Finance transformation: the human perspective
People are the most important asset of any business.
the human perspective.
Why it’s time for finance
to invest in its people
People are the most important asset of any business.
Today, organisations are transforming their finance functions — investing in new and emerging technologies to streamline operations and drive efficiency. However, underinvestment in people can spell disaster for transformation programmes and the wider organisation. In an increasingly digital world, are we neglecting the people perspective?
By employing data analytics and artificial intelligence and providing finance professionals with the skills to work proactively with new technologies, businesses can improve insight and accuracy and drive data-enabled decision-making.
The key to success is developing the digital, technical and people skills that will bring out the best in the technology, maximising insight, influence and impact.
Equally, finance professionals must commit to lifelong learning and upskilling, so they can keep pace in this ever-changing business ecosystem. This important investment benefits both the individual and the business.
Finance transformation: the human perspective explores the
extent to which organisations are focusing on the ‘people’ aspects of finance transformation.
As a founding body of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants®, CIMA® is dedicated to helping our members navigate changes in the profession, so they can lead communities, businesses and organisations to greater success. That is why we
are focused on delivering future-ready professionals.
Digital disruption is spurring organisational changes.
Companies need a persistent focus on talent to ensure Finance has access to the high-level analytical, design thinking, and technology skills needed in the future. It’s people, not robots, who are the key to better insights and analysis — simply buying new technology doesn’t help you to truly transform.
ANDREW HARDING, FCMA, CGMA
Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Partner, Finance Transformation,
KPMG in the U.S.
In recent years, technology has had a huge impact on business models and value creation. It has revolutionised the ways organisations engage with their customers, optimise operations, research, design and launch products and support the productivity of employees.
Keeping pace with change
These broad changes to systems, processes and working practices require new approaches to finance, as traditional roles, responsibilities and core finance activities like month-end reporting lose relevance. To keep pace with the rapid rate of change in the wider business environment, finance functions need to become more agile. Finance professionals also recognise this: the 2019 ‘Mind the UK Skills Gap’ report found that 58% of workers consider the ability to adapt quickly to change in the working environment to be of prime importance over the next five years, up 10% from 2018. i
In 2019, Agile Finance Unleashed: The Key Traits of Digital Finance Leaders found a strong link between organisational strength and
finance agility.ii Successful organisations are those that have invested in the finance skills that support digital business models. Yet the study also identified an imminent threat: only 10% of CFOs believe that their finance teams have the skills needed to support their organisations’ digital ambitions.
Even in organisations that appear committed to skills development, investing in technology takes clear precedence. KPMG International’s 2019 Global CEO Outlook survey found that while 44% of CEOs plan to upskill more than half of their entire workforce in new digital capabilities, less than a third (32%) prioritise workforce investments over those relating to technology. iii
It is often said that an organisation’s greatest asset is its people, and the rise of the ‘intangible economy’ has seen non-financial and intangible assets such as intellectual property, customer relationships and human capital making up most of a corporation’s net worth. iv
But in an increasingly digital world, are we neglecting the people perspective as we work to transform our businesses?
New joint research from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and KPMG International set out to find an answer to this important question, using a global survey and case studies of good practice.
‘If you’re seeking to transform an organisation,
what you’re seeking to do is change a complex
system of people, culture, processes, organisation
Robert Bolton, Head of Global People and Change Centre of Excellence,
Are we underestimating the human aspects of change?
Digital transformation: the people imperative
‘Transformation’ is a familiar term in today’s fast-moving business world, where standing still is tantamount to failure. Whatever its desired outcome, a transformation programme is typically defined by a significant change in approach to an organisation’s operating model, technology, process and/or service delivery.
Restructuring and redundancy programmes are often branded as ‘transformation’, with a focus on cost-cutting. But digital transformation can come at a high price, at least in the short term. Global digital transformation spending on technology is set to reach $6 trillion over the next four years. Of the $1.18 billion spent in 2019, more than 75% related to spending on hardware and technology services. v
In the digital age, technology is crucial to success and is often seen as a driver of change. While advances like artificial intelligence (AI) promise to change the way we work, it is easy to forget that new technologies are driven by human responses to a changing environment. The CGMA® future of finance research in the Re-inventing finance for a digital world report shows that the technological innovations of recent years have been driven by a combination of an increasingly tech-savvy demographic and more empowered consumers. vi Increased connectivity is having a paradoxical effect on competition, innovation and relationships, all of which are becoming more accessible but also more complex.
New software solutions promise better data management, faster analysis and real-time reporting. But underinvestment in people and resources, lack of training, insufficient and inconsistent communications, no clear change management framework and/or the absence of a talent pipeline can all spell disaster for an organisation.
Are organisations focusing their attention on the digital world at the expense of the human beings who power it?
Catalysts for transformation
The desire, or necessity, to transform an organisation can be caused by internal or external factors or a combination of the two. In some cases, transformation is a necessary response to an industry-wide crisis or the realisation that existing business models are no longer fit for purpose. In others, an assertive acquisitions programme might necessitate bringing together formerly distinct systems and processes to promote efficiency.
The multi-generational workforce
Wider societal factors have also been recognised as catalysts for transformation, with demographic changes to the workforce playing a significant role. Many recent studies have highlighted the impact of an increasingly ‘millennial’ workforce. These digital natives, born before 2000 but shaped by the emerging digital world they grew up in, are demanding new, more flexible ways of working and are swift to move on if their needs are not met. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, this generation will make up 75% of the US workforce by 2030. vii
Following closely behind are their successors, Gen Z, who are now beginning to enter the workplace. According to Bloomberg analysis of UN data (which has defined the generational split point as 2000/2001), Gen Z made up 32% of the 7.7 billion global population in 2019, edging ahead of millennials who account for a 31.5% share. viii
Research shows that Gen Z employees tend to be competitive, self-sufficient and entrepreneurial. They seek to customise rather than conform to generic job descriptions. The impact this will have on the accounting profession, which relies heavily upon defined roles and responsibilities, could have wide-ranging effects in the coming decade.
Change is also apparent at the other end of the career lifecycle as people remain in the workplace for longer. Bottlenecks in the talent pipeline at senior levels mean fewer opportunities for promotion, often causing frustration and disillusionment in middle management. This could inhibit career progression and succession planning at all levels.
Five generations coexist in the workforce, not only in the finance profession but also across the wider business environment. KPMG International’s research highlights some of the management issues that the multigenerational workforce raises, particularly differing priorities and expectations combined with succession planning and staff development issues.ix
Longer working lives require professionals to consider the sustainability of their skills and knowledge, particularly in the accounting and finance sector. The ‘half-life’ of a professional finance qualification is now far shorter than previously anticipated, and the ongoing roles of continuing professional development (CPD) and continuing professional education (CPE) will become increasingly important. But to fully capitalise on and action new knowledge, employees also need the right practical experience.
The changing shape of the finance function
The increasing impact of automation is another issue for finance in the digital age. Traditionally, finance function structures follow a hierarchical ‘triangle’ model (Figure 1) with a broad base and fewer roles at senior levels.
Over the past two decades, the shape evolved into a segregated triangle, driven by globalisation and advances in information and communications technologies. This change allowed routine
transactional processes to be migrated to shared service centres, represented by the bottom section of the segregated triangle.
Figure 1 The evolution of the finance function
In the digital age, the growth of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) is eroding this traditional triangular base to form a pentagonal shape, as detailed in the diagram (Figure 2). At the lower levels, this change has implications for succession planning, as the basic finance activities which are being automated have historically provided the training ground for new finance professionals.
Figure 2 The shape of the finance function in the digital world
This highlights a significant issue for entrants to the profession and those who employ them – the lack of practical training in the fundamentals of accounting, combined with a lack of progression opportunities. During our case study research, we identified some of the ways organisations are addressing this urgent problem.
Within the pentagonal structure, finance professionals increasingly work in multidisciplinary teams, collaborating as equals to achieve shared corporate objectives. Technology has enabled new, more agile, ways of working.
Making sense of data
A further catalyst of change has been the ‘democratisation’ of technology. Even the most mundane of household objects have become empowered by networked communication, sending and receiving streams of real-time data. Organisations and finance functions are continually fuelled with real-time information on their products, services and financial position. As a result, their stakeholders demand ever-more-frequent performance information.
In the era of instant communication and real-time data, a static, one-dimensional monthly report is no longer fit for purpose.
While data streams have revolutionised communication relationships, data itself has become a burden, particularly to large organisations. Our research with Oracle found that over half (51%) of the organisations surveyed spend more time collecting data than analysing it for insights. Moreover, 59% of large organisations say that difficulty extracting data from legacy platforms is a major challenge to achieving their analytics goals. x While the ways that technology has begun to affect the finance function are clear, with core modernisation tools such as cloud and process robotics enabling greater efficiency and consistency, uptake of ‘new and different’ solutions are still limited.
Progress has been slower and less successful than many had hoped, with only 16% of surveyed organisations reporting that robotic automation is driving down costs and transforming process efficiency as expected.
Technology clearly has significant implications for the future of organisations, but the much-anticipated change has fallen short of expectations. KPMG International’s 2019 Future Ready Finance survey found that high-achieving organisations have developed new, collaborative ways of working and are embracing technologies aimed at improving predictive and prescriptive analysis. But only 28% of respondents view their future-oriented initiatives as ‘a great success’, and 38% report difficulty in integrating new tools with legacy systems. xii
Ensuring that the workforce is up to the challenge is another issue: 67% of respondents to the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey 2019 believed that a lack of people with the right skills was preventing their organisations from keeping up with the pace of change. xiii
The undeniable impact of automation on the finance profession requires finance professionals to embrace change. Yet organisations tell us that they struggle to reap the promised benefits of technology and
that their staff are not up to the digital challenge. Could this be a result of systemic underinvestment in people?
We set out to explore this further, through a global survey
and conversations with leading employers.
What is the main catalyst for transformation in your organisation? (Select one answer.)
- 1. Legacy systems are no longer fit for purpose.
- 2. A new generation joining the workforce.
- 3. Workforce doesn’t have the relevant skills.
- 4. Keeping up with the competition.
- 5. Robots are more efficient and cost-effective than people.
Are leaders so captivated by transformational technology that they are neglecting their employees?
To explore the effects of transformation on organisations and their finance functions, we spoke to 678 senior finance and HR professionals (470 senior finance and 208 HR) from 44 countries. Of these, 73% were from private sector organisations and 27% from the public and third sectors (Figure 3).
Almost two-thirds (63%) of our finance respondents were or had recently been involved in finance transformation programmes, with a further 13% planning to be so within the next three years (Figure 4).
Outside the finance function, 6% of respondents had delivered, were delivering or planned to deliver transformation programmes elsewhere in the business. Eighteen percent had no plans to deliver transformation initiatives.
are top priority
Key findings 1
We asked our survey respondents about the focus of their current, recent or planned finance transformation programmes, and what they related to. The top results related to improving internal reporting, such as management accounts (21%), improving functional operations such as finance processing (20%) and data and analytics (19%) (Figure 5).
Elsewhere in the business, the main focus of transformation programmes was similar: developing more effective internal operations (25%), followed by data and analytics (20%), external customer experience (19%) and internal reporting (18%) (Figure 6).
Organisations clearly recognise the need to improve and monitor their performance. When respondents were asked for their top three priorities for transformation programmes, almost two-thirds (65%) stated efficiency savings. More than half (52%) of respondents placed improved reporting, and 41% cost savings among their transformation priorities (Figure 7).
Key findings 2
Organisations widely recognise that they need to become more agile to better perform in today’s complex world. But agility is more than just an organisation’s ability to innovate, adapt to changing market conditions and make shrewd capital allocation decisions – it also relates to their growth mindset. The ability to learn, evolve, think differently and understand quickly is just as important for individuals as
it is for businesses. As old systems and processes are superseded by new ways of working, we must learn to leave our legacy mindsets in the past.
'The constant need to fail fast and relearn in a
complex world, and the frequent upgrade of our skills, plays to the strength of the lifelong learning philosophy of the finance professional. It highlights the ever-growing importance of CPD and education on the quest to finding out what we don’t know'.
CGMA Changing Competencies and Mindsets, June 2018
Respondents stated that workforce motivation to make or embrace change (20%) was the most critical success factor for finance transformation, followed by growth mindset (19%) and strong leadership (17%) (Figure 8). Talent management stood at only 7%, indicating an expectation that individuals are responsible for their own career management and attitude. This was reflected in our conversations with employers, some of whom had developed platforms to help employees identify competency gaps and plan desired career paths. This then forms a background for ‘career conversations’ with managers and mentors.
Technological developments will continue to be a key driver of change for the finance profession. Two-thirds of respondents (65%) agreed that finance teams deal well with complexity and are interested in learning new skills (Figure 9). However, only half believed that finance teams were agile, self-confident and able to deal with change. With one-fifth of employers considering readiness for change a critical success factor, this may present a problem.
'The role of leaders is partly to set an ambition to talk about why there’s a need for change, but not to broadcast it as if it’s going to be self-evident and everyone will just ‘get it’. It has to be a conversation with employees, and you need to enrol them in idea generation, in bringing their own perspectives and ideas'.
Robert Bolton, Partner, Global People and Change Centre of Excellence, KPMG International
digital skills gap
Key findings 3
We found that the top skills gaps for finance relate to digital infrastructure, digital implementation, leadership and people skills. When the reported skills gaps are mapped to the CGMA Competency Framework (Figure 10, 13), we find that a fifth relate to technical finance skills and regulatory knowledge, such as IFRS and GAAP. xiv
More than a third (34%) relate to digital skills, with responses divided equally between digital infrastructure skills (such as systems development, systems integration and cybersecurity) and digital implementation skills like data planning, analytics and visualisation.
Less than 3% of respondents stated that their finance function had the skills it needed.
To remain relevant, finance professionals need to keep pace with advances in technology and be able to manage and guide the finance function in a digital world.
Skills gaps are evident at all levels of finance, but the most significant gap, digital skills, pervades all finance roles. The finance profession must build data literacy, competence and expertise in order to improve analytics, collaboration and communication both across and beyond functional and organisational boundaries
Figure 11 Skills gaps mapped to the evolving pentagonal structure of finance.
The CGMA Re-inventing finance for a digital world report identifies that new digital skills, competencies and mindsets are required to work effectively with emerging technology (Figure 12). xv
Figure 13 The CGMA Competency Framework
'In an increasingly digital world, finance professionals need mindsets and behaviours to deal with complexity, work in an agile way, be creative and be committed to lifelong learning — to learn, unlearn and relearn to ensure relevance. The framework supports the concept of lifelong professional learning and experience'.
The CGMA Competency Framework, 2019
Key findings 4
Almost two-thirds of the organisations we surveyed prefer to develop existing staff through reskilling and upskilling. Of these, 36% do so to fill skills gaps, with a further 28% stating that it also helps them control costs. A fifth prefer to hire new talent, while 16% report that skills development for the finance function is not a priority (Figure 14).
Skills training makes up only a very small proportion of programme spend, indicating that it is not seen as a priority. And with less than 10% of respondents stating that their transformation programmes focus on talent and employee skills, are organisations setting themselves up to fail?
Even when organisations choose to invest in the top skills gaps; digital, people and leadership skills, the majority allocate less than 10% of their training budget to these areas (Figure 15). Although this looks set to improve in coming years,
two-thirds of organisations will continue to invest less than 20% of their training budget in the four areas of digital infrastructure, digital implementation, leadership and people skills.
Which of these skills areas would you choose
to invest in (or have invested in), to maximise organisational growth? (Select one answer.)
- 1. Digital infrastructure skills
- 2. Digital implementation skills
- 3. Leadership skills
- 4. People skills
- 5. I would not invest in skills
We found that on average 59% of finance transformation budgets is allocated to consultants, technology upgrades and implementation (Figure 16). Over half the organisations surveyed told us that they allocate less than 10% of their budget to training new staff, with 41% reporting similar levels for existing staff.
When we asked organisations about their priorities for the finance training budget, we found that training in ‘people skills’, including communication, influencing and negotiation, was a lower priority than updating technical and regulatory knowledge. Almost half of the respondents (48%) stated that such training made up less than 10% of the total training budget. Leadership (41%) and digital implementation skills (44%) had similarly low budget allocations. However, increased investment was expected in all three areas, indicating that gaps in these areas have been recognised.
One reason for this restraint may be that finance’s traditional role and perception as a control function causes an innate ‘austerity mindset’ that leads it to under-invest in its own people. Finance teams are often too busy with legacy system workarounds to see past short-term firefighting. But businesses will need to invest in digital skills if they are to grow and thrive. The best data science talent does not come cheap: if employers cannot buy in new skills, they need to prioritise the development of their existing staff.
Barriers to skills development
Key findings 5
No two transformation journeys are identical, and all encounter obstacles at some point. The changing role and mandate of finance xvi identifies three interconnected themes impacting the emerging role of the finance professional:
Accountants are too busy with workarounds and legacy systems, or simply don’t have the capacity to engage with and support the business in broader roles.
Accountants may need to develop one or more of the skills needed for a broader role extending across and beyond organisational boundaries, such as developing their business understanding or improving their data analytics, interpersonal or commercial skills.
Even when accountants have the required capacity and skills, and are highly regarded for their professionalism and expertise, company culture may prevent them from gaining a reputation for the commercial skills that would enable them to fulfil a broader role.
Our survey indicates that the main issues lie in the areas of capacity and competence, without which credibility becomes a challenge, particularly in the digital age (Figure 17). Over a quarter (27%) of our respondents reported that time constraints present the most significant barrier to development for finance teams, with 56% considering this to be one of the top three barriers (Figure 17). Insufficient investment in skills development (43%) and technology (41.5%) were also key barriers.
Through our conversations with leading businesses, we see a growing focus on the mapping of future-ready skills and competencies, with employee-led career planning replacing traditional talent management programmes.
The human perspective
Learn about transformation
We spoke to nine leading employers from a range of industries about the experience they have gained while implementing finance transformation programmes. Although the drivers of change and end goals varied, all agreed that their people were, and are, a key consideration throughout.
Transformation programmes fell into two common themes: skills and talent; and roles, structures and processes. We found that the maturity of the programme had an impact on its focus — those organisations that were focused on the development of employee skills and talent tended to be those that had already implemented a solid technology infrastructure enabling ‘one way of working’.
Employee training and development was a key element of all the programmes. Many of those we spoke with referred to the 70:20:10 learning and development model, in which individuals obtain 70% of their knowledge ‘on the job’ through experience and workplace support, 20% from social interactions with others, and 10% from formal educational events and courses.xvii While actual percentages may vary across organisations, the model reflects the significance of workplace learning (Table 1).
• Workplace support
• Information sources
• Interaction with leaders
• Collaborative working
Growth mindset is seen as crucial to success, and this philosophy is clearly reflected in programme planning. Although all organisations had some form of a roadmap, they unanimously viewed transformation as an ongoing, evolving process rather than a defined project with a beginning, middle and end.
Leading organisations are taking the initiative early, preparing their employees for new, yet undefined, future roles.
What kind of ‘on-the-job’ training are you offering? (select one answer)
- 1. Job Rotation
- 2. Secondments
- 3. Shadowing
- 4. ‘How-to’ guides/resources
Case Studies by industry
Oil and Gas
Information and communications technology
Time to redress
Building the skills, behaviours
and mindset for change
Finance functions globally are transforming — 76% of organisations are planning, developing or delivering new systems, processes, competencies and capacities for the future. With the focus firmly on improving internal reporting, processing and data analytics, investment in technology is crucial to success. But to fully reap the cost, efficiency and performance benefits, finance must also invest in its people. On average, 59% of finance transformation budgets are allocated to consultants, technology and implementation, and a further 26% on the recruitment and training of new staff. Skills training and development for existing staff make up only 14%.
Yet, despite 34% of organisations reporting that their main skills gaps lie in the emerging areas of digital infrastructure and implementation, most employers are keen to retain and reskill existing staff, with only one-fifth preferring to hire new talent. But in this busy, complex world, skills development often takes a back seat, with time constraints and insufficient investment in both skills training and technology being reported as the main barriers.
Employers must take note, redress the balance and ensure that they fully comprehend the pivotal role people play in the success (or failure) of sustainable business transformation. The top three critical success factors for transformation relate to people rather than technology — workforce motivation to make or embrace change, growth mindset and strong leadership.
Leaders have many roles to play; introducing and communicating the need for change, acting as a change champion and enrolling employees in idea generation.
The future is unpredictable: ensuring that finance teams have the right mix of digital, technical, business and people skills to deliver insight, influence and impact will be essential if organisations are to successfully navigate the uncharted waters ahead.
'By far the most successful transformation programmes I’ve seen are the ones with very clear sponsorship and leadership at the very top. It’s not a ‘fire and forget’ thing where you launch the programme and then just expect everyone else to go and deliver it without any further input or nurturing'.
Robert Bolton, Partner, Global People and Change Centre of Excellence, KPMG International
Meanwhile, finance professionals must recognise that the skills they developed through their professional training are no longer an automatic passport to a sustainable, lucrative career. Rather, they are a foundation to build upon through CPD and CPE, and this commitment to lifelong learning remains a personal responsibility for qualified accountants, whatever their role. A wide range of support resources is available via online portals such as the CGMA Competency and Learning website.
The ever-changing external business environment demands a flexible, evolutionary and sustainable approach to skills development, as individuals, as employers, as leaders and as a profession.
Digital technology is the most significant enabler in this regard, but the optimisation of outcomes can only occur when finance invests in its people.
Guiding principles for
success, as defined by
Following these principles will help ensure that people remain key to transformation programmes
Chartered Global Management Accountant® (CGMA)
CGMA is the most widely held management accounting designation in the world. It distinguishes more than 150,000 accounting and finance professionals who have advanced proficiency in finance, operations, strategy and management. In the U.S., the vast majority are also CPAs. The CGMA designation is underpinned by extensive global research to maintain the highest relevance with employers and develop competencies most in demand. CGMA designation holders qualify through rigorous education, exam and experience requirements. They must commit to lifelong education and adhere to a stringent code of ethical conduct. Businesses, governments and nonprofits around the world trust CGMA designation holders to guide critical decisions that drive strong performance.
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Rebecca McCaffry, FCMA, CGMA
Associate Technical Director —
Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
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