When it comes to digital transformation of an organisation, most of us think that it is the CIO or CTO that lead the digital transformation journey but that is not always the case. According to a recent survey, across various organisations chief financial officers (CFOs) are becoming the driver of digital change. They are shifting their priorities from cutting costs to rapidly investing in technology and data to explore new business opportunities.
Citing the results of its survey done with over 400 senior financial executives, Grant Thornton and CFO Research said that a significant percentages of senior financial executives are currently implementing technologies such as advanced analytics and machine learning, while many are mulling to dedicate additional resources to frontier technologies within two years.
The survey indicates that CFOs are keen to explore emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), drones and robots, blockchain and robotic process automation (RPA), among others for business growth.
In the survey, as many as 42% CFOs said that their finance functions regularly make use of advanced and automation technologies in corporate development and strategic planning. 40% said that their finance function already implements advanced technologies and automation technologies in risk management. In fact, 30% use machine learning and 20% use AI.
CFO: The agent of digital change
“The speed with which CFOs are investing in IT shows a clear vision of the digital transformation they want to see at their companies. But, advanced technologies like AI, RPA, drones, and robotics require CFOs to focus on specific use cases, workforce preparation, and measurements for these technologies to facilitate and maximize a timely return on investment,” said Srikant Sastry, national managing principal of Advisory Services at Grant Thornton.
On their ability to handle push towards digital transformation, CFOs said that they are well-positioned to collaborate with IT and ensure that digital investments fit into their organization’s innovation strategies, said the report.
Nearly 91% of respondents agree or strongly agree it is the CFO’s job to ensure their companies fully realize the benefits of technology investments. That said, almost the exact same amount of respondents (92%) believe the finance function of the future must do a better job of leveraging both technology and people.
According to the survey, CFOs see themselves as part of a cross-functional, collaborative team. Grant Thornton said that of the nearly 400 financial leaders surveyed, 95% of respondents said their company’s CFO is a key stakeholder of enterprise transformation planning; while 94% reported their company’s CFO actively supports an innovation culture; and 90% agreed the company’s CFO actively shares insights about how to run a lean, efficient function with their peers in business units.
CFO looking for new skill sets in team
As CFOs speed toward transformative technology, 60 percent believed the finance function must provide advanced analytical support. The most important skill sets senior financial executives want to develop in the finance function are data analytics, business strategy, operations management and technology acquisition, said the report.
Moreover, the survey showed that financial leaders want to recruit and retain employees who possess traditional financial expertise, while also showing an eagerness to learn new technologies and process design.
“Over the next two years, talent and skills will be one of the top three challenges the IT function faces as it seeks enterprise growth, along with system complexity and business integration,” said Chris Stephenson, business consulting principal at Grant Thornton.
“As the finance function of the future takes shape, it will demand new skill sets. Leaders will need to move full speed ahead to invest in the right technology and people to transform their businesses and, ultimately, guide strategic decision making across their organizations.”
Stephenson added that this transformation will not end with recruiting and developing employees to have the right set of skills – or merely implementing the latest technologies.
“Working more closely with the IT organization can help the CFO rethink end-to-end finance processes. CFOs and CIOs must closely collaborate on digital transformation to remain competitive,” he said.