When was the last time you looked forward to a big technology change? Few CFOs anticipate re-architecting their IT environments, making new investments in business systems, or even upgrading current solutions to improve efficiency.
Because, if we’re honest, change is almost always challenging. Even when the project delivers significant benefits, as the best initiatives do, most CFOs would prefer to focus on running the business than on optimizing the supporting technology.
Why am I so sure about this? I was a CFO at SAP for two decades. I experienced many business shifts in the Asia-Pacific markets that SAP serves and the associated technology changes. There were plenty of late nights, intense discussions with colleagues and vendors, and, I’m happy to say, real successes over the years.
But I never forgot how it felt to be a CFO facing technology-driven change. After 22 years at SAP, I was looking for something new. Retirement wasn’t quite right for me, but I was ready to move out of the operational side of the business. I wanted to give back – sharing my knowledge and experiences in a way that would help both SAP and our customers.
Shared experiences and lessons learned
That’s when my executive team proposed a new role for me: SAP Ambassador. In this role, I talk with other CFOs and corporate executives about their business, their challenges, and the technology that can help them reimagine efficiency and become best-run companies. I don’t necessarily promote individual products or solutions. Instead I ask questions and then I listen, acting as a partner in pursuit of their best interests.
The surprise: more often than not, executives respond as if I am the first person to take an interest in their struggles and how their businesses run. These men and women are pleased to talk with a peer about new market trends, business growth, and what the future may hold. They are also happy to open up and discuss any perceived inefficiencies in their business, and they want to get a better understanding of how they can use technology to drive their transformation.
Our conversations take place over weeks, months, and even years. I discuss my personal experiences and the changes I’ve witnessed. We talk about the strategies that worked and the trouble spots along the way. I’m able to share how SAP executed some changes and how other customers completed their projects. We talk about lessons learned, tips and tricks for project success, and the gray hairs that come with the responsibility of being a CFO. I even tell them about things I might do differently, knowing what I know now.
Passion for growth and building long-term relationships
It’s all about building long-term relationships and trust between executives and me, and over time this trust grows. They sense my passion for helping them adopt a more strategic role, increasing the efficiency of their financial operations, and using modern approaches such as shared services and centers of expertise to optimize their organizational efficiencies. They also recognize that I will advocate for them, from beginning to end.
The rewards of this approach became clear when I heard recently from the CFO of a large real estate organization. Hoping to gain new efficiencies by simplifying its IT architecture, the company decided to standardize on solutions from one vendor – either SAP or a competitor. Sitting in a final meeting, the CFO texted me on the progress of the debate, giving me play-by-play on arguments and rebuttals. When SAP finally won the business, the CFO’s text read: “Welcome aboard, partner!”
By taking a strategic approach to IT, this customer will realize the benefits of building a modern digital core system. This new system is based on a solution designed to integrate with and expand the business value companies derive from the Internet of Things, Big Data, mobile technologies, and customer, supplier, and employee networks.
Change is rarely easy. But if my experiences and guidance can help CFOs explore the nearly unlimited possibilities of business transformation, I’m happy to be called “partner.”
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 SAP finance page, which offers additional research and valuable insights.