#SAPRadio: A Wild Ride For Finance? The Experts Look Toward 2020

Jean Loh

Last in a series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

What does the future have in store for finance? In these volatile times, it’s tough to say. However, a panel of experts on Coffee Break with Game-Changers predicted that it will be radically different from the finance function that we know today.

The program, presented by SAP on The Voice America Business Channel, was moderated Bonnie D. Graham, with a panel comprising David Axson, managing director, Accenture Strategy; Bob Parker, vice president, IDC Research; and Birgit Starmanns, senior director for Product Marketing, SAP. The following is an excerpt from the Nov. 18 episode.

Bonnie:  David, it’s time for the crystal-ball predictions. Why don’t you give me your prediction on what’s really going to happen in the next four to five years. 60 seconds, David.

David: It’s incredibly liberating to be a finance professional in 2020. You don’t necessarily have to have an accounting degree. You can be a philanthropist, an anthropologist, a data scientist, or a quantitative mathematician, and still become a finance professional. The beauty is that the skills associated with those other profiles will be coming together in a digitally enabled world.  And of course, you have to apply your analytical skill sets too.

It’s going to be an incredibly wild ride for the next five years. We are already into that journey as we see companies begin to deploy these tools and technologies. But the most important part is where people interact with the technology, and that to me remains the biggest challenge going forward. Technology will no longer be the impediment. The impediment will be staring you in the face every morning when you brush your teeth.

Bonnie:  Very profound! Now we go to Bob Parker. Predictions. 60 seconds. Go ahead.

Bob: I think it really comes back to that notion of learning. The tyranny of the spreadsheet that David mentioned is not so much just the data drudgery of getting into the spreadsheet. It’s also the share of fantasies that spreadsheets can create. For example, you’re going to make an investment. It doesn’t work out, so you change the assumption from 4% to 5% revenue growth. But then things change again and it’s a positive return. You decide to make the investment. And so you create these self-fulfilling prophecies with the spreadsheet.

People do a woeful job of going back and auditing those decisions to see if they were effective or not. So the winners in finance organizations are not just the ones that bring discipline to the system of record; they also bring an ability to turn the company into a learning organization that can interrogate the data until it confesses. This is opposed to just making the data dance and say what you want it to say within the spreadsheet.

Bonnie: Wow! Another tweetable moment. Thank you very much. Birgit, I’ll give you 60 seconds for your predictions.

Birgit: I think there are really three points. One is that finance will be embracing technology more and more. And we are seeing that already with finance becoming more comfortable with things like in-memory mobile cloud. You couldn’t say cloud to finance a few years ago!

I would say the second aspect is to identify what the right information is. This is because we are so overwhelmed with information that we need to pick the right drivers that will really affect our business and the bottom line. So being able to generate analytical viewpoints and identify what factors drive my business and profitability is important.

The third piece is really change management. This is because the new finance requires different skill sets. These skills are different from consolidating information from multiple sources into a spreadsheet. The new finance professional needs to be able to use technology to make predictions and work together with the other areas of the organization. So I think change management is going to be huge for finance because it’s really a different paradigm of how they are going to be working going forward.

This excerpt from “Coffee Break with Game-Changers: Finance 2020 – Life or Death by Digital” on the Voice America talk radio network was adapted for the Digitalist Magazine. It is available on demand. Read Part 1: Will Digital Transformation Kill Finance?, Part 2: Role Of The CFO – Scorekeeper or Coach?, Part 3, Can You Look Ahead at the CFO’s Job Description in 2020? and Part 4, How Is Hyperconnectivity Disrupting The Finance Function?

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.

Jean Loh

About Jean Loh

Jean Loh is the director, Global Audience Marketing at SAP. She is an experienced marketing and communication professional, currently responsible for developing thought leadership content that is unbiased and audience-led while addressing market challenges to illuminate and solve the unmet needs of CFOs, CIOs, and the wider global finance and IT audience.