01.02.24

Getting Unstuck and Unlocking Ambition w/ Kristal Searle

Listen Now:

Are you feeling stuck trying to tap into your organization’s data? Today we’re diving headfirst into 2024 with a discussion with Kristal Searle, Director of Strategic Operations for Coleman Oil that can illuminate the path that gets you unstuck. Listen in as Rob and Justin chat with Kristal Searle, a finance leader turned digital transformation driver. Kristal shares her journey from tentative Power BI beginner to confident head of BI strategy, crediting the P3 Adaptive approach for accelerating her capability along the way.

 

Through hands-on projects, Kristal saw firsthand how Power BI could provide real digital action versus more typical mystical transformations. We discuss false starts with other tools, the power of rapid iterations to prove concepts, and what it takes to build ambition for organization-wide change. Kristal offers sage advice on getting unstuck – from both data and outdated processes – to drive profitability.

 

While respecting her accounting roots, Kristal has grown to appreciate and harness the similarities between the rhythms of month-end close and the potential for real-time reporting. With longtime P3 partners by her side, she transformed not only systems but also her personal mindset and skills through tangible steps.

 

The moral of the story: your title doesn’t define your actual skills, duties, or goals. As you prepare for the inevitable changes of 2024, this episode can give you a heads up on the competition by sharing real stories of how P3 Adaptive and the Power Platform can help enable and realize your BI and Improvement ambitions, letting you, not the tools, be the star in the process.

 

As always, if you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe now so you never miss an episode of Raw Data by P3 Adaptive! And please leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform to help other listeners find our show.

Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello, friends, and welcome to 2024. First episode of the year, we're coming out of the gate hot. Today's guest is Kristal Searle. When we met, she was CFO of Stinker Stores, a chain of gas station and convenience stores with over a hundred locations, and they grew about 50% while Kristal was there. After about six years at Stinker where she helped power their rapid expansion, which is something that P3 helped her with, today, she is Director of Strategic Projects at Coleman Oil.

(00:00:29): There's a phrase that came up during this conversation that I think is incredibly important, and I've never heard these two words together until this conversation, and the words are ambition enablement, and fundamentally, that's what we're here for, ambition enablement. This new wave of data tools, Power BI and its ever-growing family of associates, as magical as those tools are, they are not the star and they certainly aren't the goal. Ambition enablement is a fantastic two-word encapsulation of the collaboration between Kristal and her team, P3 and, of course, those tools.

(00:01:05): While she was CFO at Stinker, that organization experienced tremendous growth and improvement that was powered by those tools, but unlocked by the people. And of course, we, P3, are some of those people, and this is the kind of thing that truly gets us out of bed in the morning. This is the thing that brings us to work is bringing that kind of magical impact, that ambition enablement to organizations, but also to individuals like Kristal herself.

(00:01:32): This relatively short journey has not been good just for, for example, Stinker Stores, it's also been amazing for Kristal's career. I don't know why we tend to feel a little bit squeamish about that kind of thing. Why don't we talk about how good it's been for people's careers? And I'm not just talking about the practitioners here like people who have adopted Power BI and gotten good at writing DACs. In the course of this conversation, you'll hear that Kristal did not become some super technical practitioner of Power BI. She didn't have to. "All" she needed to do, with all in quotes, is engage with us and provide that leadership, direction and vision that she really already had when we first met, that whole, there's got to be a better way feeling. That's what I'm talking about. She showed up with ambitions. We helped her realize those ambitions with the tools, and we also helped her expand those ambitions.

(00:02:27): So this is a story about mid-market companies punching above their weight, about them getting unstuck, getting off the starting line, unlocking long stymied ambitions, both organizational and personal. By the way, that important theme, which is the distinction between hard skills and the human plane comes up right at the beginning when Kristal says that she's an accountant by education, and she makes that distinction because the word accountant doesn't begin to encapsulate her as a professional. She's done much more than that, she's become much more than that, and her career arc has taken her to many places that don't fit under that single word label.

(00:03:08): And I think that's probably true of many, if not most accountants. And by the way, if you're an accountant, either by education or by current trade, definitely stick around for near the end when we talk about the ongoing and worsening accountant shortage and how we think this latest generation of data tools could actually be the antidote. And for a little bonus, it's also a story of a false start with Tableau rescued with the sweet, sweet goodness of Power BI. So please join us as we look 2024 right in the eye and say, Let's get into it.

Announcer 1 (00:03:47): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?

Announcer 2 (00:03:51): This is the Raw Data By P3 Adaptive Podcast with your host, Rob Collie and your co-host, Justin Mannhardt. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Raw Data By P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.

Rob Collie (00:04:17): Welcome to the show, Kristal Searle. So good to see you again. How are you today?

Kristal Searle (00:04:22): I'm great, Rob. Thanks for having me on the show.

Rob Collie (00:04:24): So Kristal, I think we met in Indy. Is that correct?

Kristal Searle (00:04:27): Correct.

Rob Collie (00:04:28): So you were at the final class we taught before COVID.

Justin Mannhardt (00:04:33): Wow.

Kristal Searle (00:04:33): Yeah, January 2020, before the world changed. I think that was one of the last trips I took and had a fantastic time meeting you and going through some Power BI training before the world spun out of control.

Rob Collie (00:04:47): That's right, just a month later. That was the same one where Matt Selig of Bar Keepers Friend was also in that class. I don't know if the two of you interacted. Those were two really, really great relationships that started with that class.

Justin Mannhardt (00:05:00): Rob, is this one I came and taught Power Query?

Rob Collie (00:05:03): I think it might've been, yeah.

Justin Mannhardt (00:05:04): Wow.

Rob Collie (00:05:05): And then you were back shortly thereafter in Indy, yeah.

Justin Mannhardt (00:05:08): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:05:09): Where do you come from Kristal? How'd you come up through the ranks?

Kristal Searle (00:05:11): I would say I'm an accountant by education. Did an accounting degree in college, took the CPA exam and passed after graduating, and started as a auditor with KPMG. Spent the first nine years of my career with KPMG in their audit practice. And after about nine years, found a great opportunity with a company in the convenience store industry that was looking for a chief financial officer, thought it sounded like a great opportunity and took that position and spent about six and a half years in that role. And one of the key accomplishments for me in that role was rolling out Power BI reporting that had a significant impact on the company's operations as well as our accounting and finance teams.

(00:06:05): After about six and a half years, decided it was time to do something a bit different. I had really found that as I got involved with Power BI development more from a visionary standpoint, I don't do the hands-on-the-keyboard stuff, but as I had this vision of what Power BI could do and was able to implement those things within my company, I realized that I had a passion and also a skill for seeing the business more from just the financial side and wanted to have an opportunity where I could go have an impact on a business that wouldn't be as much of the day-to-day finance and accounting responsibilities.

(00:06:52): Found an opportunity with a company that is rapidly growing in the wholesale and retail fuel transportation business throughout the Pacific Northwest, and they needed someone who could step in in various places within the company and make an immediate impact. And I thought that sounds like a great opportunity so I took a role as director of strategic projects where if I could distill down what's the key or a key element of my role, there's things related to process improvement and building capacity and efficiencies and problem solving, but I think it really comes down to building up people, processes and data to be able to scale for future growth. And Power BI has really been a key part of all of those elements in how I am approaching that role.

Rob Collie (00:07:46): I got to compliment you, first of all, on your succinctness. You just summarized 16 plus years of career and life in such a short and direct summary.

Justin Mannhardt (00:07:59): Nailed it.

Rob Collie (00:08:00): You will never find me covering 16 years in such a short amount of time. Well done. So we want to slow down now. Loved how you started off with saying, I'm an accountant by education because just calling yourself an accountant, I'm just generally kind of against using nouns to describe myself, right, because you say I'm an accountant and everyone gets a million pictures in their head that may or may not be true or might be true, but isn't the whole story. You went to school for accounting, nine years at KPMG, but where things really get interesting is the transformation. So six and a half years working for a retail store chain, so a convenience store and gas station type chain. How many stores, how many locations did they have?

Kristal Searle (00:08:47): Yeah, when I walked in the door, we had 65 stores and they were all in Idaho, and when I left, we had over 100 stores scattered through Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming. So during that time, we had done a lot of growth and lots of fun.

Rob Collie (00:09:04): And it's a six-and-a-half-year stint. And so at what year mark, at maybe around the three year mark is when we cross paths, is that right?

Kristal Searle (00:09:13): Yeah, right around year three.

Rob Collie (00:09:15): Okay. So for people who are listening, I have a belief that where you were at in 2020 when we met is a place that a lot of people are still in today, on the starting line. Now, maybe I'm wrong about that, maybe you weren't on the starting line, but that's my belief is in 2020 you were about to embark on something different. Is that accurate?

Kristal Searle (00:09:39): I think in 2020 when we had met, there were sort of two parallel things happening for me as a professional. One was related to my role as a chief financial officer. We had a point of sale system within the company that we needed to get some data out of the system that was a challenge. The data was in a XML file that came across for every store, every day, an individual file. And the information within that file was nested within, nested within, nested within, nested, there was about a-

Justin Mannhardt (00:10:15): Oh, yeah.

Kristal Searle (00:10:16): If I remember correctly, there was maybe a 50-page document that was what I called the decoder ring that would tell you what all of the individual tags meant.

Justin Mannhardt (00:10:25): I'm having flashbacks, Kristal, 'cause I remember helping Mark think about the decoder ring.

Kristal Searle (00:10:33): Yeah, Mark saved us. Mark saved us on that. That was kind of the crux of what was going on professionally. We had this, within my role, we had this massive data set that didn't make any sense from a structure standpoint. And for us as a company to really push ourselves to the next level, we needed access to that data. We were bringing on some very talented people on the marketing and category management side of things and they would show up and say, How do I get access to transaction level data at a store level? And we'd say, It's kind of tricky and we don't have something that's enterprise-wide that you can easily access that information. So I felt a tremendous amount of responsibility as the chief financial officer to be able to provide that information and come up with solutions to do that.

(00:11:25): And I had an individual on my team who was very talented in being able to learn new skills and I tasked him with coming up with a recommendation like we got to start playing in the business intelligence world. And the two big players that I knew at the time were Tableau and Power BI, and this would've been around 2017, 2018. I'm not an expert on all things Microsoft, but my sense is around that time, Microsoft was a bit sleepy in the business intelligence front. Power BI was out there, but it really wasn't getting a lot of traction, and Tableau was the big player.

(00:12:07): We ultimately decided to start our business intelligence journey with Tableau and not so much just because they were the big player. We didn't immediately say, Hey, this is the name that everyone knows and is using, so let's use them. This individual on my team did some research and presented a good case of evaluating Tableau and Power BI. At that moment in time, we made the right decision. And he started building out reporting. My sense whenever I would see the behind the scenes of the reports or try to interact with the reports is that it was a little, I guess, clunky, not very user-friendly. From my perspective, the development backend side and the front end user interface for Tableau seemed cumbersome. We were building some reports that were providing useful information that we didn't have before. No discredit to the individual who was building the reports. It was more just my perspective of Tableau.

(00:13:08): So that's going on. We're working as a finance team to get information, particularly point of sale information to our operations category management and marketing team. We hadn't quite cracked the nut on that XML data. We had some people internally who were reaching out to some consulting companies to get some pricing, more from some groups that were kind of data architect, data engineer type companies. And I remember looking at a proposal that this consulting firm had put together for us that was about five pages long and not a lot of words. It wasn't like it was five pages of rich dense text, some paragraphs and then some bullets. I remember reading through that proposal and getting to the end of it and seeing a estimated value of work of somewhere between 80 to $120,000, and thinking I just read five pages and I have no idea what we're going to get as a result of this. We're going to pay somewhere around a hundred thousand dollars.

Justin Mannhardt (00:14:19): You're going to get a withdrawal from your bank account.

Rob Collie (00:14:22): You're definitely going to get that. Yeah, that's for sure.

Kristal Searle (00:14:26): Definitely less money in the bank account. I read it as we're going to get kind of a plan to make a plan, we're going to pay a hundred thousand dollars for... And it's been several years since I've looked at that statement of work, but my recollection is I get to the end of it and go, We don't even really get anything except a withdrawal from our bank account for a hundred thousand dollars.

Justin Mannhardt (00:14:47): You heard it here, folks, hundred thousand dollars plan could be yours.

Rob Collie (00:14:52): I mean, you might get it for 80 or it might be 120.

Justin Mannhardt (00:14:55): The sixth page is the extra 40 grand.

Rob Collie (00:14:58): Press here for more.

Kristal Searle (00:14:59): What they knew is they were going to get some consulting fees. I don't know what I'm going to get, but their uncertainty was whether they were going to get $80,000 or $120,000. My uncertainty was am I even going to get anything? And even if I got something, I could tell by reading the statement of work that I certainly wasn't going to get anything of value to the company, and I was just going to have to keep spending more and more money and I had no idea what it would be.

Rob Collie (00:15:29): Let me react to and validate a number of things that you've already said, ticking so many check boxes. So first of all, the hundred thousand dollar first touch proposal, that checks out. Six figures is kind of the minimum buy-in for most consulting firms to touch something and it's always been the case. It's one of the things that at P3, we set out to not do.

(00:15:51): And another thing about that proposal, at the end of it, you'll get some vague sense of architecture, some vague sense of plumbing out of it. It sounds like they deliberately avoided describing their deliverables in terms of things that actually impact the business. You will have this problem solved, you will have this information that you don't have today. That would be understandable and valuable, whereas you were right to go, I don't know. I have this piece of art that I've actually even commissioned. We have this art, we just haven't shared it, of a consultant, but it's really a wizard from a Disney movie hypnotizing you like, I speak in mythical language that goes over your head, but trust me, young one, we will do... No. No, they won't. That certainly resonated with me.

(00:16:33): Another thing that jumped out at me was, Oh look, it's the CFO. They're in charge of BI, right? Of course, this is true for Matt Selig who was also in that class with you. He's CFO at Bar Keepers Friend, and when you're the finance person, you're also like the spreadsheet person, which makes you the tech person by default in a lot of ways, right? I actually think this works great. I think it's great to have someone like the CFO accidentally become in charge of the BI thing, much better than CIO, which is at larger companies what often happens.

(00:17:07): But the thing that really jumped out at me kind of hearkens back to something I said earlier is you're bringing in these retail channel experts and the first thing that they need in terms of data, you don't have. That's something that on the one hand, that's just like table stakes. At that moment in time in that era when these people are coming in and you can't give them what they need to succeed, were you feeling like your organization was sort of like uniquely hamstrung or uniquely behind the times? Did you have this feeling of everyone else has got this sorted out, but us? Because I see that a lot.

Kristal Searle (00:17:44): I think maybe I had the perception perhaps of that. So that company I was with, we weren't using one of the more common enterprise reporting systems or ERP systems, but I now work at a company that uses that other system that's pretty widely used within the petroleum industry and it's still sort of the same situation. The data is definitely better structured, but there is a key lesson I have learned throughout my data journey of working with P3 and just getting more exposure to data, it's never clean, no matter what system you're on.

(00:18:32): So I think any company is going to have these types of challenges, even if you're using the ERP system that everyone else uses. Everyone else is in the same boat, and that's not a discredit or a slam on any particular ERP system. The ERP system is built to record transactions and, hopefully, store data in a sane and logical fashion. An ERP system is not meant to be a business intelligence system, and I think any ERP system that sells itself as business intelligence and that it's going to provide business intelligence, I don't believe that because I believe that who is going to win the business intelligence game? It's Microsoft. No ERP system is going to be able to compete with Microsoft and what they're doing on the business intelligence front with Power BI and other elements of the Microsoft Power Platform, which now interweave in with Power BI.

(00:19:41): My view is that, again, not a Microsoft expert here, no inside knowledge there, but my perception is a business user is what Microsoft is trying to do with the Microsoft Power Platform, which includes Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate. They are trying to make those applications as integrated, as critical, as necessary as Excel is within a business. And I think the businesses that are going to thrive in the future are those that look at those tools on the Microsoft Power Platform and say, All right, let's roll the clock back. Yeah, 40 years ago, Excel comes onto the scene, it's new, it takes some time to learn it, but now, you can't get through a day, even if you're not an accountant, even if you're not really a numbers person, really any business person probably isn't going to get through much of a day without interacting with Excel. And I think we need to approach the elements of the Microsoft Power Platform in a very similar way and make those as common and as familiar in our businesses with all the people touching everything in a business as Excel is.

Rob Collie (00:21:01): I agree completely.

Justin Mannhardt (00:21:02): When you were describing your experience with data quality and this realization that nobody's data is clean, I sort of connected the dots to that initial proposal you got 'cause sometimes what happens to companies, at least my experience, is they'll say, Oh, before we do anything with BI or analytics, we've got to get our data clean first. And somebody will come in and similarly, where you maybe got this vague proposal about your data plumbing, people will get similarly vague proposals about, Oh, we've got to deal with all your process and data cleanliness and then, you can move on. You were able to get through this. You've not been spending the last eight years of your career cleaning up your data. You've actually been making progress on the analytics side of that. I'm just curious, what were some of the aha moments for you on that aspect? Because I think you're probably more confident about the steps now you've been through this maybe a couple of times in a big way.

Kristal Searle (00:21:55): Yeah, I think definitely have been spending time not worried about how clean is the data, worrying about how can we use the data. My experience has been you could sit around for many years and try and get the data to be clean and perfect, but you're never going to get it to be clean and perfect. To what end? So you're going to make it clean and perfect for what use? Even if you do get the data clean and perfect for one use, once you get through that use, you're going to have another use for the data and then the data is going to need to be manipulated and modified for some different use. So the approach that I have has really been shaped by the mentality that the P3 consultants bring. And what I really love about P3 is when I got the statement of work from P3, there were maybe two bullet points, two or three bullet points. I knew what they meant. I could see in those two or three bullet points I was going to get value. The document was less than a page. I signed it, we started doing work, and literally within days, less than a week of starting any project with P3, I get a tangible product that I can immediately start implementing, making decisions, putting it in the hands of users to get information, make better decisions, and run the business more profitably.

Rob Collie (00:23:23): I love that. I think my favorite thing I've ever heard someone say about us is both funny and true. My favorite things were the things that are both funny and true, and you just absolutely nailed it. You said something about us on the way in, right? So you had an impression on the way in.

Kristal Searle (00:23:38): So when I decided that I wanted to give Power BI a try within my company, I needed someone to help implement that. And I talked to P3 about the process to become a P3 client, and that process included before you could start buying a bucket of hours to use and have all sorts of projects and a consulting agreement...

Kristal Searle (00:24:03): ... have all sorts of projects and a consulting agreement. The first step is to do what you all refer to as a jumpstart project, and at that time, the jumpstarts were structured to be four business days of pretty intense work from the P3 consultant side, as well as from the client side. You needed to have the key stakeholders available to have conversations, outline the scope of work for the product to be produced during that week, and then be available for review and follow-up questions as the product was developed throughout the week. So there was a time component of getting through an intensive week and putting other projects on hold for business days, and then there was a dollar component. The price was around $12,000 at the time. I looked at that initial $12,000 price tag and said, that's not going to break the bank for us.

(00:24:54): Certainly meaningful, not dollars that I wanted to flush down the toilet, but said that's a relatively low risk from a dollar standpoint, and I think we can get over giving up the time for a week. So as I proposed the plan to our president and CEO, what I was really struggling with internally was we've been doing work in Tableau and we've built some reporting, but we weren't to the point of no return. I've been to the Power BI training that Rob did and had started having some thoughts in my mind of, I can't articulate why. But for me, power BI just seems to be the better solution. I didn't have the techie nerd words to attach.

Rob Collie (00:25:36): But the non cumbersome.

Kristal Searle (00:25:38): Yeah, the non cumbersome.

Rob Collie (00:25:39): You get that sense, and it's more than intuition, but it is very difficult to explain. It took me many, many years to develop the vocabulary to describe why Power BI isn't cumbersome and something like Tableau is. I've been there, I worked on these things, and I've still been in exactly the state that you were in. Let's be sensitive to this. You had been involved in a Tableau initiative, and so now you're going to your management team saying, "I want to try something different than the thing that I'm already doing." That takes a lot of courage, right? That's not a small thing, to go and propose that we spend some money and time exploring another direction from the one that I previously recommended.

Kristal Searle (00:26:21): Exactly. Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:26:22): That pitch is a sensitive one.

Kristal Searle (00:26:23): Yeah. We've taken a calculated risk on the Tableau One, thought we were headed down the right path, invested time and dollars, and yeah, I'm saying I think I want to change paths, and there's going to be some time and dollars involved in that. As I was talking through with our president and CEO, I looked at him and I said, "Look, worst case scenario is we lose a week of our time and $12,000. The worst case is we spend this time, we spend these dollars, we have a report developed within the week, and over time, we realize we don't like the report, we don't like Power BI, and the thing just sort of withers and dies and gets no use. That's the worst case."

Rob Collie (00:27:06): Worst case.

Kristal Searle (00:27:08): Then I smiled at him and said, "Or I actually think the real worst case is we're going to find out Power BI is the tool we want, the tool we need, and I'm going to be back in front of you asking for a whole lot more money. The worst case scenario is this thing is awesome and we start writing a whole lot more checks to P3." And that's what ended up happening. And I said worst case scenario with a smile. It was actually the best case scenario. All of those dollars that were spent in the development after the jumpstart have yielded tremendous returns for the company from a profitability standpoint in how the company's able to manage operations and use data to be more profitable and productive in making business decisions.

Justin Mannhardt (00:27:59): Oh yeah. That's how it's supposed to work, by the way. That's how it's supposed to work.

Rob Collie (00:28:05): In a nutshell, that's why I started this company, knowing that it could be like that. And so to have such a clear and crisp example of it, but more importantly... We get examples of this all the time, but we don't do a good enough job of telling these stories. First of all, again, thank you, thank you, thank you so much for coming on and talking about this. It's just regardless of the commercial value to us of telling these stories. This is just a really feel good story. This is how the human being's lives improved. That feeling is a big reason that drives us here. Yes, it's a good business, but how many businesses get to make that kind of impact in the human plane, right? It's so much fun. It's so validating.

Kristal Searle (00:28:50): Rob. The thought that came to my mind is refreshing. Whenever I work with P3, I feel refreshed. And from the standpoint of typically when I work with consulting companies, whether it's the example I gave previously of a statement of work that you read through it and go lots of pages, lots of words, big dollars, no tangible result that I can see here, or working with third parties in general, whether it's a bank attorneys, other accountants, anytime you have third parties involved, someone needs to manage them internally. And that's not a discredit to the third parties. They're not inside the company. They don't know who to talk to, don't have all the right channels of communication, all the time. So there's a process for managing consultants or third parties that happens anytime a company engages those types of professionals within a business. And as one who has had opportunities to manage those types of relationships throughout my career, they can at times be a little tiring or exhausting, right?

(00:29:58): It's one more thing to do. It's part of the job. And again, it's not that those professionals are doing a bad job, it's just part of how it goes. But the thing for me that's very unique about P3 and the approach that P3 uses is somehow, and it's magic, I don't know how you do it, but I don't have to manage the consultants. Do I need to make sure they have work and projects to do? Yes, but I would do that if I had those individuals on my team full-time, right? It's not something that feels a little bit extra. I would say the exhaustion that I do feel from working from P3 is that it's exhausting to keep up with you all.

(00:30:42): That was one of my big ahas when I started working with data, but particularly with P3, is wow, stuff can get done really fast, fast to the standpoint of the first couple little projects I had after we went full time on a consulting agreement with P3, I thought, okay, here's some work, I'll talk to the consultant, outline what needs to be done, and then yeah, they'll go do their work for a few days or weeks, and then we'll come back together and talk about the next thing. In some cases, it's literally hours between when I outline a project and there's an email that says, "Here, go check this out." So I very quickly had to learn that I had to run pretty fast to be able to keep up with P3 and keep that pipeline of work full because the P3 consultants can deliver a tremendous amount of work, which results in a tremendous amount of value as a client.

Rob Collie (00:31:48): So Justin and I earlier this week were met in person for a number of things. One of the things we were doing together was going over and kind of refining what the core values are for P3, both internally and externally. And mostly this has been a reverse engineering process.

Justin Mannhardt (00:32:08): Right.

Rob Collie (00:32:08): We're not coming up with, oh, here's what we think we should be. We're crystallizing for the first time... Oh, look, crystallizing. Ah.

Kristal Searle (00:32:16): There we go.

Rob Collie (00:32:16): That means making it extra witty.

Justin Mannhardt (00:32:19): Yeah. Luke, can you stitch in the ba dum tss for Rob just a couple times?

Rob Collie (00:32:23): Anyway, so yeah, we're crystallizing these things, and so many things you've been saying, and especially in the last few minutes... First of all, the speed with which we come back to you for your input, that's critical, critically important. The firms that go off and do lots of work in the dark, it gives you the illusion that you don't need to manage them. What they're really doing is racking up all kinds of build hours and absolutely diverging if they were ever on the same path. They're diverging from your real intent and they're doing it in the dark, and so when they do come back to you, A, you're now on the hook for all of that burned time financially, and B, you've got a much bigger problem to address because of how much drift there was. And I think this is just fundamentally a huge problem that has to be solved.

(00:33:18): This isn't just about P3 and how we operate. We chose to operate this way because it's the only way that really works, and the tools now allow it. We're able to move fast enough to say, "We think this chart or whatever is what you're after," and you can just very quickly say no. Or maybe, this is also true, it might be exactly what you had in mind, but the moment you see it, you go, "Oh, you know what? I asked for the wrong thing." That's also possible. That happens all the time. Human beings are just like this. So the iteration at a level that you can see and understand, in the same way that you talked about the proposals, right? Like one proposal, you read it's five pages long, you have no idea what it means, and the other one is short and you understand exactly what it means, the same can be true of outputs, intermediate outputs, right?

(00:34:10): Imagine if you had signed with the $100,000 vague firm, and they would go off for a couple of months or whatever for their first milestone, and they'd come back and they'd show you something. And you wouldn't even know what the intermediate result really was. They would just show you some sort of schema diagram or some entity diagram, or something like that, and you'd have to sit there and kind of nod and pretend. It's weird. So iterating at a level that the stakeholder can understand. You can look at a chart and you can see if that's right. You can look at a number and see, does that number match the numbers that I know to be true from other sources? Right? And doing that quickly so that there isn't wasted time, there isn't wasted effort, this is crucial. By the way, it's one of the things that Justin and I were identifying as something crucial about the way we operate.

Justin Mannhardt (00:34:56): Kristal's story. Rob, it helped me think about something, I think about my mission on two fronts. So one is what Kristal was describing, her experience as a business leader, realizing that working with a consulting firm doesn't need to be exhausting. It can be refreshing. I love that word, by the way. And then also on the other side, for the practitioners or our consultants that actually perform the work, doing the work can be massively refreshing and fulfilling because you're at this intersection of helping someone like Kristal make massive leaps in improvements. And for both of those parties to realize that you're capable of moving at a speed and a pace, that's something you probably assume just wasn't possible. It's like, oh, yeah, that's the way it works. We move slow and steady. And so when you have this rapid fire iteration and sort of realize like, no, this isn't going to take two months, this is going to take two days.

(00:35:51): I was listening to a story today actually, we did one of these jumpstarts with another customer. It's like something that had been going on for 10 months got solved in two hours. You put the right people with the right passion with the right partners, and you get this magical experience. And that's like bang, feels so good to have someone play that back.

Rob Collie (00:36:09): Did you also catch, Justin, the creates time?

Justin Mannhardt (00:36:12): Yeah, for sure.

Rob Collie (00:36:13): That's something we've been kicking around, Kristal as a result of another conversation we had on another podcast is that as a result of the way that we've built ourselves, we create time for the project sponsor. So in this case, you. We hire vendors as well. We know what that's like. It takes a lot of time and energy to manage vendors. So even if a vendor is adding capability and is adding person hours to the pie, they're still slicing up your time. And you don't get to create more time for yourself. If you had all the vendors in the world adding horsepower to your organization, but they're all reliant on you and you're required to keep them on track, you're going to run out of your time in a hurry. And so one of the things we strive for is to, in addition to being the horsepower that executes on projects for you, which is really what you go to vendors for, they've got expertise and they've got additional time that they can deploy on your problems, that combination expertise and time, but we also take less of your time than what you would expect.

(00:37:23): That's one of the things that we're striving for. In a way, we're expanding your executive hours. Your day has more hours in it because we're able to proxy for you in a way that most of the time on a vendor relationship, you can't. And so to hear you say that, because we didn't rehearse this ahead of time, right? I'm just, oh, yes. So Justin, we're definitely including that.

Justin Mannhardt (00:37:43): Yeah, love it.

Kristal Searle (00:37:45): So Rob, you've mentioned this concept a couple times of the getting off the starting line and feeling stuck. And I think if we go back to, I mentioned when I met you, I was kind of going down two paths of things. We had my journey and my CFO role of how I ultimately got to the worst case scenario of spending $12,000 or a whole lot more, and ultimately entering into a great relationship with P3, but I was also going down this other track where I was feeling stuck and I was trying to get unstuck. How that came to be is I'm a CPA, certified public accountant. And as part of maintaining my license, I am required to get a certain amount of continuing education credits each year.

Justin Mannhardt (00:38:33): Right.

Kristal Searle (00:38:33): In 2018 and 2019, I'd sat in on, over the course of those two years, maybe three to five, one hour webinars on topics of digital transformation. These webinars from various providers would come across my inbox. I'm like, okay, sounds like an interesting. One is I really did have this interest in data and could see that the world, as well as the accounting profession, was starting to change a little bit. So I'm like, all right, I'll sit in on these webinars and get informed. And towards the end of 2019, I sat through either the third, fourth, or fifth one of those types of presentations and went, okay, I'm getting nothing out of these. All they're doing is saying, "Digital transformation is coming. CFOs should lead the digital transformation," but I'm sitting at the end of those webinars thinking, so what am I supposed to do? Please tell me something to do. I made a commitment to myself that in 2020, I would find something substantial, from a continuing education standpoint, to immerse me in what this digital transformation and business intelligence thing, what that all meant.

(00:39:48): I was going to no longer sit in a one hour webinar with the title of digital transformation. I was done with those. They were in the past. I had made that vow to myself. I was gathering some end of year continuing education credits in either October or November, and Rob and a colleague were presenting at the American Institute of CPA's conference. I don't remember anything about the details of that presentation. It wasn't a, let's get up on the screen and do a sales pitch for P three. It wasn't that. It also wasn't a, here's all the things that Power BI can do. I don't know how you did it, Rob, but somehow in that presentation, you gave me that feeling of there is something different with Power BI.

(00:40:37): And remember at that time, we were using Tableau at my company. And as soon as your webinar ended, I stood up, I went out of my office door, and I went to the office of the individual who was doing our Tableau development and had ultimately made the suggestion or recommendation to go with Tableau over Power BI, and I said, "Can you remind me again, why did we choose Tableau? What was wrong with Power BI?" And again, that is not to discredit this individual and the decision they made, but I just had this feeling that when there is something we've got to tap into here, I started doing a little more research on P3 and who this Rob Collie guy was. Turns out he wrote the book on Power Pivot Pro, literally wrote the book on Power Pivot Pro.

(00:41:26): And I learned that P3 did trainings, and I thought, all right, I can go to Indianapolis for a couple days, get some continuing education credit and force myself to spend two days swimming around in Power BI and kind of figure out what this thing is and keep my commitment to myself that in 2020, I was going to do more than a one hour webinar on digital transformation. I was going to take action. That's when I met you, Rob, and got down the next path of my journey of off the starting line and starting to take action, and really own the development and implementation of business intelligence through Power BI within my organization.

Justin Mannhardt (00:42:11): True story, Kristal. I was with Rob earlier this week. At some point in our meeting, he goes, "Justin, how would you define digital transformation?" And I just sort of sat there, and now just thinking about you and these webinars was like, what is this? I had an answer, but-

Rob Collie (00:42:28): I don't remember it. Whatever you told me, I don't remember it, Justin.

Justin Mannhardt (00:42:30): Exactly.

Rob Collie (00:42:31): That's the thing, right? How can you answer it? So these buzz phrases, you can't disagree with them. Well, of course we should be digital, and I don't think we're digital. We need to transform. They create a sense of insecurity, but they're incredibly unspecific. Many years ago working at Microsoft, I don't know, around 2000, the buzz phrase, believe it or not, was collaboration. Everything we were going to work on in office in that release was going to be collaboration focused. And so I swear this happened. We sent all of these engineers out into the world to visit customers to learn about collaboration. I remember this one guy coming back from one of these visits and describing laughing the whole time, step after step after step. We asked him, "Did you find collaboration?"

(00:43:19): He said, "Oh, no, no, I didn't find collaboration, but I did find this guy that collects these spreadsheets. And then he gets them back, and then he does this process. And this engineer had written down every last step. Today, we would look at it and go, oh, this is a data transformation process. This is ETL. It was like a budgeting process, right? And he was describing how this person would go through all these incredible manual steps to mash all this data together. And this was just a joke amongst us at this point. We were just all laughing at how awful this process was this person had to go through. And it wasn't until years later that I realized that he was the only one that had gone out and found an example of collaboration because these spreadsheets were being distributed and filled out and brought back together in one place, right?

(00:44:05): And so the rest of us had come back to talk about collaboration. We actually had good stories. None of our stories were good. His was the only one that was good, and we thought it was a joke, until you collapse something down to actual components, you can actually point to something tangible and say this is part of it, right? Of course, a good BI system is part of digital transformation. Duh. I don't even think I had internalized that. I hadn't crystallized it. There it is again.

Justin Mannhardt (00:44:33): Ah geez.

Rob Collie (00:44:34): And so at this moment... Dude, from now on, crystallize is spelled with a K.

Kristal Searle (00:44:40): Yes. Yes. Love it. Well, I'm glad you brought that up because the phrase data transformation is what those consulting wizards do. They have to put this fancy word transformation on it so that you don't really know what's happening, but you're willing to spend lots of money and sit around for months while they go do their transformation, their wizard transformation behind the scenes while you just write checks, and then get who knows what deliverable. I think for me, the word that came to mind as we're talking here is data action. Take action with the data. Take action with yourself. We can all sit and feel stuck at that starting line because data can be intimidating. It's not clean, it's not something we can see. It lives in this space that we can't see. And particularly from my background, like I mentioned earlier, I'm an accountant by education. That's my really deep space from a technical standpoint of who I am as a professional.

(00:45:45): I don't know anything about the details of data architecture and all of that terminology. But in today's world with the tools, and I guess Microsoft can give me a paid advertisement after this, but I think Microsoft specifically, again, from the standpoint of a business user, they are enabling individuals and businesses to take action within this data transformation world. And if you get either the right people within your organization, or if you need help from a consulting company like P3, that isn't going to be that magical wizard approach, a CFO, a financial leader within your organization, there are tools and people who exist in this world today that can help you take action.

(00:46:47): And I think that would be my advice for anyone who's trying to lead a data or business intelligence initiative within their company, is start looking for what are the tools and the people, both internally and externally, that can help you take action? Because the tools are there. The year is 2024, right? The data's available. We live in such a tremendous time from a data availability and a technology standpoint. It does not need to be, and it should not be a mystery. And if it's a mystery, you're using the wrong tools and you've got the wrong people. So go find the ones that can help you take action.

Rob Collie (00:47:34): In terms of before and after impact, so to put a bow on the prior adventure, are there any ways you can crisply characterize the before and after?

Kristal Searle (00:47:44): I think that that impact came in maybe three or four stages. The first stage is information was available. So that information that wasn't widely available to our core operations teams in the past, or it wasn't easily available to them in-

Kristal Searle (00:48:03): In the past, or it wasn't easily available to them in the past. It was now available to them. And they could get that information and other information because we expanded the scope of the project very quickly. From not just being focused on point of sell data, but to other financial data.

(00:48:19): And that then had an immediate impact on the finance team, because we no longer needed to be the gatekeepers for information. Individuals throughout the organization could self-serve based on the reports that had been created, which should have been created with those users in mind, and the type of information they would need.

(00:48:39): If they needed information, they could log into Power BI and get it. And they didn't need to send an email to the finance team and wait for a response, and the finance team didn't need to stop the day-to-day work that they were doing and provide the information.

(00:48:54): Information was available. And so much more efficient from the user and provider standpoint, because we took out the need to have someone at the gate.

(00:49:04): Number two would be the impact that I saw as we would be sitting in senior leadership team meetings, and someone would ask a question. And I would say, "Oh, we have that answer in a Power BI report. Give me just a second and I'll get the information."

(00:49:18): The second phase of the impact was, I could provide answers to questions that were coming up in our senior leadership team meeting. And then it didn't need to be an outstanding item.

(00:49:28): And lots of times the answer to that question then led to further analysis and a specific piece of action that we needed to take as a business, so we were leaving that meeting with an action on something that was going to impact the business. Rather than leaving the meeting with, Kristal's going to go research to find an answer, and she'll email everyone the answer later today.

(00:49:52): So again, being able to make impactful decisions and action on the business. The next phases are where I started to feel really rewarded, and that the business intelligence was doing what it needed to do. And that's when we would sit in senior leadership team meetings, someone would have a question, and someone other than me would say, "That's in a Power BI report."

Rob Collie (00:50:19): Ha, yes.

Kristal Searle (00:50:22): And then they would go answer the question. And then it would spiral into more questions and answers. And we were having great discussions in meetings that weren't led by the finance person. I had enabled that information to be available, but the operations team was able to do what they do best, ask questions, find the information, and go make the decisions to take action within the business.

(00:50:51): And you kind of aligned with that, the other piece in the phase of the impact that was particularly rewarding is when we'd sit in business reviews, either monthly or quarterly financial reviews. It was probably six months after we had done the jumpstart, and really gotten into the cranking out Power BI reports, that we'd sit in these business review meetings.

(00:51:17): And I started to notice that what was on the screen being presented was Power BI, and many times live. Not a PowerPoint presentation, not some Excel sheet. We were really using Power BI, and the business intelligence, and the data contained within that tool to run our business every day. And I wasn't the one doing it.

(00:51:43): Now, I certainly enjoyed when there were numbers that I could talk to, and could do my geeky finance thing of talking about numbers and rolling through that information in Power BI. If I could summarize the impact, it was, finance wasn't leading the charge on accessing data, making decisions with the data. And not that finance shouldn't make those decisions, it allowed the information to be available to more people. And then as a company overall, we were able to make better decisions.

(00:52:23): And I think that's the crux of it. The profitability, certainly there's an element of it, of just having the information available. And there were some reports that we built that just, by virtue of having that report, it helped manage profitability.

(00:52:37): But I think there was another component that comes from your word Rob, collaboration, that you would get people throughout the senior leadership team collaborating together, bringing their individual perspectives both as individuals and their specific role within the company. And as a leadership team, we were able to make more complete and better decisions with the tools we had in front of us with Power BI.

Rob Collie (00:53:06): If you imagine members of the strategic leadership team like nodes in a brain, like neurons in a brain, and you've got synapses in between them, right? The system that needs to think. It's a brain made of other brains.

(00:53:21): And when the synapses between these brains are constantly hitting dead ends or long delays, of, we need to wait on this information, or we don't have this information, or we're going to have to guess. So that reduces our confidence tremendously. The multi-brain brain doesn't work very well.

(00:53:42): You strengthen those connections, and you're not dead-ending them all the time. You can produce the answer in real-time. While the question is fresh, while the people are all together discussing it, to come up with a collaborative plan. If that answer becomes available later to just one of the people in that team, and they have to go and restart the whole process again like in an email or something like that, it's not just that it's slower, it's that it's going to fail a lot. It's not even going to happen.

(00:54:13): Some reasonable percentage of the time, the person doesn't get the time to go in and research the offline question, and even come back with the answer. And if they do, it's kind of like missed its moment. We don't like to admit those sorts of things, that something can miss its moment.

(00:54:27): If it was important, and we all understood why it was important, like a day later if we're not all subconsciously, we're not connecting with it on the same level. We don't want to admit that that sort of thing happens, but it absolutely does.

Kristal Searle (00:54:40): Yeah, absolutely. I agree. I think that's what helped us be better as a company and a senior leadership team. I think you articulated that really well. We weren't running into those dead ends anymore. We could finish the thought process in the moment, versus letting it die in the moment. And then when everyone got the information, in the past model when I would email the information that we had wanted in the meeting, the moment has passed.

(00:55:03): We weren't together as a group, we lose the opportunity to collaborate with each other and build off of each other's thoughts. And also your brain's just in a different space when you get the email. It's not in that same context. You're by yourself, and have a million other things floating through your brain.

(00:55:20): So yeah, I think that's another reason for companies to take data action, and start making some changes. Because you're actually having a lot of inaction happen in meetings by not having information available for the group to discuss and collaborate on.

Justin Mannhardt (00:55:36): If anybody answers the question, say the question is, "Where do we get the such and such numbers? Where do we get the such and such metrics?"

(00:55:44): If the answer to that question is, oh, we get that from Kristal, or we get that from Dave, or we get that from Sandy, that's what is being discussed right now. That first step where you said, oh, information's available. We no longer get it from Kristal, we just get it. I love your stages of impact. We'll probably have to negotiate some sort of way we can use that on your behalf. Because it's true, right? You have this maturity happen. And it's not like you set up from the beginning and say, oh, these are the four stages of data maturity, transformation, synergies. You experienced it.

Rob Collie (00:56:20): It just occurred to me that when you said ... I cannot resist the dad joke, okay? It occurs to me that when you said Where do we get the information? We get it from Kristal? From Kristal Reports.

Kristal Searle (00:56:39): Oh, man. There's going to be a lot of rim shots.

Justin Mannhardt (00:56:39): We apologize. We'll figure something out.

Rob Collie (00:56:42): One of my favorite things to ask people, and this is a hard one because it requires a level of memory most people aren't paying attention to, so this is a challenging one.

(00:56:51): When you're approaching something and you don't really understand the art of the possible yet, so you're in that moment where you're saying, "I've got a strong professional intuition that this one's not going to be cumbersome. It's going to allow us to move at a different pace."

(00:57:05): There's a certain level of ambition that you have going into something. And then when you discover that the walls have fallen down completely, your ambitions expand. This does happen.

(00:57:18): You're living in a phone booth and you're expecting to knock those walls down, and now you're in a room. But what happens is you knock the walls down, and there's no walls. You're in a field instead of in a room, and the art of the possible is so much broader than what you ever could have guessed before, because you were so constrained by what the tools would give you.

(00:57:39): Do you have any memories of moments where you're like, oh, we thought we wanted to go do X. But what we really want to do is something that's two, three steps more ambitious down the line than that and we can. Remember any a-ha's like that?

Kristal Searle (00:57:52): I went from phone booth to universe really quickly. I don't even think I ever was in the room, or the house. I exploded out of that phone booth and was in the universe. It'd probably be good, you should get Mark Beatle. I think it'd be interesting to hear his side.

(00:58:07): You used the word ambition. I started referring to it with Mark as scope creep. I became the queen of scope creep, but I like ambition better. I became the queen of ambition. How about we say that? And Mark was incredibly patient with my ambition.

Rob Collie (00:58:23): Not scope creep, ambition expansion.

Justin Mannhardt (00:58:26): Scope creep is when you try and put the universe back in the phone booth.

Rob Collie (00:58:31): Yeah, yeah. That's what the consultant does to you. What you do to the consultant is different.

Kristal Searle (00:58:38): Mark and P3 embraced my ambition, let's say that. They helped me find it and enabled it. I think we first started my Power BI journey was, all right, yeah, we need to solve this XML data thing. We got this gnarly data set and we need to figure out how we tap into the value of that.

(00:58:59): That was one of my key initiatives that I wanted to accomplish early on. P3 reigned in my ambition a little bit there and said, that one's not a great one for a jumpstart. That one's going to take a little more than four days, and we want you to have something that is tangible and successful.

(00:59:17): And I said, I'm taking a risk on this as well, right? With my, oh, we were doing Tableau, we're doing Power BI, I think we want to go down that direction. So I needed the jumpstart to be successful.

(00:59:28): So I was willing to say, all right, let's put the XML data project to the side. Let's get through the jumpstart first. The Jumpstart, it was a very simple report in concept, of looking at weekly sales information. By store, looking at fuel separately from in-store sales. For me, that ambition probably started to happen within 24 hours of the jumpstart.

(00:59:54): I loved Lucho, our Jumpstart consultant. Yeah, Luch!

Justin Mannhardt (00:59:59): Lucho, if you're out there, please call me.

Kristal Searle (01:00:02): I love that he would start every session particularly each morning, but then if we had other sessions throughout the jumpstart, throughout the day, he would start them with "Kristal, let me show you what I did for you."

(01:00:15): And he would've taken, I had made a little request, I can't remember specific ones. But let's just talk about maybe Fuel for example. Said, okay Luch, we need to break fuel cells between diesel and gasoline cells. Come back, have that request filled and show the information in a way that I went, oh, well now can we do this? And can we do this? And can we do this? And ultimately resulted in that report being more than I had originally envisioned.

(01:00:51): Then as we moved into the consulting project after the jumpstart, I started to then expand my vision into, okay, I can see that what's happening behind the scenes with the data when we're building a report are these manipulations within Power Query.

(01:01:09): And my mind would start to wonder and say, well, I have people on my accounting team that spend four hours each month as part of the month end close process, doing something in spreadsheets that, they're probably just putting on their favorite podcast and listening.

(01:01:25): Because it's kind of a menial task that someone needs to do it, it's got to get done. We don't have a way to automate it, or we didn't think we had a way to automate it. And my mind then just started reeling on, wow, if Power BI, and behind the scenes Power Query, can do what it just did on some very unstructured data, what can it do with an Excel spreadsheet or PDF file?

(01:01:55): And we started coming up with projects that we executed on and completed that saved hours in the closed process for specific individuals. And there was another specific one related to fixed asset reports. Our ERP system gave an output related to information in the fixed asset module that was not user-friendly at all, not usable, but we needed to take information from that report for the year-end audit and get it in a format that the audit team could use to do the audit.

(01:02:31): And as soon as I learned some of the tools that were available behind the scenes with Power BI, I said, my team's not going to spend any more time, wasting time doing that anymore. We're going to pay to have a consultant build that process one time, and we will use it every year, or every month, or every week.

(01:02:52): So yeah, certainly my universe of what was possible expanded. It even expanded so much into a project for our store manager bonus program. Where Mark, our consultant with P-three, effectively built out a literal application. Where we were merging Power BI with elements of power apps, and built a tool that really was an application where our district managers would input data, have live calculations happening that they could observe and see as they set bonus goals each quarter.

(01:03:33): I don't think that's originally what Power BI was intended to do. That's not something when I immediately think of business intelligence, okay, let's have inputs for 13 people to enter inputs for a bonus program. But I could see that it was capable of doing so much more, so that's part of why the consulting agreement with P-three lasted as long as it did.

(01:03:58): Is, my eyes were opened to what could happen, and I couldn't make myself stop. Because everything was having a tremendous impact on the business: profitability, the people side of things, making their lives better and improving our processes.

Rob Collie (01:04:17): I recommend the following LinkedIn update, Kristal, for you. Kristal Searle, Digital Transformation Specialist.

Kristal Searle (01:04:25): Yes.

Justin Mannhardt (01:04:27): And then you could put out a series of one-hour webinars, maybe just explaining what the hell that means for the rest of us.

Rob Collie (01:04:33): Charge like a jillion dollars for attendance, too.

Kristal Searle (01:04:36): Then I can get one of those fancy microphones and all the boom stuff. I can upgrade my microphone if I do that.

Rob Collie (01:04:42): That takes a little while. You don't get that immediately. They don't issue you your fancy microphone just right off the bat.

(01:04:47): Yeah, actually they do. It comes from Amazon. But then you need the expert to help you tune it, which is totally true.

(01:04:58): So, new company for you. Are they bigger?

Kristal Searle (01:05:02): In some regards. Definitely a very different company. So my previous company, very convenience store oriented as far as petroleum. Both companies, very broad-based, petroleum fuel-based companies. The company where I first met with P-three, definitely C-store heavy. Primarily the business is C-store oriented with a little bit of what we call wholesale work.

(01:05:27): And in the fuel world, wholesale means delivering fuel to farms, construction sites, municipalities that have their own fuel centers. Or delivering to convenience stores that are more of the Ma and Pa type variety, that have two or three stores and don't have a truck to deliver fuel.

(01:05:49): My current company is sort of the upside down of that business model. Of very few convenience stores, but a whole lot of wholesale work.

Rob Collie (01:06:00): How's the new gig been going, and what is it like to be the director of strategic projects? How's that been different for you?

Kristal Searle (01:06:06): When I think about the transition that I made, I believe that these careers that we pursue and live are a journey, and they have a really long runway. Got to a point where I said, let's do something different. I'm really enjoying the Power BI side of things, having the opportunity to influence the business in different places.

(01:06:31): But in a chief financial officer role, there's only so much you can do there. Because you still expand your scope of influence outside of the finance realm, because the financial statements still need created each month.

(01:06:46): You still need to get through the annual financial audit process. You still need to do the bank financing and all the things that come with that and deal with the accounting roles and all those sorts of things that are just part of the day-to-day of that role.

(01:07:01): Now, maybe at some point in the future I circle back to something that's more finance-centric. But said, let's find an opportunity where I get to really work in and understand pieces of the business in a way that I couldn't do as a CFO.

(01:07:16): I came across Coleman Oil. And at the time I got associated with Coleman Oil, they had just been through about five years of pretty rapid growth from an acquisition standpoint, and had also just completed a ERP. Those are always disruptive, to say the least.

(01:07:38): So couple disruptive factors happening, and they needed someone who could come in, have a good finance background, and use that background to make an impact in other areas of the business, and help the company be ready for planned future growth.

(01:07:58): The fuel industry is one that is mature, and is in a phase of consolidation, and you're either a little fish or a big fish. And you're either eating or getting eaten. So our plan is to continue to grow in the future. But as a company we know if we're going to do that, we need to be stabilized from a people, processes, and data standpoint.

(01:08:24): Some of the things I've been working on in my new role have been helping the company get out of the being dark phase from a financial reporting standpoint. That does happen. The company was able to provide some financial information, but wasn't in a place when I came on board to be providing that information regularly, and getting that information in the hands of the users within operations.

(01:08:53): And that was more a function of some of the limitations of the different features of the ERP system. Maybe we say it that way. Because I think we talked earlier, there's things from a business intelligence standpoint that an ERP system just isn't meant to do, even though we think that's what it should do as a user.

Rob Collie (01:09:11): But they pretend. In their marketing materials, they pretend because they have to. "The other people are saying they have a comprehensive BI platform built in, we got to have one of those." None of them actually have one. They all say they do.

Kristal Searle (01:09:23): Exactly. One of my key initial projects was, let's get financial information back in the hands of users from an operation standpoint. I evaluated several tools. One was, there was a feature within the ERP system that would allow for financial reporting to be created, but there were pros and cons to that option. There was also an add-on product from another vendor that could have been an option. Again, pros and cons.

(01:09:53): And then I said, "Well, I feel like there's an opportunity with Power BI here." Again, pros and cons to way. But ultimately what I liked about going the Power BI route for our financial reporting, and to clarify initially what this reporting is, income statements. We built income statements in Power BI. Or I should say Ashley, built income statements for me.

Justin Mannhardt (01:10:20): You can say we, it's appropriate.

Kristal Searle (01:10:23): We, I'm the vision. It is a we, but if we get down to who actually put the hands on the keyboards, that's not me. But I guided the vision, so there is some we there.

Rob Collie (01:10:32): I agree that it's a hundred percent a we. Just like what I was saying earlier. Our goal is to expand your capabilities, right? Yeah. It's a hundred percent a we.

Kristal Searle (01:10:40): Absolutely. All right, we did it. We built income statements within Power BI.

(01:10:46): One of the big pros of that for me compared to some of the other tools that we looked at was, again, the immediate availability of this information in the hands of users. They can access it on their computer, they can access Power BI on their tablet or phone. It's really small on the phone though.

(01:11:08): But we haven't done specific mobile views of the income statements, but we have a lot of users of the reports. They're very mobile. I wanted them to have immediate access to that information. And the other tools, it wasn't as self-serve or available through a slick web interface or app like Power BI. The other big pro that I considered was, no matter what tool I selected to do our financial reporting, it was going to have to be maintained. Whenever we added an account in the general ledger, that account would need to be evaluated on which line item should it report to within the structure of the financial statements? And they were going to have to learn a back-end system to do that anyway, and none of them were overly cumbersome.

(01:12:01): I said, "Well, you're going to have to do the same thing in..."

Kristal Searle (01:12:03): ... really cumbersome. I said, "Well, you're going to have to do the same thing in Power BI." There's going to be some maintenance and updating that needs to happen when we add accounts or sites. And yes, initially, doing those updates in Power BI might seem a little intimidating and maybe be a little more time-consuming than in these other tools, but ultimately what I'm doing when I get the accounting team trained to do those updates within Power BI is they're now touching Power BI. And so Power BI becomes less of a mystery and an intimidating factor for them. And then over time, what I'm hoping happens is they start to play a little bit in the backend, see these reports, that they will have much of the similar experience that I had, where the ambition goes up where you start to see, "Oh, I'm seeing financial information that I'm used to seeing in one way, just that's because of how I've been trained as an accountant. I'm used to seeing it this way."

(01:13:04): In Power BI, it shows in this other way, "I don't know exactly what's going on behind the scenes, but I know what the data looks like." And if data that looks like what I think it looks like can turn into what is in front of my eyes, or what else can Power BI do. I think that's where, for me, one of the next phases in a Power BI journey is that people, particularly accountants, start to embrace the tool and the associated tools in the Microsoft Power platform to improve the work product, the way it looks but also the way that they do their work. We know there's an accounting shortage. Crisis is the word I hear in the accounting circles. If you're going to have a problem of not enough qualified accountants to do all the things that accountants need to do... And part of what's driving people out of the profession is some of those menial, tedious tasks that just have to get done and no one seems to have time to automate them.

(01:14:07): Because if we even do get a statement of work, we get a statement of work for some digital transformation process from a consultant that no one understands what's going to happen. It's big, big dollars. From my perspective, if we're going to solve the accountant shortage, the accountants are going to need to lead the charge on that, the ones of us that are left, and start to say, "Hey, we're not going to go spend a million dollars on some big project, but there's this tool called Power Apps that I learned about. And it can do this thing, and maybe I can learn how to do that on a YouTube video, or maybe I do need to engage a consultant, like P3 or if there's others out there that can do data action." But the cost of that and the scope of the project can be scaled down to where it's something that can probably get easily approved within an organization that accountant now has time back in their life and day.

Justin Mannhardt (01:15:12): They have a better life.

Kristal Searle (01:15:14): Yeah. I think that's how we solve this, is the accountants need to start... I think they're standing up for themselves from the standpoint of saying, "I'm out. If this thing's not getting better, I'm out." But eventually, that's going to cause a big problem. And in the accounting profession, we need to start bringing real solutions on how we do improve the processes and make our lives better.

Rob Collie (01:15:36): Sounds like a real vicious cycle, menial work, tedium. An overwork situation where the work is the least human is one of the most toxic sort of things that drives people away. But every time someone ops out, the people who are left behind have more of it to do.

Justin Mannhardt (01:15:56): Are left behind. It's like the beginning of a post-apocalyptic story, "All the accountants are gone."

Rob Collie (01:16:01): And also, a little bit unfortunately, the more proactive someone is and sort of in terms of their personality, the more likely they are to jump. So you're left with a smaller and smaller population, which by the way, also, this is the tragic part from just selection pressures, is trending towards less proactive because the proactive one's left.

Justin Mannhardt (01:16:23): Yeah.

Rob Collie (01:16:25): And so there's a wave, and you're either going to catch it or get crushed by it. The end state of this one way or another is a world in which every accountant that's left is going to be a lot more efficient. They're going to be more digitally capable than their forebearers. We're in that chaotic transition zone, aren't we?

Justin Mannhardt (01:16:46): We're going to get Kristal out there, revolutionizing accounting at some point. I see that this problem seems very severe, Kristal. I think we're going to need to consider as a partnership on this.

Kristal Searle (01:16:57): I'm in. One of the terms I came up for myself as we were building out the income statements in Power BI, as I started saying to Ashley, our P3 consultant, "I'm a progressive accountant." I'm building financial statements in Power BI, but where the progressive piece comes is, that's great, we do need to see columns and rows from an income statement, the accounts, or the categories on an income statement on the left and rows, and then my years and my compares to the prior year and to budget and all that in columns. But really, where the income statement becomes valuable and one of the other big pros of Power BI over the other tools, is then you can start to do true business intelligence-type things with the income statement data.

(01:17:41): The first step of that business intelligence journey is simple visualization. Seeing the data with your eyes in a different way that it's presented. That doesn't mean we're doing generative AI off of income statement information from a business intelligence standpoint. It doesn't mean we're calculating all sorts of statistical things around that information. We need to continue the journey in those types of steps. Business intelligence is far beyond just visualizations. But if we can go as an organization from the traditional income statement, columns and rows, and certainly still have that view, but then use Power BI to have a visualization of that information, that's way more powerful, in my opinion, for the users and also even the accountants to visualize that information.

Rob Collie (01:18:29): There are so many processes like that when they're done sort of manually in an old-fashioned way that you only do at certain points of the year. You only close the books once a month, but so much of the information that is processed in those checkpoints would be incredibly valuable to have on an ongoing basis. And this is one of the themes that I've seen is that having access to that quality of information at all times in the month or in the quarter or whatever gives you opportunity to act on them before it's in the rearview mirror, and it's all water under the bridge. I know there are some things that are only ever going to happen at those checkpoints in the human world. But from a data perspective, a lot of times, some of that stuff could absolutely be real time if the systems are set up properly. One of my favorite themes is replacing 12 times a year, 4 times a year, processes with things that are running all the time and giving you real-time steering.

Kristal Searle (01:19:21): So you asked what I was doing, and I gave you a finance example. Can I give you a couple other examples?

Rob Collie (01:19:27): Let's get some non-finance examples to drive home that you are more than finance now.

Kristal Searle (01:19:31): Yes, thank you. So another project I've been working on is leading our executive team through what's called the Entrepreneurial Operating System. The acronym is EOS. Sounds very fancy, right?

Rob Collie (01:19:44): Yeah. Was this your idea, or was this one of the things you were hired to do?

Kristal Searle (01:19:47): Well, I was hired to do something. I wasn't directed on which framework, but the framework I selected was EOS, which Justin just put it up there in the screen. Gino Wickman introduces that framework in the book Traction. At P3, you guys are EOS?

Justin Mannhardt (01:20:02): We are on our journey, yes.

Rob Collie (01:20:04): We're in our Entrepreneurial Operating System transformation. We're in parallel. That's so cool.

Justin Mannhardt (01:20:10): Yeah.

Kristal Searle (01:20:11): Yeah. So we're working through that. The goal of that is to just give some more structure as we've been a company that is a third-generation family-owned company. Started very small and is now in generation three. The company looks a lot different than it did 70 years ago, when the company was founded. And we want to still keep those nuggets and pieces of the company from a culture and even a little bit from an operating standpoint that makes the company what it is, makes it the Coleman family, and people really enjoy what that means. But as we look to the future and even the present... the present, and then to the future, the company is actually a different company than it was when it was started. There's some things that need to change around how do we operate the company more from a strategic standpoint of being aligned on picking the things we are going to work on and then staying focused on those things. It's really easy in any business to get distracted by the shiny object. Some new thing comes up, and you start chasing that. But we've really been working with our executive team to be very, very focused on quarterly goals and what are we achieving this quarter. And yeah, you do get a little distracted, and you still need to be flexible and dynamic because that's the way the business world works, but really trying to implement the right amount of structure to make sure we've got the right framework and operating system in place to get the full value of the company, and ultimately, make the employee lives as good as they've been during generations one and two and the start of three, as good as they've been in the past.

(01:22:02): Make sure they still have the work-life balance and the things they like about working at the company, just with a little more structure to keep us all focused to be able to manage the growth that has happened and will happen. A key piece of EOS is metrics and data. So there's been an element of building out reporting for our executive team to have the data needed to see how we're tracking towards some of those strategic objectives.

Justin Mannhardt (01:22:32): It's fun to just encounter other people that are going through a similar process and probably experiencing very similar benefits. P3 Adaptive has been a growing company, and we've loved ourselves some shiny object from time to time. The last thing you said really resonated with me is we create an environment that's just better for our people. We're focused on the things that help them and help them improve, and we're still figuring some things out. We're on our journey. We've not got everything nailed down here, but it's been very positive for us. Even some the ways we're running our meetings now, we're solving our important issues together. Our team is solving important issues together. We're getting more clear and aligned on what are the outcomes that we're all after as a group and been a positive change for us as well.

Kristal Searle (01:23:16): The third key thing I've been doing since making my transition is really involved from a rollout of data in general. So mentioned with EOS, getting the executive team access to data and metrics that they need, getting high-level financial information out to individuals. When I came on board, we had an individual who was involved in building Power BI reports that there was just more work than he could do as one person. Got P3 involved to help supplement and get some immediate data needs beyond high-level financial information, really get down into operational detail information, and get that information in the hands and in the eyes of those who need that information within operations.

(01:24:07): We've come to a point where we say the ambition keeps growing and there's no shortage of work to do. So I've hired someone, and I'm going to have a data team now officially, internally. So hopefully, there's still some opportunities for P3, but going to go with a model of in-house because there's that much transformation, there's that much action to take. And that's really full circle for me, or not even full circle. That's another step on my journey. I led this off with, "I'm an accountant by education."

(01:24:41): In addition to really loving accounting and finance stuff, there's this data thing that I enjoy. And we've taken the organization to a point where we need at least two full-time resources. And I'm excited to build that team out and start getting some official projects and planning in the works for 2024. Just one more, I guess, thought on the journey for me. I started my data journey watching these digital transformation one-hour webinars to then immersing myself even more into it with day-long trainings with P3 to then engaging a consultant to help develop work. Then working at an organization that had someone on staff full-time.

(01:25:31): So working with someone full-time on staff, augmenting with a consultant. And now we've taken the ambition to, "Let's create a data team." And the objective of that data team is to go out in the organization and do things for not only the accountants, but all of the people out there that either can't get information or have processes that are antiquated and inefficient. And let's make people's lives better and ultimately make the company more profitable. We can focus on the things that matter to our customers or the things we really want to focus on and be a better company.

Rob Collie (01:26:13): Love it. So it's a personal transformation. This has to be super, super, super satisfying for you. Because you've gone from someone who tentatively dipped your toe into this Power BI and related technologies universe with things like, " Worst case scenario, I'm out a few days and 12 grand," to now being savvy enough, educated enough, wise enough, seasoned enough to lead a team on that stuff. But you were saying, "As an organization, we've reached the point where it makes sense to make this investment in a team." And that's really cool. I want to focus, just for a moment, on the change that you've been on. The version of you that first started working with us wasn't able to do the thing that you're doing right now.

Kristal Searle (01:27:02): For sure.

Rob Collie (01:27:03): Even if the company said, "Hey, we're all in. We want a data team, and we want you to lead it." A prior version of you was not prepared to do that.

Kristal Searle (01:27:10): Yeah, absolutely. Not prepared.

Rob Collie (01:27:12): Whereas you're so prepared to do it now that you're talking about the organization reaching the point where it's ready without even stopping to go, "Oh, there's also me." That's got to be super, super, super cool.

Kristal Searle (01:27:24): It is. Yeah. And when I think about what has made me ready, how have I gotten there... Because I've mentioned a few times throughout our discussion, my hands aren't on the keyboard or the mouse actually doing the building of the reports. I would like to be a little more skilled in that, but it seems like things always come up. But fortunately, there's others who have that skillset set, and I don't have to do everything, but it would be something that would be a little helpful.

Rob Collie (01:27:52): There's an old joke, which is that all rappers want to be athletes, and all athletes want to be rappers. All business leaders want to be Power BI experts, and all Power BI experts want to be business leaders.

Kristal Searle (01:28:06): Yeah.

Rob Collie (01:28:06): I think you're doing fine. I think it's one of the benevolent, beneficial side effects of the way that we work is that close iteration. You're able to learn all the things that are important in terms of art of the possible because of that close iteration with us. Even if you can't write the DAX formula, knowing what's possible and knowing how these patterns play out is so much more important. Even if you wanted to do our job, if you wanted to be one of us. What I just talked about, art of the possible, like what's possible, what are some of the patterns and evolutions that these things naturally take.

(01:28:41): That is a huge part of being one of us. Just writing the code is really a small piece of it. So you have Borg-ed, to use the Star Trek metaphor. You've absorbed and assimilated a lot of the skills that we need to operate our business, our consultants require. You have learned those while working with us, and I'm very, very happy as opposed to stingy, like, "Hey, what are you doing stealing our skills?" No, that's awesome. So good. You're sitting here saying, "I wish I knew more." No, you know the important parts.

Kristal Searle (01:29:13): You took the words right out of my mouth there that even though I haven't been hands on keyboard, actually building the reports, how did I get to where I have the confidence that I can lead a team on this, is through the iterative process that I've gone through with P3. If the P3 development would've been some of the things we've talked about that it's behind the scenes months and months to develop.

Rob Collie (01:29:37): Offline, mystical.

Kristal Searle (01:29:38): Yeah, I wouldn't know what's possible.

Rob Collie (01:29:41): You'd also think it was bad because offline and mystical would result in terrible output. And you'd be like, "Nah, Power BI wasn't very good after all. Back to Tableau."

Kristal Searle (01:29:50): And probably would've spent more money along the way and got fewer tangible, valuable, impactful results. So, yeah, I think that iterative process has been incredibly helpful in helping me gain those skills. And you said every Power BI builder wants to be a business leader, and every business leader wants to be a Power BI developer. I think that hits on this data transformation mystery thing we've been talking about. How do I get off the starting line? What if I feel stuck?

(01:30:22): I think part of why we can feel stuck is we feel like, "Well, I do have to know how to push the buttons," and you don't. There's ways you can do this If you have the right partners internally and externally. You don't need to push all the buttons. And you can learn what's possible and then use your other business skills to flush out how that works with the business, how you're going to manage the projects, how you're going to find the right projects and prioritize them.

Justin Mannhardt (01:30:51): Somebody attempted to summarize what we do in a conversation I had yesterday, and it says fundamentally two things. Number one, we want to accelerate what you're trying to get done. And then, number two, we want to increase your own capability to do it. Not necessarily like you learned how to do all the hands-on, but you and your team and your stakeholders, your capability to do the data action thing increased. You moved faster, and you increased your own capability. That's what it's all about. So there, Rob, there's my definition of digital transformation. It took me four days to think about it.

Rob Collie (01:31:26): I've already forgotten it.

Kristal Searle (01:31:28): Digital action. That one's mine.

Justin Mannhardt (01:31:30): Let's crystallize your digital action.

Rob Collie (01:31:32): She's going to come out with a handbook. It's going to be called The Kristal Method.

Justin Mannhardt (01:31:38): And on that note...

Kristal Searle (01:31:43): Nice.

Justin Mannhardt (01:31:44): That's a good one.

Rob Collie (01:31:44): Yeah.

Justin Mannhardt (01:31:45): Kristal, Ashley, and Mark are two people that I know both Rob and I hold an extremely high regard. I know you do as well from your experience working with them, but they always have such nice things to say about their experience working with you. So it's just a bonus and an icing on the cake for our team when they get to have such a positive relationship with the customer. So thanks for being great in that regard. It's really helped them have a fulfilling experience at P3 Adaptive as well, and you're as much of a part of that as we are. So I really do appreciate that.

Kristal Searle (01:32:18): Well, you're welcome. Thank you for sharing that.

Speaker 2 (01:32:19): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive Podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to p3adaptive. com. Have a data day.

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