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Data visualization accounting: How big data has changed reporting for accountants

“Big data” has revolutionized much about the business world. But nowhere has the change been greater than in the growing field of data visualization.

A bunch of cells on a spreadsheet are no longer an acceptable way for presenting data to clients, C-suite executives and co-workers.

Now data needs to be packaged in a way that will make your audience pay attention and force them to take action.

It only makes sense, then, that this trend would also transform the profession that has for centuries held numbers at its core: Accounting.

Increasingly, accountants are looking at intuitive new ways to communicate

Here’s what accountants need to know about the growing field of data visualization.

Why data visualization is changing the accounting world

Accountants never used to have to think too much about how their work would be received.

The profession mostly concerned itself with two areas: Ensuring revenue, expenses and assets were placed in the right buckets and double-checking for accuracy.

If audiences couldn’t understand what a set of numbers meant, well, that was their fault.

But the big data phenomenon has raised expectations.

Now audiences expect to see their data in a way that makes sense to them – not just the person presenting it.

What is data visualization

Data visualization is the use of graphs, charts and other visual techniques to present data in a way that makes it easier for audiences to understand.

This is changing reporting so that, now, accountants need to find new and creative ways to show results.

But it’s also more than that. Data visualization is about using images to tell your recipient a story about what their numbers mean and what they should do about them.

How data visualization is changing the game for accountants

These days accountants are expected to be more than number crunchers. They also need to think about communicating their findings in a way that will make sense to their audiences.

The burden has shifted from audiences receiving the data to the people presenting it.

For accountants, that means finding a way to:

  1. Present data in a way that audiences who aren’t necessarily well-versed in accounting or even numbers can understand. This means scrapping reams and reams of numbers that won’t make immediate sense for the person to whom it’s being presented.
  2. Present data in a way that will nudge those audiences towards taking a particular action. This means focusing on the metrics and key performance indicators that tell a particular story and check up on business health.

Data visualization: What accountants need to know

Days of forcing your co-workers and clients to deduce the meaning from reams and reams of spreadsheets are gone.

Now, accounting is as much about your data and how it will be turned into decision-supporting information

That change requires easy access to non-financial data from other parts of the organization so that there’s appropriate context.

What used to be a series of cells on a spreadsheet might be turned into a pie chart.

A series of location-based performance data might be turned into a map.

Revenue numbers might become a series on a bar chart.

Accountants need to know as much about these sorts of visualizations, and which one to use when, as they do about crunching numbers.

It’s all about finding ways to capture people’s attention and make them take action. Now, thanks to big data, that’s what the world expects.

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