is, the capstone that holds it all together is accountability.
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Phong Le has served as Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer since August 2015. Prior to joining MicroStrategy, Mr. Le served as the chief financial officer of XO Communications, a privately-held telecommunications company, from August 2014 to August 2015. From March 2010 to August 2014, Mr. Le held senior positions at NII Holdings, a NASDAQ-listed telecommunications company, including vice president of financial planning and analysis, vice president of strategy and business operations, and vice president of strategic finance. Prior to that, Mr. Le worked in the consulting practice at Deloitte from 1998 to 2010, where he held various positions, including senior manager. Mr. Le holds a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from The Johns Hopkins University and an M.B.A from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.