The CFO's agenda is evolving and with it, expectations of the role are increasing. Some CFOs now want to harness new cloud-based digital tools to create new challenges and new opportunities.
Traditionally, the CFO's office was only responsible for activities such as financial controls, compliance, treasury and administration. Now, CFOs try to develop more in-depth business insights to support better and faster decision making.
Abhay Chauhan, Associate Vice President APAC, Infosys, says finance chiefs are increasingly being called on to include corporate issues such as governance in their agenda.
“The finance function is seeking a fundamental shift from traditional controllership to being a strategic business partner," he explains.
With this in mind, here are some of the main IT trends CFOs are working through right now.
1. Strategy building is top of mind
Everything starts with strategy. With many CFOs embarking on transformation strategies, many are focusing on the underlying tech strategy to underpin their long-term technology needs.
“We're all so busy running our businesses day-to-day, it's essential to take the time to step back and build your tech strategy," says Natalie Chrara, Vice President of APAC Sales for IT solutions provider Sage.
“Even taking a day or two at the start of the year to map out your goals, priorities and plans is so important."
She says that integrating the IT strategy into the overall business strategy requires clear and consistent communication across the business. To do this, CFOs need to communicate and collaborate with everyone in the firm, she adds.
“Work with the finance team, business leaders and the head of sales to exchange ideas about where the business is going and the part everyone plays in that. That's how you achieve gains across everyone's work," she says.
Chauhan agrees. “CFOs are often required to be the drivers of change within the wider enterprise, managing digital transformation effectively and clearly communicating the benefits of change to employees," he says.
“With the finance function responsible for business efficiencies and return on investment, the CFO's stake in enterprise IT strategy is critical in shaping how organisations realise the cost benefits of new technologies."
He adds that the strategic planning process is more likely to succeed if you're clear about what you're trying to achieve and the information you need to reach your goals.
Says Chrara: “Don't over-complicate things at the start. Focus on the critical information to keep your business running.
“CFOs still have to continue running the business, they can't step away from their day jobs just to focus on technology transformation. So let changes settle in, review how they are working. Then on a quarterly basis look at enhancements you can make to take the system to the next level."
2. Work out what to do with your data
Chrara believes data security needs to be top-of-mind for CFOs. “They need to think about how safe their information is, where it's secured, who has access and, if anything happens, where there's a backup the CFO and the wider company can access," she says.
Once data is secure, the next step for finance chiefs is deciding what to do with their data once it's organised in one place.
“CFOs need to be thinking about how they access data and how frequently they can pull down reports. We're really trying to help finance leaders get their heads out of admin to focus on the impact the data provides," Chrara says.
Her advice to CFOs is to take a step back and look beyond finance to make the most of their data. “Look at day-to-day and longer-term goals and figure out what you need to help reach those goals."
Chauhan agrees that it is important to work out what you're going to do with your data.
“Introducing systems that can handle big data and advanced analytics can redefine the role of the CFO from one of financial controller to strategic adviser. By harnessing technologies such as robotics, automation and analytics, CFOs can streamline many processes within the traditional finance function. This means they are able to spend less time on low-skilled work and more time delivering meaningful and strategic outcomes," he says.
3. Make it easy for customers
Chrara believes a good way to be successful long-term is to have great customers who are raving fans of the business.
To help bring this about, Chrara says CFOs might consider how to feed customer intelligence back into the finance function.
“Whenever I look at technology decisions within our business I always try to find ways to extend this to my customer. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for my customers to deal with us without having to always wait to talk to a person," she says.
This might involve deploying bots and tools to start talking to customers as soon as they land on the business' website, social media platforms and apps.
4. Standardise IT systems across the business
Chauhan argues that for CFOs to master the art of data creation and modification, an environment free of disparate solutions and inefficient solutions should be a priority.
“A greater level of harmonisation in processes, data, and applications can bring with it higher reliability and speed of information delivered," he says. Consolidating data from disparate legacy applications can generate insights that support better decision making, he adds.
Today's CFO is asked to simplify and standardise finance processes, improve reporting and data governance, and manage world-class finance operations.
“This requires at a base level the ability to rapidly move to a flexible operating model that caters to varied business requirements," he says. Opportunities can easily go to waste if finance processes aren't geared for market realities, he adds.
Technology management is an ongoing process for CFOs. You may find success by ensuring it's an ongoing agenda item so that the right technology is embedded in the business over time.
- Put a technology strategy in place before choosing technology partners.
- Get buy-in across the business to get the most from technology implementations.
- Work out what data is needed to make business decisions and put in place robust systems to gather and analyse it.