by Emmanuelle Brun Neckebrock, CFO for SAP France

Fifty years ago, my role as CFO didn’t exist (I barely existed myself!). Our profession has morphed from humble beginnings as “comptrollers” to strategically shaping the scope and direction of the business. It’s a big leap for a profession to make in just one generation. Even twenty years ago, most of us would have spent the day with our heads stuck in spreadsheets. Not any longer.

Like me, many of my peers now act as part time ‘business partner’, providing commercial and economic insights to their colleagues in the business. Recruitment firms describe us as “co-pilots” to the CEO. And with each passing year, it seems many of us are doing quite a lot more of the piloting.

Of course, we now have more powerful tools than ever before to give us a better inside view of the business – from HR to operations to financials – as well as a better external view for planning, investment and expansion.

But unlike other people in the organization, one thing we don’t have is deniability. It’s our job to know what’s going on. We are a profession that is ultimately driven by (and completely dependent upon) information and data – Big Data, business application data, real time dashboards, HR provisioning, financial information and more. The irony is that for many CFOs, the efficiency, security and productivity of information and data in the cloud is passing them by. (Some won’t ever catch up).

It’s been many years since cloud computing swept into the enterprise, delivering a new way of IT supporting an organization’s infrastructure and running applications. It’s no longer simply just about CAPEX vs OPEX, but rather decreasing risk, and increasing efficiency, visibility and productivity. Applications in the cloud are now de rigueur for many organizations.

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But now we are seeing an appetite for more cloud efficiency beyond applications – and the more forward-thinking CFOs leading the charge. The next wave of cloud efficiency, visibility and productivity is to put core traditional ‘back office’ integrated business applications and processes into the cloud.

Why? Because the role of the CFO will continue to morph and mature, and at a much faster rate than it has in the past two decades. If we are to be successful “co-pilots” and “business partners”, then our dependency on corporate data, processes, and information will not only increase, but become paramount. And the speed, timeliness, and integrity of the data we rely upon will determine our success, accelerating or encumbering corporate growth.

For mid-sized companies in particular, international expansion is imperative for growth, and requires freeing up resources, time, people, cash, increasing speed, agility, and lowering costs and risk (essentially everything the ERP system manages). In the same way that our role has expanded, so too has our reliance on data. Centralizing and integrating all aspects of the business in real time in the cloud is a natural progression in the digital age.

The currency of our profession is strategic counsel and guidance for governance, growth and profitability, rooted in accurate data, information and insights. We are not afforded the luxury of ignorance or deniability when it comes to business performance, legislative compliance or ethical business practices. Denial about the need to put even basic applications in the cloud will soon become a competitive hindrance.  You have an extraordinary window of opportunity for digital transformation, greater efficiency and productivity, but you need to embrace it. Complacency is an expensive mindset for today’s CFO.

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