By Tim Wakeford, VP Product Strategy, Financials at Workday
The pandemic has propelled CFOs and finance teams to the forefront of business operations, from mitigating risk through to planning for a stable future. There is, however, no escaping the fact that COVID-19 is one of the biggest tests for financial leaders. The pandemic continues to place them under constant pressure to plan and replan scenarios in response to fast-changing circumstances.
At the same time, the use of outdated legacy systems bound by manual processes is resulting in a lack of data-led insights, and restricted collaboration amongst finance teams. If CFOs and their teams are to step up and support businesses throughout this ongoing turbulence and onto recovery, it’s time to ditch the legacy systems once and for all and make some serious changes to the finance function.
Speaking with our own clients, many CFOs are recognising the need to embrace cloud-based technologies that enable them to access and respond to live data about their businesses. Financial leaders know that by unifying data and unlocking its power they can significantly impact business performance and resilience. By embracing today’s technology, CFOs can set their organisations up for tomorrow’s success.
More data = better agility
In the digital-first era, data is a business’s most valuable asset. The more CFOs embrace it, the more financial teams can make insight-led decisions based on accurate and real-time information. For a lot of organisations, migrating to cloud-based technologies that enabled better access to data was a make or break moment during the pandemic.
Take Aon for example. In the midst of the first lockdown Aon managed to deliver its first ever fully remote financial close across the 120 countries in which it operates. In doing so, it set the tone for a successful post-pandemic operation. Because it was using a cloud-based solution, financial teams could access, view, and analyse data all in one place, no matter their location across the globe.
Businesses cannot survive the turbulence of the ongoing pandemic, or focus on recovery, if CFOs are just conducting financial planning periodically as they have done in the past. Instead, finance teams have to plan on a continuous basis and forecast for a multitude of scenarios. For example, at this moment in time, CFOs should be planning for the lifting of COVID restrictions at different times across the globe, or for the regional business opportunities that will follow the pandemic. In short, CFOs cannot adopt a ‘one size fits all’ mindset. Recognising a range of possibilities and adapting plans continuously and at speed is critical to managing a stable and successful organisation.
The strategic head in business
If CFOs are to become strategic linchpins, adopting a data driven approach and continuous planning are the first steps, but communicating financial strategies to the rest of the business is critical if the rest of the board is to take notice. CFOs must establish relationships with the CEO, the board, department leads in addition to the wider workforce. Making sure each and everyone in these teams can access the right insight to make the right decisions. Getting a holistic picture of data across the organisation and being transparent with the decision and planning process is therefore vital. It might sound simple, but many financial leaders are far from this reality. In fact, more than 50% of CFOs believe access to data within their organisation remains outdated and siloed across departments.
By harnessing new technologies that liberate data currently locked in departmental siloes and driving a collaborative approach across the business, CFOs can both present and analyse data clearly and easily. For instance, analytics platforms offer clear visualisation capabilities and enable the dissection of high-density data sets. This allows CFOs a deeper understanding of what is happening in the business, such as profitability analysis, across their organisation and in turn take on a more strategic role in leading the business through uncertain times.
Embracing a tech-led future
Steering businesses through the pandemic has established CFOs as strategic leaders, but the work is just beginning. If they are to remain trusted advisors they must turn to the right technology to support them. Those that say goodbye to legacy systems and embrace cloud-based solutions can unleash the power of data, and ultimately lead their organisation into a future of success and stability.