The Pragmatic CFO: The Role of Technology

By Mark Richards ( & Stephen Shaffer ( – Practical Finance – Blog posts from Finance for Finance

How to Respond to Our Changing Landscape

As fellow finance professionals, we all agree the expectations for our roles are changing—in fact a recent Google search on “The Changing Role of Finance” delivers over 90 million results.

Thack Brown (COO & CFO of SAP LATAM & Caribbean SAP) in his presentation to finance executive, “A New Tomorrow for the CFO in Driving Growth and Managing Risk”, outlined key items added to our core responsibilities or the “What” is changing

  • Focusing on opportunities over problems
  • Empowering people to make independent decisions
  • Preparing to move when opportunity arises
  • Building and monitoring investment plans with business leaders
  • Taking ownership of technology decisions

Each item on Thack’s list requires Finance to correlate and analyze multiple streams of data then publish relevant business information, all the while collaborating with the business to understand what is behind the results being published.

Accepting the “What” of the change is already happening, perhaps the bigger question is instead “So What”, how this change shapes three critical areas:

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  • Culture – creating expectation that your team can deliver this expanded view
  • Team – redeploying, developing and adding talent
  • Technology – using as an enabler to expand finance reach and efficiency

We start with technology, because even in the midst of change Finance’s own operating budget usually remains the same. Therefore, you are required to find efficiency within your team to address new duties – and technology becomes the key enabler.

Most of us have seen a dip in efficiency and rise in costs as we’ve rushed to meet SOX or governance requirements. The rise of the Cloud-based financials comes at a great time to help us improve efficiency and deliver more to the business. Cloud technology is a significant topic; we begin with our view on the Cloud and how to think about its benefits, having worked with both on-premise and cloud-based financials.

Cloud computingFirst, it’s not a binary choice between Cloud and On-Premise. You can use Cloud-based financials in either a hybrid (alongside On-Premise) or stand-alone model. Subsidiaries and remote locations can be an excellent place to initiate the use of the Cloud.

Second, the Cloud can either be a fully integrated package (supply chain, core financials, travel) or accounting system integrated with other 3rd party systems. Either way, the Cloud allows great flexibility in both deployment and level of commitment to single technology.

Third, the limited upfront cost of the Cloud (no IT staff, servers, etc.) and open integration, allows for more in-parallel testing and build as needed.

Fourth, a major consideration of the Finance team is data management when it comes to delivering insight to manage the business (financial, risk management, capital). The Cloud with open APIs was built for integration and remote access, thus allowing both more data and access to the same set of data by a broader set of users.

Fifth, the Cloud is well-suited to serve the continued evolution toward a mobile workforce, both in where we find talent and how information is consumed. The focus of development is less on building on existing technology platform and more on functionality that integrates with multiple technologies.

The benefits of the Cloud will ultimately vary by company–below are some starter questions to consider identify where Cloud technology may fit and building a business case for its use.

As fellow finance professionals, the goal for our posts is to provide a very practical and sometimes tactical approach to enhancing the Finance organization – theory is interesting, but it’s decisions we make around our team and technology that make us relevant to the business. When it comes to Finance, the streets and sewers matter.

We invite you to share your insights. Our next post will focus on “Team” and positive impact of ‘unlearning’ certain behaviors.

Best regards,

Steve & Mark

Starter Questions for Looking at Cloud Financials

Using the initial thoughts shared above on Cloud technology, answering these questions will help begin your business case for how and where Cloud technology will work within your organization.

Location of team

  • Where is talent needed on your team going to be located over the next 5 years?

Efficiency of team

  • Do you have an expansive chart of accounts to manage?
  • How much work does it take to change accounts and revise historical views within both accounting and management reporting?
  • Does your team spend a portion of time to coordinate subledgers or data feeds to the main ledger?

Access to information

  • Do you share the same operational data base with the field?
  • Can your current financial system easily pass or accept information?

Analyzing data

  • How well can you correlate your accounting data to operational data to allow you to produce different views of profitability?
  • How much of your analysis relies upon downloading information into Excel?
  • How quickly can your team collaborate with the field and turn around answers to issues?

Sharing of information

  • Does the management and field rely upon Finance to deliver their reports or can they access directly?
  • How much time does the team spend in managing historical data to keep it accurate with changes in the business (reorganization, etc.)

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