The CFO’s role is constantly evolving. They need to be strategic whilst delivering on traditional responsibilities. One way to achieve this is to embrace technology in financial planning.
CFOs are yielding insights from continually enriched data sets and contemporary technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA). But the best way to truly move finance from a transactional function to a strategic one will be to coordinate these efforts to create real-time visibility.
Real-time data availability has a special place with CFOs as they try to master the juggling act of being operational, strategic, compliant and innovative to integrate business systems and build a collaborative enterprise.
Benefits to CFOs
The change to a real-time, digitally-sound system benefits CFOs directly, with 54% CFO respondents to an Onguard Fintech Barometer survey indicating that they make decisions based on data, with 41% using that data to make predictive analyses.
CFOs can benefit from real-time financial planning, reduce costs, and provide insightful results. For financial consolidation, real-time visibility offers appropriate calculations dynamically by sourcing data from financial systems. What CFOs gain from real-time visibility is faster closing times, tighter controls and auditability, consolidation, elimination of error-prone manual tasks, reduced risks, more time for data analysis, and accurate decision-making.
Real-time solution platforms on cloud enhance reporting by recognizing trends early, meaning more scope for new business opportunities.
For issues like anti-money laundering, having real-time visibility is essential to spot the fraud right at its on-set.
Need for real-time visibility
Pras Chatterjee, senior director – Product Marketing for Enterprise Performance Management at SAP, says in an article on Digitalist: “Before coming to SAP, I had spent much of my career in finance. I sometimes think of myself as the worst financial analyst of all time – because whenever an executive wanted to know something, my standard response was I’ll get back to you. Executives don’t like this answer. They want it like it is in the movies: instant knowledge and understanding right now. This requires a new way of doing things for finance.
“In the old way, books are closed at the end of the month; then final reports are generated after five days of adjustments, when lines of business can compare what’s happened to actual budgets – and so on and so forth. What’s needed today is real-time visibility – seeing what’s happening now and also what lies ahead. For this kind of visibility, finance now has the tools to execute. It’s not as effortless as in the movies, but it’s getting there. Here are some ideas on how to make it a reality for your company.”
Pras also feels there is a need for integrating business systems with real-time visibility. He added: “To make decisions based on reality, finance needs a comprehensive and consolidated view of enterprise data across lines of business. Such a view is the outcome of integrated business systems that operate based on a common data layer used by all business units throughout the enterprise.
“When critical systems for finance, HR, marketing, sales, R&D, operations, supply chain, customer service, and more all run on systems that talk to one another, true enterprise-wide visibility is possible. The clickety-clack of the keyboard required to jump over from a CRM application to the supply chain system and see events unfold in real time is something companies are capable of today – not just in the movies.”
Spreadsheets are a problem
As useful as spreadsheets can be, they are often pushed beyond their limits in a business setting when teams or departments need to collaborate to develop complex plans, budgets and forecasts.
Spreadsheets have been the backbone of finance and accounting for decades, even as technology has changed and evolved over the years. With dramatic shifts in internal and external reporting requirements, an increased reliance on manual spreadsheets has become highly problematic.
Businesses simply cannot complete in today’s rapidly changing economy by managing static data in standalone spreadsheets.
Pras suggests using real-time visibility avenues and sidesteping the problem of spreadsheets: “Integrated business systems and a common data foundation can help your company move away from silos. Instead of keeping data on individual spreadsheets stored on servers dedicated to specific lines of business (a textbook definition of a business silo), you can enable access to live data in real-time.
“Not that spreadsheets really go away. Nobody wants to ban a tool that has enabled modern finance. But now, the data represented in whatever spreadsheet being used can be checked against the live data in the live system. No more disagreements on the numbers. This is the beginning of company-wide alignment.”