People Are The Engine That Drives Finance Transformation: Part 2

Nilly Essaides

Part 2 of a 2-part series. Read Part 1

Part 1 of this series set out the premise that finance executives will realize the benefits of financial transformation only if their teams have the right skills – the overarching takeaway from The Hackett Group’s recent Best Practices Conference. In Part 2, we’ll look at how a few companies are getting ahead of the curve.

How are companies preparing?

Asking questions is no longer enough. Digital transformation is here, and the challenges are not two to three years away. They are 12-18 months ahead. Some companies are getting in front of this by taking steps to get their people and organizations ready. Here’s how:

They develop comprehensive talent-development programs. We’re working with several leading companies that are in the latest stages of creating comprehensive finance talent-development frameworks that begin with onboarding and continue through training, development, and retention. They are tailored to every employee in the finance hierarchy. They include training in technical, technological, and soft skills. They bring together finance and business leaders so that finance staff can get to know their “customers” right away, and they incorporate learning success in the performance evaluation process.

One large technology company has begun to hire computer science graduates into the internship program and train them in finance while training existing professionals in analytics skills using internal and external sources. The program also teaches soft skills and business partnering acumen.

Another European company launched an intense six-month training initiative last year that focuses on developing finance business collaboration capabilities. The company anticipates a big share of finance’s transactional roles to be replaced by machines. It established a business partnering “college” that provides a five-day “crash” course, followed by a 100-day practicum. The first 500 graduates delivered $300 million in additional value by improving business performance during their first 100 days.

They build digital centers of excellence. Companies are increasingly centralizing their digital talent and execution capabilities in hubs that bring like-minded experts together and allow them to design, build, pilot, and run new technologies. These Centers of Excellence, or COEs, eliminate the need for hiring multiple specialists within business units or functions and allow for quick ramp-up and faster time to benefit.

They typically comprise a small group of data specialists and IT-savvy finance and other executives who understand the business requirements and can bridge the language and knowledge gap between. The COE builds the business case, designs the first robots or AI applications, pilots them on a small scale or in a lab environment, tests, rolls them out, and runs the new systems.

This smart automation COE or digital operations provides leadership with knowledge of best practices, support, training, deployment, and operations of new digital solutions across the enterprise and/or within a function or business unit. Through knowledge-sharing and access to common tools and methodologies, it promotes higher delivery standards, communization of practices and lower cost, and faster time to benefit. Plus, perhaps most critically, the COE builds the governance and delivery model for quick scale-up throughout the enterprise.

One technology company leveraged its robotics process automation (RPA) COE to deploy 256 robots throughout its controller organization. The company managed to bring cash application to zero errors and is now moving into cognitive computing and AI. Another has a COE for master data management across the enterprise and an RPA COE, which will soon deploy robots to manage the master data–management change review and approval process.

They empower their employees to own their careers. Companies with a future-trending talent strategy are taking advantage of the incoming millennial workforce view of “work” and leveraging it across the company. They are encouraging everyone on their teams to take charge of their own career development. Finance professionals must realize that career advancement and development won’t just “happen” to them.

While smart companies will offer career development programs, it will be up to finance professionals to pursue opportunities, advocate for rotations inside and outside of finance, seek lateral moves, request to be on new projects to build their personal portfolio, and demand time with their leaders. In the words of Heidi Stock, VP of Talent Management at Bosch: “We must create a framework and culture which engages associates to shape their own individual development according to their aptitudes and interests.”

Conclusion

Digital transformation is behind the top three factors that are driving the change in the talent profile for finance in the next two to three years, according to The Hackett Group’s research (see chart below). It will decrease the emphasis on repetitive work; it will increase the emphasis on value-add work; and it will force an adjustment to technologies like robotics, AI, and the cloud. 

Finance professionals are only beginning to ask the questions about what it all means to their skill development and career prospects. They’re not going to be replaced by machines. But many of their traditional activities will be. Hence, it’s incumbent upon finance workers to take charge of their own careers, take advantage of the new programs their companies offer, learn to speak the language of technology, and hone their uniquely human skills of translation, partnering, communication, and negotiation.

Read People Are The Engine That Drives Finance Transformation: Part 1.


Nilly Essaides

About Nilly Essaides

Nilly Essaides is senior research director, Finance & EPM Advisory Practice at The Hackett Group. Nilly is a thought leader and frequent speaker and meeting facilitator at industry events, the author of multiple in-depth guides on financial planning & analysis topics, as well as monthly articles and numerous blogs. She was formerly director and practice lead of Financial Planning & Analysis at the Association for Financial Professionals, and managing director at the NeuGroup, where she co-led the company’s successful peer group business. Nilly also co-authored a book about knowledge management and how to transfer best practices with the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC).