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Trust your info: CPAs offer critical skills in data governance

To ensure high-quality data within organizations large and small, CPAs are best suited for take the lead on managing all that information

If cash flow is the lifeblood of a company, then data could be considered the neural network—transmitting vital information and insights to every part of an organization. Good-quality data can provide positive insights and can lead to superior business outcomes, which is why trusting your data is so important.  

According to a survey from BlackLine, a U.S. accounting solutions provider, 42 per cent of business leaders admitted to not completely trusting the accuracy of their organization's financial data. As well, 31 per cent of respondents said that data originates from too many sources, making it difficult to confirm the veracity of all the data.

Managing all that data is crucial, however, says Melissa Robertson, principal of Data Integrity & Assurance with CPA Canada, focused on Research, Guidance and Support. “You can't really have a good AI system on top of poor data,” she says. “Data governance is vital to tackle before you even start looking at what you do with that data.” 

The implications of this declining trust in data accuracy are significant, especially for CPAs. It underscores the importance of CPAs not only being adept in traditional accounting practices but also integrating knowledge of data governance into their existing skill set. “There are all kinds of risks associated with faulty financial data, but it also comes down to understanding the risk and the controls [that are] in place to ensure that that risk doesn't come to fruition,” says Robertson. This integration becomes pivotal in addressing issues related to data accuracy and managing diverse data sources, ultimately enhancing the trustworthiness of financial information. 

Many large organizations in banking, retail, and manufacturing have recently initiated data governance programs. These programs are designed to enhance data management practices and security and some programs overlap with a company’s IT infrastructure. But, the foundational rules around data governance are not so complicated that you need a computer sciences background. CPA Canada has similarly recognized this evolving landscape and created a practical guide for equipping mid-to senior-level CPAs with the ability to navigate this complex terrain: Implementing a data governance program: Four steps to get the most from your organization’s data assets. 

The goal is to explain “what a good data governance program looks like in an accessible way for CPAs with terminology that’s easy to understand,” says Robertson. “I think they give a good foundation for CPAs to start their own program from a people, process and technology perspective.” For example, the guide offers a different perspective of data as an asset. Unlike physical or even intangible assets, data comes from different sources, experiences rapid growth, and disperses throughout organizations. CPA Canada suggests that treating data as a distinct asset is crucial to trusting it. 

As well, building trust in data requires more than just technological solutions. It involves fostering a culture of data governance within an organization. “CPAs already play governance roles in an organization, understanding how it needs to work and how to implement programs,” Robertson says, “They’re also very well-versed in concepts like completeness and accuracy in relation to integrity—many things that overlap with the role that CPAs play in an organization.” This includes promoting awareness among employees about the importance of data accuracy through training programs and establishing clear protocols for data management. A dedicated data governance team can also play a pivotal role in addressing the challenges associated with data accuracy. By centralizing these efforts with a CPA at the helm, organizations can establish a strong foundation for data governance, ensuring that accurate and reliable data flows through every aspect of their operations. 

The declining trust in data accuracy is a critical issue that organizations and CPAs must address, says Robertson. With no established guideline in this Wild West era of data proliferation, a data governance program and team will not only enhance the accuracy of financial data but also help to position a company for long-term success. 

Photo Caption: CPAs are the best-suited profession for ensuring the quality financial information in today’s world (Getty Images).