Future Of Finance In A Digital World: 21 Experts Share Their 2016 Predictions

Judy Cubiss

The digitalization of industries, business models, and processes has been accelerating during 2015. Why is digital having such a big impact across all industries and functions? A digital business is always on, reacting to events as they occur, and constantly innovating. So what does that mean for finance professionals? How do they need to adapt?

We asked finance thought leaders to share their 2016 predictions for finance in a digital world. Their insights below include increased real-time insight, collaboration, automation, and business partnership. Neil Krefsky, SAP, and Chris Schmidt, CFO Publishing, will also share more insights on how finance professional see their role evolving during the “Don’t Get Left Behind: How Finance Can Thrive in a Digital World” webinar on December 8, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. EST. They will discuss new CFO.com research and how technology can help. We hope you will join us. In the meantime, please enjoy the following predictions from finance thought leaders.

The Future of Finance in a Digital World: Predictions

  1. Gary Cokins, Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC, founder – @GaryCokins
    In 2016 the finance function will increasingly close the wide gap between themselves and the marketing, sales, and operations line functions they support. This will include channel and customer profitability reporting as well as much better predictive views with driver-based rolling financial forecasts and what-if scenario planning. They will leverage integration of previously disconnected systems with embedded collaboration features replacing separate e-mail to discuss the information in their reports.
  1. Celina Rogers, CFO Publishing, vice president and editorial director – @CFO
    Finance leaders understand that influencing future performance – not just reporting on past performance – is their key mandate. In 2016, finance teams will be increasingly driven to convert their position of financial-information stewardship to leadership in information-driven innovation. They will be called upon not only to champion the effective use of sophisticated analytics to support decision making, but also to harness the power of social media and crowdsourcing platforms to generate competitive advantage.
  1. Colin Sampson, SAP, SVP and ambassador for the Asia-Pacific and Japan Region
    For better governance, organizations will provide ALL finance transactions and services through shared services and centers of expertise. This approach will support “the digital boardroom of the future,” which will enable real-time update of all data at a high level, with drill-down to document level, plus immediate predictive “what if” capability on the fly. In addition, it will support “finance as a service,” or FaaS – providing full self-service reporting through tailor-made, role-based capability at any level or geographic region.
  1. Richard McLean, SAP, regional CFO, Asia-Pacific and Japan
    In a future enabled by digital technology, finance culture will develop an entrepreneurial flair, and finance professionals will evolve to become true business partners and leaders of change. Finance processes will simplify to more effectively ensure data integrity and a single source of truth. Finance teams will collaborate and influence business performance on a broader basis and provide timely, actionable insights that improve data-driven decision making.
  1. Matthias Heiden, SAP, SVP and regional CFO, Middle and Eastern Europe
    2016 will be the year in which CFOs will have to go digital. We will need to act as transformation agents to help our companies throughout their digital transformation in order to create real-time insight and decision making, assess the risks and financial viability of digital business models, and establish new collaborative finance processes with internal and external stakeholders. Our established roles as business partners and stewards will remain.
  1. Mark Dudgeon, IBM, global SAP CTO – @MarkDudgeonIBM
    The era of digital transformation is here. Competitive advantage will be created through data and analytics, business models will be shaped by cloud, and individual engagement will be powered by social technologies in a secure environment. SAP S/4HANA is at the core of this digital transformation journey. What we see of SAP S/4HANA so far indicates that it is a true enabler to support enterprises with their digital transformation. SAP S/4HANA adoption in 2016 will be significant.
  1. Samuel Dergel, Stanton Chase, director for executive search – @DergelCFO
    In 2016, CFOs have a choice between playing to win or waiting to be replaced. They can plan for a future where transactions are automated, the finance team provides analytical value to the organization, and overall costs of finance are low(er). Or, CFOs can keep the status quo and focus on fighting fires. The choice is theirs.
  1. David Axson, Accenture Strategy, CFO and enterprise value managing director – @DavidAxson
    2016 will see digital finance go mainstream, and finance professionals will finally see a future where they are liberated from the tyranny of the spreadsheet. The confluence of data availability, analytic horsepower, collaboration mediums, and visualization tools will empower the finance professional to deliver timely insights that drive faster, more confident decision making that creates value.
  1. Christine Dover, IDC, research VP for enterprise applications and digital commerce – @christinedover
    Digital transformation has begun to reshape business models and organizations. One of the key elements is the ability to create virtual ventures on the fly to reach a very specific set of customers. In 2016, at companies that are more mature in their digital transformation, we will see evidence of a finance function that is no longer a passive scorekeeper, but an active coach in integrating financial principles into digital business plans and those virtual ventures.
  1. Chris Horak, SAP, global VP of solution marketing – @choirshark
    In 2016, organizations will realize that making existing processes faster is necessary but not sufficient. Most processes in larger organizations were built before the arrival of real-time, cloud, mobile, social, and Big Data technologies. Because the “thinking behind the process” is out-of-date, organizations have therefore been unable to achieve the breakthroughs that are possible with entirely new, re-imagined digital processes. This will become evident in 2016 with great examples.
  1. John E Steele Jr., Deloitte Consulting LLP Technology Practice, principal and co-leader of the global SAP finance transformation practice and Deloitte SAP S/4HANA team – @DeloitteSAP, @John_E_Steele
    The results of this survey are consistent with the discussions we are having with our CFO clients. It is a critical moment, where the role of finance is experiencing a rapid evolution and the value of the finance function is being rediscovered.
  1. Graham Dewar, Wipro Ltd, partner for European finance transformation – @wipro
    “Finance at your Fingertips” is the future of finance. Finance professionals will be increasingly connected at anytime, anywhere. To support this, enterprises will make significant advances in adopting digital platforms across the value chain (not just ERP). Robotics and automated point solutions will enhance core ERP capability, with a focus on faster time-to-market cloud solutions. With automation removing process barriers, “soft close” will become common – with the associated transparency particularly benefiting treasury.
  1. David Williams, SAP, VP of global product marketing and analytics (EPM & GRC) – @daveswilliams
    The future of finance will involve closer collaboration between the CFO and CMO as customer focus and brand become the key drivers of differentiation and profitability. Secondly, the CFO will assume a greater responsibility for analytics in the organization, as data-driven decision making is at the heart of digital transformation.
  1. Alex Bennell, Capgemini, SAP finance consultant, application services UK – @Capgemini
    Finance leaders will start to recognize that digital transformation is relevant to them! The benefits case for new technology such as S/4HANA will stack up and be compelling but getting there will be challenging. Customers will realize that a clear vision, business and IT strategy, and roadmap that is driven by the C-suite is fundamental to making it happen.
  1. Nilly Essaides, The Association for Financial Professionals, director of the financial planning & analysis (FP&A) practice
    How will digitalization affect the search for finance talent? CFOs will need to combine a high-competence workforce with the new era of being data smart by designating digitalization as a main part of their business strategy. Finance professionals will have to master data navigation and use data-mining tools to process Big Data volumes. Only companies with finance staff that can deploy advanced analytics will be able to succeed in a digitalized economy, where competition will be defined by better, data-driven decisions.
  1. Henner Schliebs, SAP, VP SAP global marketing for finance audiences – @hschliebs
    First, finance transformation-related success stories led by modern and digital CFOs will hit the market and demonstrate that digital business is changing the finance function to become the business driver and strategist of a company. Always-on planning and budgeting; real-time and automated shared-services operations; analytics, risk management, and compliance embedded in all processes; and connectivity to all business partners in the value chain will be predominant, helping to manage performance amidst uncertainty.
  1. Luc Cayet, HCL Technologies, solution architect – @hcltech
    In 2016, finance professionals will need to become adept at making effective use of large structured and unstructured data sets in order to translate that data quickly into meaningful information that can be used to support management decision making. Finance professionals will also need instantaneous access to a unified and comprehensive set of financial data to achieve that goal. SAP S/4HANA Finance provides finance professionals with the tools to succeed despite those challenges.
  1. Martin Naraschewski, SAP, VP for LoB finance solutions
    At first glance, finance already appears to be largely digital, enabled by mature ERP systems. A second look exposes how much manual work still exists. The main root causes are siloed data and media breaks, e.g., between buyers and suppliers. My prediction for 2016 is that many companies will define their own road map towards a more centralized finance platform and towards pervasive use of business networks to remove those media breaks.
  1. Neil Krefsky, SAP, senior marketing director, LoB finance solutions – @Krefsky
    CFOs and their finance teams are taking notice of the next wave of digitalization and understand that this will be the new norm for the environment they work in. The new model will not be how well they learn and master new accounting standards. Rather, superior performance will be perceived by and depend on how well they leverage disruptive technologies to unlock financial data, turning it into forward-looking business insight that elevates their influence throughout the corporate enterprise.
  1. Drew Hofler, SAP Ariba, senior director of solutions marketing – @dhofler
    Sources and methods of B2B financing and payment predominately used today are based on technology and practices from the mid-20th century when parties were disconnected and data was stored in Cobol-based mainframes. In the digital world of 2016, business networks move terabits of data and connect millions of business partners in real time. This new reality will create an ecosystem of opportunity where cash flows are accelerated and B2B payment is as simple as consumer payment.
  1. Rakesh Shetty, SAP, marketing for strategic industries – @shettray
    Economic, consumer/citizen sentiment, and currency volatility, especially in emerging markets, are here to stay. U.S. and European central banks will be heading in opposite directions of interest rate cycle changes. These shifts require CFOs to be proactive yet flexible in their planning and establish themselves as a strategic adviser to their business unit leaders.

To learn more about how finance executives can empower themselves with the right tools and play a vital role in business innovation and value chain, review the finance content hub, which offers additional research and valuable insights.


Judy Cubiss

About Judy Cubiss

Judy is director of content marketing for Finance at SAP. She has worked in the software industry for over 20 years in a variety of roles, including consulting, product management, solution management, and content marketing in both Europe and the United States.