By David TigerEntrepreneur in Transition
Austin, Tex.

arrows03 As a former auditor for Coopers and Lybrand, I was destined to develop a co-dependent relationship with crunching numbers and spreadsheets. Financial analysis is synonymous with long, tedious Excel spreadsheets, pivot tables, and forecasting models. I have been fortunate enough to apply finance and accounting skills across manufacturing, insurance, real estate, recycling, food service, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries over the last twenty years. Along the way, moving from auditor to financial analyst, to business development executive, to Controller, across every phase of the business cycle from start-up to Fortune 1000, the spreadsheet has been my best friend and nemesis.

Spreadsheets are great for crunching numbers, running financial scenarios, and analyzing specific variables. However, they are cumbersome when it comes to comparing scenarios, correlating data, and simply visualizing and communicating strategic assumptions.

Only in the last 18 months, while at Stubb’s BBQ, a small, premium barbeque sauce company based in Austin, Texas, where I was responsible for correlating finance, accounting, and marketing objectives, have I discovered a new approach to forecasting, business intelligence, and financial analysis. It’s not a data warehouse and not an elaborate business intelligence system. It’s a map.

I’ve always loved maps. As a kid I used to color maps and play with maps. At Stubb’s I was introduced to location intelligence. Those long, tedious spreadsheets of sales, inventory, and store-level data were suddenly fun to work with. I still spent hours number crunching on spreadsheets, but I was then able to see our internal performance data against demographic data, store data, industry data, and Wal-mart spin data, for example.

As a small, growing company, we had to allocate our marketing resources carefully and strategically to effectively target our customers. Seeing this data on a map created a whole new level of understanding of market assumptions that accelerated the execution of regional and national strategies.

I am a self-proclaimed LI (location intelligence) Junkie. Being an LI junkie is about much more than loving maps and coloring within the lines. It’s an attitude and a mindset. Here are some of the signs:

→ You see more than regions, roads, topography, political boundaries, and waterways in a map. You see the Aha! in the map—the patterns and connections revealed in data.

→ You see sales, performance, competition, customers, market forces, and demographics on a map instead of in tables and columns.

→ You connect the dots and correlate information that before might have seemed like random data points.

→ You see new meaning in data.

→ You are no longer daunted by working with massive amounts of data, and instead take a “bring it on” attitude.

→ You find creating the map to be fun, and it makes your job even more interesting.

→ You believe using the map as a communication tool internally and with customers is effective and engaging.

This financial analysis epiphany is not instantaneous. It requires a foundation to be in place—namely, a data infrastructure that can support the expectations of this location-based analysis and management approach. Visualizing corporate data and public data on a map is only an incremental benefit. These data can come from spreadsheets and don’t require a lot of additional effort.

Once you move up the LI value chain into correlating data, for example, to develop marketing budgets, you need to make sure that you have the right data infrastructure in place to ensure that you are looking at the right data. Especially when dealing with an extended enterprise, this becomes a little more complicated. Some would call this the more mundane aspect of business intelligence nirvana, but necessary.

The CPG industry hasn’t even scratched the surface of the potential for using location intelligence to manage the business, but there are endless possibilities. Location intelligence is a dream business development, marketing, and management tool. I’ve always seen the world a little differently than others, but now I see numbers differently, and have become an even better financial analyst.