The discussion around sharing financial data today is most often in reference to major industry happenings, like PSD2, Open Banking and the sudden influx of APIs in the financial services space. But within the enterprise itself, data sharing is now paramount to achieving a single source of truth: real-time visibility into cash positions, payments, the status of various processes and beyond.
Deployment of apps is now standard for most businesses, but multiple systems are plaguing firms with "app fatigue." On average, business professionals use 9.4 apps at work, according to research from Harmon.ie released last year. The industry using the most apps? Information technology (IT), whose professionals juggle more than 10 apps in the workplace, on average.
It's unsurprising, then, that managed service providers (MSPs), which often specialize in providing IT services to their business customers, have been forced to quickly address data management challenges – not only for the MSP itself, but for their clients, too.
"MSPs are essentially given the keys to the kingdom," said Jim Lippie, GM of cloud computing at Kaseya, which provides IT management solutions for managed service providers. "Every single one of their customers relies on their technology infrastructure to run their business. They're entrusting that MSP to make sure their systems are up and running, and that the data is secure. That's a lot of pressure on an MSP to make sure they're not only able to maintain that infrastructure, but to make sure it’s optimal and secure."
Increasingly, MSPs are tasked with handling more financial data as well, from sources like invoices and payments of their customers. That, too, is a challenge for any business: EY research published in 2015 found that the biggest financial reporting challenges for CFOs is a lack of integration between IT systems.
Two-thirds noted that they plan to increase their dependence on managed service providers to handle corporate reporting, meaning MSPs are taking on new burdens of data collection and analysis for their clients.
"A huge part of running a business is making sure everything you do, from a CRM [customer relationship management] or a PSA [professional services automation] perspective, is tied in with the organization's financial metrics," the executive noted.
Kaseya recently announced a direct integration with small business accounting platform Xero, adding onto the firm's existing integration with QuickBooks. The collaboration, Lippie explained, aims to provide clients with "a complete ecosystem, to be able to look at financial information and let financial professionals have operational oversight."
Trust in cloud-based systems is on the rise among business professionals, and research released earlier this month from Sapho found that nearly all of the 1,000 surveyed CIOs, CTOs and other executives plan to upgrade those apps in the coming year. But making sure these platforms communicate with each other – that is, share data – and provide professionals with a streamlined view of what's going on is becoming a growing hurdle. Sapho's report found that 84 percent of survey respondents require data integration solutions.
“There is a desperate need to modernize the employee experience of enterprise applications," said Sapho co-founder and CEO Fouad ElNaggar in a statement when the report was released. "Enterprises have spent trillions of dollars on applications to increase employee productivity and satisfaction, and yet employees avoid them due to their complex workflows and hard-to-use interfaces, which haven't changed in years."
According to Kaseya's Lippie, the ability to manage data between apps is especially important for MSPs.
"It is an industry that is dependent on data," he said. "At the same time, I would say that small businesses in general, not just MSPs, are starting to understand the importance of creating better data warehouses and better data systems for business intelligence. They know that if they have better information, they can make better informed decisions about their businesses and clients."
Integrating with apps that contain financial data is a key component of that effort, the executive added, though explained that it can be more difficult for MSPs to gain that insight due to the data-dependent nature of this market.
"Stand-alone businesses are concerned with their own financials," he said. "But MSPs have a range of customers, from ADHCs to a dentist to a financial services organization. Their customer base is really widespread, so they have to make sure they have the proper tools in place to manage all of those different types of customers."
Lippie added that MSPs need a "single point of truth" to operate as efficiently as possible. With financial data, that means understanding their own customer's finances, like outstanding invoices and payments, as well as their own.
"Taking that data means making better hiring decisions, better purchasing decisions, understanding whether to build an app or buy one," Lippie said. "The information they're able to share and see and understand, together in a collaborative environment, creates better decision-making.
"I'm a big believer in Big Data," he continued. "Organizations of all sizes need to leverage tools and applications to gain as much insight into their business as possible."