Edition 49, Finance

The new role of financial officers as technology evangelists

El Nuevo Perfil de los Directores Financieros como Evangelistas TecnológicosBy: Daniel Laniado
Managing Director of Financial Services
Accenture Mexico

The modern function of finance does not resemble the classical view of the practice, since it is now driven and empowered by data and analytic tools and by the new collaborative ways of working. Modern financial organizations are no longer satisfied with containing costs and keeping accounts…

Among the recurring questions in the minds of decision-makers in the financial management offices of businesses are those that focus on the following topics: How can modern financial officers adapt new technologies into their finance functions to enable new capabilities and transform the mission of finance? How can one correctly evaluate the degree of technological empowerment in the area of ​​finance compared to other lines of business? And; how well the area of ​​finance fulfills its new mission of providing the company with guidance and strategic prospects?

The modern function of finance does not resemble the classical view of the practice, since it is now driven and empowered by data and analytic tools and by the new collaborative ways of working. Modern financial organizations are no longer satisfied with containing costs and keeping accounts. Modern finance aims to be part of the evolution of the business by relying on its operational knowledge and analytical expertise to provide management with understanding and guidance regarding where to invest to boost innovation and growth.

Modern finance works hand in hand with other business areas and becomes a key partner to identify bottlenecks and opportunities based on facts rather than opinion. Modern finance is committed to operational excellence and will automate or “outsource” routine transactions whenever possible so that it can focus on activities that add value to differentiate and boost the business.

CFOs who are at the helm of modern financial organizations recognize the value of digital technologies for finance and business in a more general way. They are committed to keeping up to date the competencies of professionals in their areas through next-generation applications with analytical, mobile and social capabilities that are part of their work plan. More and more CFOs are behind corporate transformation projects, providing executives with operational and analytical knowledge and with budgetary discipline in order to maintain the business.

Nearly seven out of every ten (68%) finance and business executives think that the CFO is an evangelist who is sure of issues regarding technological transformation, but only one fifth (20%) thinks that financial organizations have adopted the latest technology, according to a new study from Accenture and Oracle.

The study’s findings, published in the report, “Empowering Modern Finance: The CFO as Technology Evangelist,” show a greater perception of decision-makers in the areas of finance as partners in the implementation of new technologies. For example, 23% of the 300 non-financial senior executives that were surveyed stated that the capacity of the finance area to provide a current view of performance in relation to the budget “does not meet expectations” and even 42% of the 975 finance executives surveyed believe that there are opportunities for improvement. However, finance professionals are increasingly seen as active collaborators and 80% think that the financial area is “excellent” or “above average” as far as its ability to cooperate with the rest of the business.

According to the findings of the new report, almost three quarters (72%) of the finance executives think that cloud technology, mobile devices and social media will change the way in which finance is structured and managed. The study also shows that financial functions are investing in new technologies.

According to the study, 28% of respondents in the financial area already use cloud technology to support development of budgets, planning and forecasting, and another 34% plan to add these functions to the cloud next year. Also, more than two thirds of the respondents have already adopted a cloud-based system in some part of their organization for use with core financial aspects (24%) or are developing a plan to do so (45%).

Finance directors are under great pressure to improve their performance as a result of the perception that they are not sufficiently committed to new technologies. The findings show that financial leaders are in fact investing in cloud and other technologies to create modern financial organizations that are capable of supporting profitable growth.

The survey uncovered the questions that motivate finance leaders when they try to guide their organizations and plan out winning strategies: How do we add prospects and value to the business? How can we help empower decision-makers as part of a service organization? How can we provide them the service they require? How do we add value to our processes and make them more efficient? How do we remain up-to-date on technology so that we are never left behind?

It is clear that a CFO’s crucial role should be to make sure to keep his organization at the forefront of technology and maximize that which can be applied to the business. This involves getting the information out of the office and into the hands of the clients.

Although close to 30% of finance and business executives state that processes still are done on paper, there is a trend to switch to automation and digitization. Currently, almost 50% use applications for mobile devices and 53% use network systems to manage business processes.

Finance functions also show progress in resolving a shortage of skills that is encountered as new responsibilities require staff with greater technical expertise. To meet the need for new skills and analytical capabilities to carry out a modern financial program, almost half of those surveyed have seen an increase in the number of financial analysts hired since 2011. However, when asked to identify barriers to the adoption of new technologies, 38% of the respondents cited lack of internal skills. Only 5% mentioned the lack of support from senior management as an obstacle.

It is encouraging to see the progress and foresight that financial leaders have shown by overcoming traditional operational barriers and making use of new technologies. These modern financial organizations will want to train and hire professionals with solid analytical skills and business knowledge to help the CFOs of today achieve the full potential that finance has to offer.

Data analysis and the new forms of collaborative work enable modern financial organizations, which no longer limit their focus to cost containment but look for new ways to provide value and prospects to the rest of the company. Although there is obvious progress, there remains a significant gap between aspirations and reality.

In the future, the finance function will have to put more emphasis on creating for itself a long-term business vision of the business as a whole and bolstering the growth agenda with better data. It must find new ways to collaborate as a strategic partner with the rest of the organization, while it adopts a much more service-oriented focus.

Many CFOs direct their efforts to the creation of a finance function that is enabled by technology, but there is still a long way to go, given that many companies continue to make decisions based on obsolete data. While great progress has been made in the delivery of valuable data with the aid of analytics tools, this practice can be improved significantly.

We should recognize an important finding: Although CFOs are seen as evangelists of technology, there is still a gap between ambition and reality. While 43% of executive officers believe that their sales organization has adopted the latest technologies, only 20% consider that their finance organization has done the same. Obviously there are still obstacles to the adoption of new technologies in the area of ​​finance.

Modern finance areas are both service providers as well as collaborative strategists, with key analysts in their business lines that contribute to analysis and to decision-making. Modern finance also offers business unit managers detailed reports that they can use to analyze information as needed. Finance teams employ the latest technology tools that are used in social networks, mobile devices and collaboration so as to remain linked to the views, strategies and activities of their business partners.

The finance function of the future will have to be much more automated and efficient, and it will have to take advantage on intelligence of digital technologies, ranging from mobile finance tools and the acquisition of valuable data using the latest analytics to social networks and the cloud.

The finance function can manage internal and external resources to deliver services and solutions of high quality and with competitive costs that address end-to-end business problems and drive value creation. Throughout the business and the regions, as comprehensive business service organizations become strategic partners to the company, they can help revolutionize the way in which a company organizes its administrative and support functions but also more of its office activities and its service to customers. They can also improve the focus on the standardization of processes and the organization. Their proximity to the business allows them to share responsibility with the company to achieve business results.

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