Learning From Peers: Leading CFOs Share Experiences In Shifting To The Digital Economy

Jens Krueger

Matthias Heiden and I hosted the CFO Roundtable “Managing Finance Organizations in the Digital Economy” on April 28–29, 2016, at the Innovation Center in Potsdam, Germany. Initiated by the Customer Co-Innovation Office of the SAP Finance line of business, the roundtable included CFOs of leading companies and scholars whom we invited to discuss how digitization is affecting finance organizations.

In a connected world where every company is becoming digitized, technology is evolving very quickly. Finance remains at the center of this transformation, and adopting this shift in technology will redefine company processes as we know them. The CFO is no longer just the record keeper of historical transactions, but a key partner and trusted advisor for all areas of the business, facilitating strategic planning to provide a clear understanding of the potential impact of business decisions. Having all information at our fingertips, within context, will enable companies to answer questions in real time and open up a new world of insight. The conference focused on the finance function, which is integral to the digital transformation of every company.

From A (Airbus) to (Z) Zalando

Christoph Färber, head of Strategic Future Projects MBC at Daimler in Germany, described Daimler Group’s transition. Shifting from a traditional B2B model to a B2C model, Daimler now sees itself as a transportation service provider in the realm of Moovel, car2go, and ride4hire – not just an automotive manufacturer. Daimler’s experience shows how a successful automotive company can go digital with new business models and how transportation service providers are redefining the infrastructure for online transactions.

In a brief, thought-provoking talk on “Finance 4.0,” Wolfgang Henseler, professor of digital and intermedia design at Pforzheim University, offered customer examples from across industries showing how innovative technologies are transforming the finance sector. Smart manufacturing demands new ways of thinking. “Digital transformation is mainly a mental transformation,” he said.

Every CFO deals with banks, but how are banks going digital? Holger Werner, director of Commerzbank’s midmarket division, described the digitization strategies his bank is pursuing, such as working with startups. Interestingly, he focused on business-model implications and processes, rather than financial processes.

Among the participants was Christoph Bornschein, the CEO of Torben, Lucie, und die gelbe Gefahr GmbH, an agency that offers business consultancy services on digitization. In a roundtable session, he opened with a fresh perspective on the digital age and urged CFOs to act in good time. In an array of real-life examples, he showed how the world of finance is changing and that new players, such as fintechs, are creating customer experiences and reshaping the market through their new finance solutions.

Lessons learned from the CFO Roundtable

Since the digital economy is offering infinite new opportunities to companies from all industries, CFOs and the finance function need to digitally transform first. To truly realize the value of such change, a company must embrace three criteria:

1. New customer experiences

2. New business models

3. New value creation

Digital disruption is key. Companies that can successfully execute this change will be the winners in the near future; everyone else will die out or be run over by emerging competitors. SAP supports companies on their way to becoming disrupters by providing the right technology – including a flexible cloud platform, the Internet of Things, and business networks – to create an optimal landscape for Big Data and innovation.

Co-innovation and collaboration in the digital age are crucial when learning from each other and co-innovating. The attendees of the CFO Roundtable also agreed that they need a forum that allows them to share their knowledge, create new customer experiences, forge general value, and rethink business models. Some already agreed to start co-innovation workshops with our Customer Co-Innovation Office.

This roundtable session kicked off a new network of CFOs from leading companies. SAP presented itself as the interface between finance chiefs from all industries to exchange views and as a key co-innovation partner for digital transformation. The positive feedback encouraged us to continue with the CFO Roundtable on a regular basis as a platform for discussing the most up-to-date topics.

To continue the discussion on the pivotal role finance will play in digital transformation and how CFOs can help their organizations open a whole new world of insight, read Digital Finance: Transforming Finance for the Digital Economy. Learn more about how CFOs can drive the use of comprehensive automation to improve, simplify, and completely rethink back-office operations, leverage business networks, and speed up decision making.

Jens Krueger

About Jens Krueger

Dr. Jens Krueger, senior vice president, head of LoB Finance and managing director of SAP Labs Berlin, oversees a global development organization that is dedicated to developing innovative applications in SAP's core business, and to building SAP’s future finance portfolio. In his responsibility as managing director of SAP Labs Berlin, he plays a key role in further building thought leadership across the SAP ecosystem. Prior to joining SAP in September 2013, Jens was co-representative of Prof. Hasso Plattner's research chair at the Hasso Plattner Institute for Software Systems Engineering. He was one of the founding members of the prominent joint research project with SAP, which built the first prototype of SAP's award-winning in-memory platform SAP HANA.