Everything Old Is New Again: Finance Strategies For A Live Business

Fred Isbell

Holiday shopping is bringing a sense of déjà vu for me this year. Classic toys such as Etch-A-Sketch, Lincoln Logs, and other long-time favorites recently lined the gift aisle.

Is art imitating a life where everything is cyclical? When it comes to the CFO’s role in digital transformation, it may very well be.

Back in the early 1990’s, when I was working at DEC, we hosted corporate leaders’ forums for CFOs and vice presidents of finance. Throughout these events, we showcased how technology is a key enabler for change and transformation and how we could align finance with IT. Even 25 years ago, the changing relationship between lines of business, IT, and finance leadership was on the horizon.

Nowadays, finance organizations are tackling a series of fundamental challenges, including continued volatility, serving a new generation of users, and evolving the function within a connected company and world. Luckily, digital innovation has caught up to help overcome these barriers.

Technologies such real-time and in-memory platforms, enhanced usability including the user experience, and cloud deployments are paving the way for tremendous opportunity:

“In a nutshell, it’s time for CFOs to start using today’s digital technologies to drive digital transformation within finance functions. It gives them the opportunity to expand their focus on efficiency and compliance while reimagining a new finance function that drives strategy and new business models as a strategic partner to the business.”—Sven Denecken, “CFO’s Role in Digital Transformation,” ZDNet, October 3, 2016.

With that in mind, I hosted our final Digital Business Services Thought Leadership Webcast of 2016: “Finance Strategies for Live Business” – and my opening statement, echoed by other experts, was, “Everything that’s old is new again!” Presenting their views on where finance is heading and its potential to help transition a company into becoming a live business, our expert panel of experts included:

  • Jim Mossey, vice president and global head of Finance Line of Business for Digital Business Services at SAP
  • Tony Klimas, principal and global leader of Finance Performance Improvement Advisory Services for Ernst & Young LLP
  • Ken Ellis, chief technology officer for Reuters News Agency

As is the case with our Webcasts, a number of key learnings and insights emerged, including:

  • Finance is moving from “scorekeeper” to “storyteller.” By driving change and transformation across the function, finance leaders are expanding their role to encompass nontraditional responsibilities such as IT.
  • Digital transformation and technology are more than just disruption. They also bring significant opportunity such as business simplification, reduced data volume, and streamlined IT landscapes.
  • Real-time performance is critical. This capability paves the way for a simpler finance organization and structure, while delivering on the new imperative for sharing the single version of the truth throughout the entire enterprise and beyond.
  • Everything old is new again, even in finance. The current transformation of the finance organization is similar to past technology transitions – from mainframe to client/server architecture. However, new opportunities are emerging: Previous limitations on speed and data are no longer an issue, and greater insights are leading to a significant rate of impact.
  • Innovative technology is powering the new finance. From in-memory databases to advanced data visualizations, finance is experiencing a new era of real-time insight and storytelling. Reuters, for example, believes that the 2016 election results in the United States showcased the power and impact of predictive analytics based on a growing source of inputs from the Internet of Things and sensor-based sources.

I encourage everyone to view the on-demand replay of “Finance Strategies for Live Business” for the tremendous insights Jim, Tony, and Ken shared. Their advice on why finance must be flexible, agile, and action-oriented highlights the risks of inactivity and being left behind – which is certainly nothing anyone wants in this age of ubiquitous and rapid change. And the parting advice for all to embrace a digital culture goes far beyond finance to include transformations across all industries and organizations.

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About Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell is the Senior Director of SAP Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP. He is an experienced, results- and goal-oriented senior marketing executive with broad and extensive experience & expertise in high technology and marketing. He has a BA from Yale and an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business.