Big data in China

When it comes to big data, you can’t get much bigger than data in China. The pace of innovation in the Chinese internet sector, the ubiquitous use of mobile in daily lives and the sheer scale of data that this produces is enormous. But how is big data affecting finance departments in China?

We have been asking about the impact of big data on finance departments for quite a long time now. Are accountants in business using big data capabilities to give more insight to business functions? Or are they becoming less relevant as departments such as marketing do more analysis themselves? And what does this mean for the skills needed by accountants?

So, it has been fantastic to spend the last 3 weeks in China, speaking to businesses – people in finance, IT and other functions – about these questions. We met with 8 companies, ranging from the internet giants Tencent and e-commerce company JD to state owned enterprises in industries as diverse as retail, banking, aviation and telecoms. If you follow the IT Faculty Twitter feed, you’ll have seen a variety of pictures as the research team travelled round visiting companies across China. You can see some of those pictures below.

In the process, we have been working with two Chinese partners – the Shanghai National Accounting Institute (SNAI) and the technology company Inspur. Both of these organisations have played a big role in recent years in helping the profession in China move up the value chain and focus more on analysis, and less on ‘record and report’. SNAI provides education and training and Inspur the technology platforms.

The findings will reflect how important this shift is for accountants and how strongly it links to the effective use of big data. Big data provides tremendous opportunities for new insights to support better decision making and help accountants move up the value chain. But to do this, and ask the right questions, they need to be close to the business, not focused on ‘report and record’ activities. So, big data goes hand-in-hand with the wider transformation of the profession and the wider range of skills that this needs.

We will be launching the report in China in November and in London in January. While there are some points that are specific to China, many of the issues raised will be common to most organisations. There is also much to learn from the Chinese internet sector and its innovations in the finance space. So we hope it’ll be of broad interest to the profession around the world and look forward to sharing more findings later in the year.