CFOs under digital pressure, CIOs under CFO pressure
By Benjamin Cher November 26, 2015
- Despite challenges, finance professionals are upbeat about their future
- Recognise the need to develop soft skills to contribute more to the business
CHIEF financial officers (CFOs) need to get more digital, while chief information officers (CIOs) need to get more in tune with the business, even as finance professionals recognise they need to upskill themselves.
Welcome to today’s digitally-disrupted corporate world. According to a global survey on finance professionals commissioned by German business software giant SAP SE, CIOs are seeing others in the C-suite encroaching on their territory, with the latest being the CFO.
CIOs will just have to face up to this reality and evolve, SAP Asia Pacific Japan CFO Richard McLean told a recent media briefing in Singapore.
“Business processes are evolving to become cross-organisational and cross-geographical, from end to end,” he said.
“IT needs to enable and facilitate these processes, while business owners need to own the processes and use the information to control the activities and processes,” he added.
IT is still an important role, but needs to evolve to support the other important aspects of the business, McLean argued.
The role of the CIO needs to become a business function, shedding the old cost-and-support function, declared SAP Asia Pacific Japan chief operating officer (COO) Scott Russell (pic).
“They really need to be a business function, because technology allows more interactivity in changing business processes, and they have to provide that flexibility,” he said.
“CIOs are no longer just making decisions about vendors – they are instead partnering the CFO or COO to uncover the critical information needed to run a business and provide the necessary infrastructure,” he added.
The CIO needs to reduce the complexity faced by decision-makers, Russell argued. “From a technology point of view, it is [too] easy to create complexity.”
The future is so bright …
In the survey, conducted by CFO Research, 1,540 finance professionals across the world were questioned, including 292 from Asia, for the report titled Thriving in the Digital Economy: Four Reasons Finance is Excited About the Future.
Generally, finance professionals are upbeat about what technology can do for finance functions, and recognise that developing effective use of technology will spell their success in the future.
The survey also talked to 50 respondents from Singapore, with professionals here foreseeing their scope expanding to include IT (41%), risk management (36%), mergers and acquisitions (34%), human resources (30%), and procurement (32%).
Finance professionals are not looking to be boxed into the back-office, said McLean.
“We are being asked to do more outside our scope and take on more responsibilities, which we are happy to do so,” he said.
Data, analytics and technology
In the survey, 71% of finance professionals are now seeing a greater need to be able to report meaningful insights from data, but along with this, are experiencing greater difficulty in swiftly translating the increasingly complex volumes of data into action.
“82% of finance professionals want instantaneous access to comprehensive, up-to-date financial performance data,” McLean (pic above) said.
“Increasingly, our role is in business planning and analysis, strategy setting and execution,” he added.
Also, 82% of finance professionals are seeing an increased contribution in those roles, and 80% see the need to develop new capabilities in advanced analytics.
In fact, 76% see the ability to make effective use of advanced analytics and 79% see the ability to make effective use of big data as being essential to their success.
Coupled with that is the ability to adapt rapidly amidst complexity (87%) and being able to translate data into swift action (80%).
These responses translate into three key finance challenges, according to McLean, with increasing complexity being one of them.
“The greater pace of change brings complexity, especially if you are an established organisation,” he said.
“The biggest headache around the ability to change and be agile is the legacy you have in your business,” he added.
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A Fortune 500 company runs an average of 36 applications for their day-to-day operations, bringing with that layers and layers of systems and process complexity, McLean argued.
The next challenge is the concept of the ‘single source of truth.’
“To provide insights and analysis on a real-time basis, you need to have confidence and control of the systems in your business to ensure the integrity of the data that informs your decisions,” he said.
Soft skills, cultural shifts
There is also a growing concern that finance professionals need to change the kinds of skills and talents they have been developing.
“The skills that we need are different today from the past,” McLean said.
“Historically, we had a heavy focus on technical skills, but in the future, we will need to adapt to be more experienced on the softer side – from communicating to influencing, to get our message across to the rest of the organisation,” he added.
When it comes to finance professionals needing such soft skills, SAP is walking the talk, McLean argued – it has been running a global programme around change management for the last three years.
“We have a programme called ‘Finance Runs Better Together,’ and within that, we have streams called ‘Amazing People Development’ and ‘Integrative Network Skills’,” he said.
“This is how we cradle a learning culture where people are encouraged, and in most cases, required to develop themselves and change,” he added.
SAP calls this ‘future-proofing,’ to ensure that its employees remain relevant and play an increasing role in the business, according to McLean.
“We understand that to do that, we need to get serious about it and dedicate resources to ensure this programme gets done,” he said.
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