Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The CFO Mandate

A recent article in Information Week struck a nerve with me.  It touches upon the common disconnect between the IT organization and the CFO around business requirements, the tendency to sustain addiction to heavy-handed ERP platforms, and the frustration at the time/cost to drive change through legacy processes and the systems that enable those processes.

The article was written by a reputable BPO services provider and promotes the virtuous claim that “process-based design and transformation can harness the newest technology for what matters, thoroughly utilizing process analytics and focusing on how business process (and the related human factor) drives the desired business outcomes”.
Well, I’ve had the privilege of being in a fair number of conversations with CFOs recently on this topic.  I am encouraged by the awareness that most bring to the table – they know that there are better mouse traps being invented with great pace.

The impact that WorkDay has brought to the HR function is an easy example.  Similarly, there are analytics tools and process engines for the Finance, Supply Chain, Procurement, and Planning functions that yield great promise.
The questions that I hear most often don’t relate to the availability of clever new applications to automate work.  Instead, they relate to the implications around leadership.  How is the CFO meant to provide the guardrails and ambition to enable the organization to break from the comfort zone of legacy ways of doing things?

I’ve been answering these questions with a playbook for the Finance function. 

1)     Don’t Assume.  The frame of thinking that worked in the past may not be suited to the new market dynamics of subscription-based business support functions.

2)     Think Subscribe.  No longer is it acceptable to build/operate a proprietary solution.  There’s almost always a market option to consider.

3)     No Victims.  The transformation implied here takes time … and deliberation.  Delaying only perpetuates the risk of being held hostage to the legacy.

4)     ROIC Rules.  Yes, cash is important, but the ultimate measure of leadership is the return delivered to shareholders from prudent investments.  Run the business through the P&L, not the balance sheet.

5)     New Friends. Finance leaders need to enlist many different competencies to conceive and enable new operating models.

6)     Time to Results.  It’s self-evident, but we live in times of immediate gratification.  The competition is moving fast, so urgency is the name of the game.
The mantra of Capital Utilization, Operating Agility, and Growth now dominates the halls of Finance.  Pretty nice contrast to the past 5+ years of cost-cutting to survive.


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