Business is evolving. Technology, customer expectations, the roles your employees play and the workplace tools you use have all transformed. There’s no turning back.
In finance and accounting, you’re seeing the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to enhance connections between customers and employees.
Today’s financial departments have technology that allows them to become highly tuned time machines, which can streak forward and back through a wealth of data at a moment’s notice.
With the evolution of accounting and finance has come the evolution of the CFO.
The early CFO, or CFO 1.0, was the historian. Next came CFO 2.0 – the real-time analyst who could catch issues with real-time dashboards.
But now is the opportunity to become CFO 3.0 – a leader who can see into the future.
You will be familiar with using a rear-view mirror to provide business information – looking behind yourself while attempting to steer forward. With data and predictive analytics, you can understand data to look ahead.
The role of digital transformation
Driven by new technology such as the cloud and automation, combined with increasing customer expectations, your business needs the right technology foundation to undergo digital transformation, where tech is integrated and co-ordinated across the entire business ecosystem.
In growing businesses, the first investments are often made in financial management, building out the technology you as a CFO will need for success.
However, this also means the business requires you to be front and centre when it comes to leading change through digital transformation.
This puts you in the ideal position to evolve from CFO 1.0 and CFO 2.0 to CFO 3.0.
You can put what you need in place to move beyond your traditional role and lead your business to new heights – you may end up driving business transformation beyond finance boundaries.
CFO 3.0 means you’re the visionary.
While today you’re focused on the past and present, tomorrow you’ll need to make use of vast amounts of data that is available in our digitised world. This will help you predict the future of your business, uncover hidden opportunities and close information gaps.
According to a new piece of research by Sage, where 500 senior in-house financial decision makers from the UK were surveyed, that shift is already happening.
The report, CFO 3.0: Digital transformation beyond financial management, revealed that more than two thirds of CFOs (70%) said they have full responsibility for digital transformation.
The CFO 3.0 challenge
Take the CFO 3.0 challenge to reveal the key findings from our research and discover if you can truly call yourself a visionary.
How is the finance function changing?
In a digital world, e-commerce is critical to integrating front and back office processes, with our research revealing that 65% of finance leaders believe e-commerce is the only way to maintain control in the face of digitisation.
You just have to look at retail today and the impact online shopping has had on retailers both old and new.
To achieve top-level visibility of business performance, your finance teams must have the right digital tools and flexibility to use them. Only then can you dovetail with the other sides of business and collaborate for growth.
Digitisation means you can have advanced analytics to improve decision-making, metrics for real-time financial information, and the insight you need into your operations to uncover growth opportunities.
Challenges that CFOs and finance leaders face
Of course, owning the digitisation journey and becoming the data gatekeeper is a big responsibility. This means the role of the CFO role is expanding.
As well as data and technology, you need to manage employee and stakeholder expectations.
Embrace this responsibility and you can boost the whole business. A failure to grasp the opportunity leaves you at risk of being overtaken by competitors.
To deliver data-driven insights, you’re going to need to upskill your team – more than three quarters (78%) of financial decision makers view technology literacy skills as essential to the future of the finance department.
There is still a digitisation skill gap to bridge – two thirds of CFOs (70%) still make decisions based on gut feeling rather than data.
As the gatekeeper of data, fraud, cyber misuse and data privacy are increasingly falling under your remit, and that of the finance department.
While this sounds like more work, remember that emerging technology can decrease the risk of data breaches – the cloud, for example, can enhance levels of verification and secure data in a more comprehensive way.
You should look at skills training, whether it’s for you or other members of your team.
The changing dynamics of your job mean you need to keep learning to have the business, analytical and data skills you and your team require.
How automation is making an impact
When it comes to how the finance department functions, it’s administration that hampers productivity – 70% of CFOs agree that admin has a significant effect on team productivity.
New technology can drive improvements in efficiency. And naturally in the process of leading digital change, you will need to invest in the right financial management platform to move money and data within your business.
It’s here where automation can cut the hours you spend each week on collecting and preparing data.
It shifts the burden of dealing with onerous, repetitive and simple tasks from you and your finance team to machines, which will help to ensure increased efficiency and quality.
More than nine in 10 CFOs (94%) agree that financial management technology will play a crucial role in tomorrow’s finance function.
Beyond benefiting your finance department, it can also lay a foundation for the better use of critical data and insights across the business.
Conclusion on CFO 3.0
Technology can help you build a finance function that can withstand future challenges. It can support you with the changing legislative environment – 45% of finance leaders expect Brexit to increase the costs of goods, services and tariffs, while 44% think it will lead to an increased regulatory burden.
You’ll need to lead your finance department in a world awash with data, so focus on honing management processes though data flow, data governance and analytical insight.
There’s no getting away from the challenges.
But the future is bright because you’re receptive to new technology and the digital transformation required – three quarters (76%) of businesses are already in the process of transforming to automate most of their processes.
And critically, 86% say automation has already improved business productivity.
With technology to support your endeavours, you have the space to become a CFO 3.0 – a visionary who can uncover the hidden opportunities and close gaps through data and insights.
With that in mind, you can embrace your role in delivering and shaping the strategy of your business through digital transformation, something that’s much more rewarding than simply being seen as the person pulling the company’s numbers together.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in November 2019 and has been updated for relevance.