How One Salesforce Team Leveled Up Its Data Skills Using Tableau

100% Tableau adoption with all team members completing essential training

Up to 67% time savings on balance sheet reconciliations

Team equipped to carry out more strategic analytics

SF Reception

Finance teams are more experienced than most in handling large amounts of data. However, the use of traditional tools like spreadsheets often limits what they can actually do with that data.

This was a challenge for Salesforce’s controllership team for Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ). The team comprises more than 40 employees across the region and is responsible for activities such as the month-end close and reporting of financial transactions. The data they rely on comes from more than 100 different systems, including those used to manage payroll, commissions, and expenses.

“At the end of every month and every quarter, we need to pull all these sources of data together within a very short timeframe and accuracy is critical as the data feeds into our earnings announcements,” said Benson Wong, Vice President, APJ Controller, Salesforce. “The complexity involved in managing all the data residing in different systems and formats drove the need for a single source of truth.”

Tableau now serves as that single source of truth for the team and has increased the efficiency of data consolidation and reporting. More importantly, it has enabled the team to spend more time analyzing data, identifying trends, and providing insight rather than just reporting on past results.

Comprehensive enablement powers 100% adoption 

The controllership team in APJ was not alone in wanting to improve data management. Soon after Salesforce’s acquisition of Tableau, a global project kicked off to embed the analytics platform within the broader finance team. For Benson, this solidified the need for his team to quickly change its ways of working.

All accountants today are expected to know spreadsheets and in the future, they’ll be expected to know solutions like Tableau as part of their basic skill set. I told my team that we needed to be ahead of the game.

Benson appointed two team members to lead the way, Hong Lu and Yvonne Borgert. Hong Lu is Senior Manager, Finance while Yvonne is Director, Finance. Together, they came up with a comprehensive plan for training and adoption based on a ratio of 70% of learning through training and community sharing and 30% through self-learning and practical application.

They also set an initial target for every team member to become a Tableau Viewer, meaning they would be able to understand dashboards on their own and make data-driven decisions.

To achieve this target, Hong Lu delivered training once a month and homework assignments were provided in between. The homework required team members to use Tableau to solve accounting operation challenges and then present their findings and experiences back to the group. Challenges included analyzing what type of payroll taxes were being paid in each country within Asia Pacific and identifying different types of intercompany transactions.

Hong Lu set up a ‘data clinic’ to help team members with their homework and answer questions regarding Tableau. These one-on-one and small group tutoring sessions helped to truly propel learning. They also augmented the group training and practical application of learnings to smooth adoption, resulting in 100% of the team becoming Tableau Viewers within seven months.

Executive sponsorship contributed to this success and helped to counter initial resistance to change. In fact, Benson himself completed a series of training to become a Tableau Creator, meaning he can create visualizations and dashboards for others to interact with.

“Now everyone in the team uses Tableau because they’ve experienced for themselves how easy and convenient it is to access the data they need. However, we had to set the tone from the top and lead by example or we may not have progressed as fast as we did,” said Benson.

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Community helps to grow data culture and promote best practice

The controllership is now close to reaching additional targets of 100% of the team becoming Tableau Explorers and more than 50% becoming Tableau Creators. It is also building a community of super users who will help to grow the team’s data culture and promote best practice. The community will also serve as a first line of support to other users in their region.

At the same time, the controllership is proactively sharing its journey to help drive adoption across the wider finance team. It is also leading by example and embedding the use of Tableau into processes like the month-end close and quarterly business reviews.

Some of the benefits achieved so far include up to 67% time savings for balance sheet reconciliations and greater efficiency of month-end close.

The controllership has more time to apply its new data skills which will ultimately help it provide more strategic support to the business. For example, it will be able to better identify trends or anomalies in spending and use these insights to help business lines manage their costs.

The role of the accountant is changing. It is not just about crunching numbers, but analyzing the results and Tableau is a great tool to help move us in that direction.