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How to Prepare FP&A Data for Automation & Machine Learning: A Practical Guide

January 1, 1970

As businesses strive for increased efficiency and accurate decision-making, the integration of automation and machine learning within financial planning and analysis (FP&A) departments has become essential. By leveraging these technologies, organizations can unlock valuable insights and streamline their FP&A processes.

Techniques like machine learning rely on the data that goes into the model for their quality and performance. The better and more varied the data is for the particular use case, the better the model will learn how to carry out the required function automatically. So a critical focus early in the ML process are the steps involved in preparing and processing the data for the next steps like training and deployment.

How Machine Learning Can Benefit Your FP&A Department:

  • Step 1: Assess Data Quality and Consistency

    Before diving into automation and machine learning, it is imperative to assess the quality and consistency of your FP&A data. Conduct a comprehensive data audit to identify any inaccuracies, missing values, or inconsistencies in your datasets. Cleanse and standardize the data by resolving discrepancies and filling in missing information. This step establishes a solid foundation for accurate and reliable machine learning models.
  • Step 2: Define Clear Objectives

    Clearly define your FP&A objectives and determine the specific areas where automation and machine learning will be applied. Whether it's forecasting, budgeting, variance analysis, or scenario modeling, having clear objectives helps you focus your efforts on collecting the right data and implementing relevant machine learning algorithms to address your organization's needs effectively.
  • Step 3: Gather Relevant Data

    To harness the power of machine learning, gather relevant FP&A data from various sources. This may include financial systems, ERP software, spreadsheets, and external data sources. Ensure that your dataset encompasses historical data that spans an adequate time period to capture meaningful trends and patterns. Consider incorporating non-financial data, such as customer data, market trends, or macroeconomic indicators, to enrich your models and enhance forecasting accuracy.
  • Step 4: Data Integration and Transformation

    Integrate and transform your FP&A data into a unified format suitable for machine learning. Consolidate data from different sources into a centralized data repository or data warehouse. Ensure compatibility and consistency by standardizing units of measurement, currencies, and formatting. Depending on the complexity of your data, you may need to perform additional transformations, such as aggregating data at different levels of granularity or normalizing variables.
  • Step 5: Feature Engineering

    Feature engineering involves selecting and creating relevant features that will serve as inputs for your machine learning models. Analyze your data to identify key variables that are likely to influence your FP&A outcomes. Create new features by combining existing ones, calculating ratios, or incorporating domain knowledge. Effective feature engineering enhances the performance and interpretability of your machine learning models.
  • Step 6: Data Splitting and Validation

    To ensure accurate evaluation of your machine learning models, split your data into training and validation sets. The training set is used to train the models, while the validation set helps assess their performance. It is crucial to split the data in a manner that preserves the temporal order, especially when working with time-series data. This allows for realistic validation and testing of the models' ability to generalize.
  • Step 7: Data Preprocessing and Normalization

    Before feeding your data into machine learning algorithms, it is essential to preprocess and normalize it. Common preprocessing steps include handling missing values, removing outliers, and scaling numerical features. Missing values can be imputed using appropriate techniques such as mean or median imputation. Outliers can be treated by winsorization or removing extreme values. Scaling numerical features to a standardized range ensures fair comparisons among different variables.
  • Step 8: Encoding Categorical Variables

    If your FP&A data contains categorical variables, they need to be encoded numerically for machine learning algorithms to process them effectively. Depending on the nature of the categorical variables, you can choose between one-hot encoding, label encoding, or target encoding. One-hot encoding creates binary columns for each category, while label encoding assigns a numerical label to each category. Target encoding replaces categories with the mean target value for that category.
  • Step 9: Feature Selection

    Feature selection helps identify the most relevant variables that contribute to your FP&A outcomes. Use statistical techniques, such as correlation analysis or mutual information, to determine the importance of features. Eliminate redundant or irrelevant features, as they can negatively impact model performance and increase computational complexity.
  • Step 10: Data Documentation and Version Control

    Maintain proper documentation of your data preparation steps, including data sources, transformation procedures, and preprocessing techniques. Implement version control mechanisms to track changes made to your datasets over time. This ensures reproducibility, transparency, and facilitates collaboration among team members.

Preparing FP&A data for automation and machine learning is a crucial step towards unlocking the full potential of these technologies. Modern ML platforms like RapidCanvas offer AutoML capabilities that help automate and simplify the steps outlined here, reducing the time to prepare  datasets for model training. Data transformations can be carried out with a few simple clicks.

By following these essential steps, users are well-equipped to implement and roll out a successful automation and machine learning solution within an FP&A department.

Talk to RapidCanvas today to learn more about our turnkey solutions for FP&A teams

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