Many financial departments have gone wholly or partially remote in the wake of the pandemic, creating unique challenges. As well as preventing face-to-face collaboration, the new way of working has forced them to re-evaluate the way they handle specific functions within the finance operation and streamline them for remote working.
Nick Jackson, finance transformation lead at Oracle, says his company’s digital overhaul began before the pandemic but has since gone into overdrive. Key to this transformation has been the move to a single general ledger and a single set of data.
“We migrated different services… starting from the transactional stuff and went through to enterprise performance management,” he says. “Now we’re bringing our planning, consolidation and reporting capabilities on top of that.”
A similar story is shared by Mike Lashmar, financial director at international sporting venue The Ageas Bowl: “We have undertaken a root and branch change of our systems, using the upheaval caused by the pandemic to transform how we do everything. We have replaced our finance systems, are working through our payroll systems and have basically reorganised many of the things we do.”
When asked about the specific technologies that are being adopted, CFOs gave a broad sweep of responses. Some said they are adopting technologies like Salesforce and Sage, which were already popular prior to the pandemic but are now enjoying a fresh period of growth. Others mentioned less-famous products such as Jitterbit, a platform integration solution that allows different virtual systems to work together, and Valytica, which is used to streamline direct debit processes.
Migrating to the cloud
Another key trend within the finance function is the adoption of cloud data systems, which allow companies to host their financial data remotely and securely. Various surveys have illustrated the growth of cloud technology during the pandemic. According to a recent survey by Statista, 34 percent of SMEs and 29 percent of larger organisations said their migration to the cloud has been significantly higher than planned due to Covid-19.
“I have finance teams based in multiple jurisdictions globally, and it became increasingly clear [during lockdown] that we needed to drive efficiencies from the way we work,” says Rahul Shah, finance director at meetings technology company Lumi. “We therefore moved to cloud-based systems, which enables easy access and cross collaboration between my teams.”
However, the use of cloud computing is just one method financial directors have taken to streamline their approach to data. In addition to Covid-19, today’s financial leaders are still coming to terms with GDPR, with both obstacles requiring a smarter, more rigorous approach to overcome.
Many of those Financial Director spoke to have harnessed specialist technology to streamline their data process, from hosted fields and portals that remove the need to handle sensitive information to robotic process automation systems that take over the data-gathering process completely. And to support the implementation of such technologies, many finance teams have invested in training to educate their people on modern data practices.
We’re co-developing a data pool across our company,” says Baris Oran, CFO at logistics firm GXO. “This will help drive data consistency and train our team members, using their advanced data analytics skills, to deliver even more results for our business and customers.”
Management consultancy McKinsey has recommended that CFOs play a lead role in digital transformation.
However, while some CFOs want to take a very hands-on approach, using the analysis tools at their disposal to directly influence the choice and use of each application. Others, prefer to oversee the transformation process, managing their various specialists and ensuring that the right people are in the right roles. Workday’s Brian Montgomery, for example, believes that finance chiefs “should be writing the reports, tweaking and doing the basic configurations –?because they know the business, they know the accounting rules.”
This is echoed by Peter Gibson, financial director of Hastings Hotels, who says “the ability to act as a strategic business partner is key to the role of the CFO, and it is only possible to do this if you have the ability to look behind the numbers and assess the key risks and opportunities facing the business.”
Mark Duggan, finance and strategy director at Insite Energy, says that his role is to “lead the project board, which undertakes a monthly review of progress against each of our transformation projects… it’s crucial to identify the skillsets required for each project and to assign tasks and responsibilities accordingly, bearing in mind the resources available.
“A good example of this is how we’ve been able to apply the experience of our KURVE app project manager to our latest digital transformation projects. In the past two years she has managed what we believe is the most ambitious and complex cloud-based integration project there has been (creating one product by linking brand new software with existing technologies and systems, involving no less than five parties and four different IT systems).
“When that kind of skill is available, I’ll take more of an oversight role.”
A new, agile world
CFOs told us that they have already achieved several key benefits through their transformation drive, justifying the amount of time and effort they have invested.
These benefits include a greater amount of data, which translates into more effective, objective insights around financial performance; greater security around the data; and fewer costly disruptions. Oracle’s Jackson is now “able to keep the show on the road with continuous operations and, therefore, improve the services we are offering internally and to our customers”.
But perhaps the biggest single benefit is increased agility, according to Workday’s Montgomery. “Agility has become the number one priority and that’s what the CFOs of the future are aiming to achieve. This is why technology’s potential to transform finance functions has become one of the most exciting parts of a CFO’s job.
“The reliance on data and move to cloud-based solutions has caused a fundamental shift in how the finance function works. CFOs can set their own metrics and pull together forecasts instantly. They are becoming hands-on with the data and are starting to own everything from basic configurations to reporting.
“Doing things the old way was very much that hamster wheel of going through processes. When the business came to you and wanted something different, that was an additional stress. The tech means you go from ‘please just leave me alone’, to ‘bring it on.’”