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How Data Science Drives Value for Finance Teams

Brian Richardi talks about his experience as a data science leader transitioning from Finance. He provides insights into utilizing collaboration, effective communication to drive value and the future of data science in Finance.
Jun 2022
Transcript

Photo of Brian Richardi
Guest
Brian Richardi

Brian Richardi is the Head of Finance Data Science and Analytics at Stryker, a medical equipment manufacturing company based in Michigan, US. Brian brings over 14 years of global experience to the table. He got his start managing a rock band, learning strategic relationship building and contract negotiations. From there, he joined Domino Sugar as a business analyst and eventually become the Chief Finance Leader, earning his MBA and an SAP certification. Now at Stryker, Brian leads a team of data scientists that use business data and machine learning to make predictions for optimization and automation.


Photo of Adel Nehme
Host
Adel Nehme

Adel is a Data Science educator, speaker, and Evangelist at DataCamp where he has released various courses and live training on data analysis, machine learning, and data engineering. He is passionate about spreading data skills and data literacy throughout organizations and the intersection of technology and society. He has an MSc in Data Science and Business Analytics. In his free time, you can find him hanging out with his cat Louis.

Key Takeaways

1

A holistic understanding of the business is key to building high-impact data products that add value.

2

A collaborative spirit helps you build expertise, trust, and credibility within the business to lead new data initiatives.

3

As industries continue to adopt new tools, it’s vital to upskill in data visualization and light coding, such as learning Python and SQL, so you can continue adding value well into the future.

Key Quotes

It’s important to have a roadmap. Early on, everyone gets really excited about data science and the analytics, but they get caught up in a lot of buzzwords, making it difficult to get out of the proof-of-concept phase. You have to show how what you’re building is tied to a product and how it's going to be delivered to the business to add value. Identify how you are increasing revenue, cost savings, or cashflow. As finance professionals, we get really caught up in the cost of something because we try to make the budget work, but if you look at what you’re building as an investment, instead of as a cost, and showcase what you’re delivering, you can be successful.

Understanding how everything is connected is really important. If you can take the data you receive from the business and learn how it's being used and the system it’s coming from, then you can utilize it to generate reports on any key metric you want. It allows you to go deeper into the data, really understand what it means, and build something that's usable for the business. That's what it's all about. We don't want to build something for it to die on the vine. And that holistic understanding really comes through collaboration. I mean, I think a key strength of finance and a key ingredient to success is the collaboration and building bridges between all the various functions in your organization.

Transcript

Adel N: Brian it’s great to have you on the show.

Brian Richardi: Yeah, thanks for having me. I am excited to be here!

Adel N: I am excited to talk to you about the intersection of finance and data science; how finance teams are the hidden gems when it comes to data for many organizations today. And how you've maneuvered the transition from being a finance leader to a data science leader. But first, can you give us some background about yourself and what got you to where you are today?

Brian Richardi: Yeah, sure. So, I guess it started with my undergrad, which was in economics. I had a minor in music, and I started my career pretty much right out of school at Domino Sugar. And that was still, when I was based in New Jersey. Two key things happened, and I was very fortunate, early in my career that shaped my progression and trajectory.

One is I started as an analyst and primarily a BI analyst. And then I transitioned over time, all within finance, but transitioned as the head of commercial finance for the US. After I was concluding my career there after almost 12 years and we were a hundred percent on SAP.

So that exposed me to many SAP modules and tools- all about analytics. And we had a really good and robust culture around self-service analytics from the top down. So I did a lot there with master data. I even owned some pieces of master data when I was in there, a lot of late report creation and deploying those tools to the business that all functions pretty much in the business touched and consumed.

And the second thing ... See more

there was that I just had amazing experiences working with people who took me under their wing to help guide my career. And I always had a foundation in finance, but I was fortunate that these folks coached me and taught me the importance of an enterprise-wide perspective. So kind of using things with a finance lens, but seeing it from an entire company perspective- data analytics was a key part of that. And then from there I went to Stryker and, you know, with my background in analytics and finance, I did a lot of proof of concept work, in data science. And we were exploring, you know, starting up, some data science capabilities and it was all around AI and forecasting for finance that eventually led to the creation of the team I'm leading now- the finance data science team.

Evolution of Data Science in Finance

Adel N: That's so great. So I'd love to set the stage for today's discussion and lay the groundwork for the rest of our talk. You mentioned here, you experienced starting off in finance and growing into a data leader because of the different experiences you've had and the amount of exposure you had in the Finance function.

The prevalence of this volume and richness of data is the standard for many finance teams today. So I'd love it if we could first break down all the ways a finance team say, you know, 10- 15 years ago was to a certain extent, the de facto data science team in many organizations. And can you describe the areas of overlap between these two functions as you've seen them evolve?

Brian Richardi: Yeah, it's a good observation. It's true. I mean, finance, you interact with data across many domains, right? From customer to product to supplier, traditional finance, you know, chart of accounts. And typically the finance folks are asked to bring it all together, right. To tell you what's happened or what's going to happen.

So, what's really important to be complete and as accurate as you can, because you never know how that information is going to be used to make a key decision or lead to other activities. Right? So the finance folks, they know all the ins and outs of the data. They know where they are. And usually I can speak from experience in my career. I've found ways to bring things together from multiple sources and knew where I had to do a little bit of more kind of work behind the scenes, either clean up the data or, or normalize it if I was pulling things from different sources.

So because of that, you really know from start to finish how it's created and where it goes to, where ultimately ends up with you. So where there's gaps in quality and accessibility, how it's being used, going back to things like. I would go back to the points at times when an order was created and ask, how is this done? Because on the backend I'm seeing, you know, that maybe the margin or where something isn't matching up to something else I had.

So you kind of have a full, full range of view of all those things. And we rely on data from a ton of sources, right. And we consolidate a lot in Excel back. today That's becoming more of a job for SQL. I'm finding, I see more finance, professionals coming out of school or just having that skill. They picked up on their own. But it really goes back to you and you can have a great experience and skill with SQL, with Python and any kind of coding or data science practices, but what's really powerful and really critical is that the domain expertise and that was something, you know, I think in finance, you pick up just organically through, through your day-to-day. 

So understanding what the data means, but also how it's used and then getting an understanding of how the business operates. So understanding customers, challenges. I was always in a finance analytics function with really large data sets. Some of them even coming from external sources, so when I would join those together I would kind of have to know what it all meant and how they were all linked. It was a lot of, stitching things together from, from different sources, talking to a lot of people, you build a lot of relationships along the way, because, you know, I certainly didn't have all the answers and I relied heavily on those functional experts and SMEs and tying that all together.

I mean, something in finance that I think doesn't really, is it apparent to a lot of people is there's a ton of project work. So a lot of project management, I've done a lot of like process optimization. So that's that kind of gets integrated with finance. I find it being integrated more and more now, as people are trying to, maybe improve their data or improve processes around running analytics. There's a lot of projects that get spun up, the kind of lead to those results or those kinds of new tools.

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