Spend Management Platforms Give Finance Chiefs On-Ramp to Firmwide Data Strategy

“Data,” said Kevin Alexanderson, director of business systems and analytics at Airbase, “is ever-present and is overflowing.”

But he told PYMNTS recently that data alone is not enough to help various stakeholders inside a firm make strategic decisions. It needs to be shared across operations and boiled down in such a manner that various, far-flung teams can see the same thing — and agree on what they’re looking at.

Easier said than done, considering that there’s not always agreement on defining a firm’s customers and users, defining transactions and even the amount of revenue that might be in the pipeline.

A customer, by way of example, may be defined by the customer support team as being someone who’s simply called that; the finance team may state that a customer may not be defined as such until they have actually transacted with the firm. And no matter what, no firm wants to have an individual work their way through a poor user experience at any stage of the game, so that they vote with their feet and walk away entirely.

Having advanced analytics in the mix, he said, can help foster consensus about metrics such as annual recurring revenue and about when transactions can be viewed as having been completed. Building consensus can be especially tricky in a world where so much of the operational workflow happens over Zoom or other conferencing tools.

“Sometimes, it can be beneficial to discuss whether there needs to be a single metric adopted — or if it makes sense to have several metrics to measure” everything from promotions’ success to customer satisfaction, and strategy, too.

Things can get exceedingly complex when it comes to spend management, said Alexanderson, because there are technical concerns — such as integrating data to flow seamlessly across departments. He noted that Airbase has been investing heavily in pushing information across its platform onto client firms’ general ledgers so they can close their books efficiently.

Then there’s the matter of streamlining operations so that accounting and finance teams can have some control over how much leeway an individual or team can have when it comes to spending.

“We provide that insight in terms of whether or not you’re in line with industry norms and how to manage exceptions,” he added.

Managing Risk

Data flow, ultimately, he said, helps risk teams figure out who is creditworthy in the bid to onboard business-to-business (B2B) customers and vendors. That data can take into account the length of time the would-be customer has been incorporated.

“Some of this is pretty basic stuff,” he acknowledged, “but it’s really critical when you have some pretty sophisticated fraudsters out there who are getting very, very good at impersonating executives and even forging official documents.” The advanced analytics on the platform can also parse the behavioral patterns in terms of spend (whether through bill payments or credit cards) and can raise red flags as to whether a bad actor has obtained access to a system or has successfully impersonated an existing customer.

“You can do this by aggregating data across a broad range of different sources,” Alexanderson said, “and you don’t have to embrace a point-by-point solution.”