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The changing role of today’s finance department

Christina Bowe, Regional Director UKI, Perceptive Software


Chief Finance Officers (CFOs) or Directors of Finance (FDs) are continuously challenged to get the most out of their data. With new regulatory and compliance requirements placing greater emphasis on governance and risk reporting, consumers expect to get their information the way they want it, fast. As a result there have been rapid changes to the marketplace and FDs are looking to automation and workflow to help them face today’s big data challenges.

10 years ago saw companies thriving in a stable and growing economic environment where finance departments implemented systems that digitised processes and improved efficiency. But five years ago everything changed. The impact of market volatility on the finance department goes much deeper than the obvious cash flow management to concerns with financial performance, risk management and future flexibility.

Today, CFOs who had previously enjoyed a stable market are now battling with exchange rate shifts that increase the complexity of financial processes. Accounts receivable, accounts payable and cash cycle management have changed exponentially. In financial planning and analysis, digitised tools were once seen as the solution to visibility but are now struggling to give a 360 view of businesses thanks to organisational and market complexities.

According to Deloitte’s recent CFO paper, global volatility, fragility of the economy and execution missteps are some of the top concerns of CFOs. Up against thought consuming priorities like these, getting approval on a technology solution seems like a daunting proposition. However, as organisations are continually challenged to increase efficiency, implementing technology to streamline back office tasks and reduce errors has become a necessity.

In today’s recovering economy, project leaders are responsible for proving the value of the solution they champion as they present it to their C-level executives. If a project leader fails to explain how the project fits in with the overall corporate objectives, doesn’t give tangible proof of expected ROI or can’t relate the case to the success of the overall business – not just their own department – they’ll likely miss an opportunity to turn a sceptical CFO into an enthusiastic advocate.

Executives determine whether a project will make a strong enough impact to merit their approval by determining how they might benefit from project implementation. Providing a CFO with a ‘What’s in it for me?’ perspective to prove the true value can go a long way toward getting a project approved.

A presenter should get to the benefits of their proposal within 90 seconds to keep the audience’s attention. Coupled with the daily communication overload that’s become the norm for everyone, it’s clear that a project proposal must appeal immediately to the approvers’ self-interests or it could languish in the ‘maybe next year’ category for a long time.

A well-developed presentation is extremely effective, but only if the project team is able to determine what really is in it for their CFO. To develop a research-based, benefit-driven presentation, consider these elements:

  • Support for strategic goals – Outline all the areas that will benefit from implementing the proposed solution. Include quotes from leaders in those departments that highlight the problems they’re experiencing and how the project will address those issues.
  • Financial impact – Carefully research any numbers that will be used to create return on investment. Project costs and ensure they are accurate and include all factors.
  • Leading practices – Research best practices and outline how the solution will better align the company’s processes with these practices.
  • Peer review – Talk to other organisations that have dealt with similar issues and deployed the proposed technology. Include the names and titles of those satisfied with the solution and quote them to emphasise key points and add interest.
  • Audit controls – Consider meeting with internal auditors to discuss the business issue and recommended solution to get their confirmation on the value of the stronger controls that it will create. Request written confirmation of their support that may be shared during the presentation process.
  • Resource impacts – Meet with information technology or other departments that will have a role during the implementation process to get their assessment of the required resource commitment.
  • Integration with ERPs and core applications – Document the tasks the proposed solution will automate and highlight how these functions enhance the functionality and flexibility of core applications.

When presenting a solution for accounts payable (AP) for example, it may be obvious to department managers that back office tasks need to be handled with as much automation as possible to reduce errors, speed up cash flow, and keep labour costs in check. To a CFO, a compelling story is necessary to prove the additional value an automated solution will add.

While executives are rightfully cautious about spending money on new projects, a compelling, factual case will allow them to see the value automation solutions can bring to the organisation.
In many cases after implementation, the value of automation proves itself quickly.

The role of the CFO and how they view their organisation is evolving. According to IDC’s 2013 European Software survey, key priorities for business leaders in 2013 include increasing productivity, processing innovation and improving the quality of products/services. Historically, this was the IT department’s responsibility but now it falls firmly within the remit of the CFO. The CFO’s role in IT decision making is key as they are in an ideal position to evaluate the financial risk any such project may bring, as well as looking at the long-term goals of the company and how potential new technology will play into this.

Today’s CFO is faced with the opportunity move the business from an operational focus that revolves around keeping statutory accounts and compliance to a far more strategic role. A compelling business case and investment analysis is critical to make an initiative a part of this transformation.

In this capacity, the CFO can support the company’s strategic growth initiatives, provide governance and risk management and control the bottom line.

For more information please visit www.perceptivesoftware.co.uk

*1 Deloitte’s CFO Insight 2012
*2 IDC’s 2013 European Software Survey