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Q&A: How CyrusOne has shifted its forecasting focus


“COVID-19 gave us an opportunity to rethink how we run our FP&A long term”

How CyrusOne has shifted its forecasting focus in response to crisis

During the COVID-19 pandemic, financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams had to steer their organizations through short-term uncertainty without compromising their long-term ambitions. Katherine Motlagh, EVP and CFO at CyrusOne, tells us about how her team is evolving and what the future holds for FP&A. 

Did your team have the technology and processes in place to adapt to COVID-19?

We had some technology available to us already, such as our online collaboration tool. But the pandemic did reveal the vulnerabilities of our traditional processes, inputs and tools. Because we had to use the tools differently: we had to go broader and deeper, and slice and dice the data differently – in real time.

I think processes and tools are the areas we want to improve now. COVID-19 gave us an opportunity for us to think in a broader sense about finance transformation, and rethink how we run our FP&A long term.

So how would you describe your capabilities now? Where are you strongest?

We’re still very early in our journey of finance transformation. For us, the pandemic didn’t really create the need – it accentuated the need for us to enhance our skills and competencies. So I think we’re now at the assessment stage, where we try to understand what we need in order to forecast and plan efficiently.

On the positive side, we have made significant strides because we have had to adapt to new ways of working and modify our processes as we go. In terms of data capabilities, I think the key for us is to be detailed and granular, and the most important area to focus on is revenue. It’s not as difficult to tackle operating costs – mainly because the drivers behind those haven’t really changed.

Can you give us any specific examples of how skillsets are evolving to support FP&A transformation?

You always have to strive to develop your team, but I think it's also good to supplement your existing talent with fresh thinking. The pandemic forced us to look at our model: how do we modify our forecasting so it addresses real-time changes and gives us results in a more dynamic way?

So from a competency perspective we need skillsets that go beyond building the model and crunching the data to providing an assessment of risks. This means relying on automation and artificial intelligence and playing out the capacity for thought leadership, and it means building conclusions out of predictive analytics.

What else do you want to achieve with FP&A in the next 12 to 18 months?

My top priority is organizational realignment to achieve our business objectives. And we need to optimize our processes, because we need to support faster and more accurate data-driven decisions. My third priority is creating a system roadmap that will help us to drive faster, more agile data management.

Now that you have started making your FP&A more agile, how do you make sure that the rest of the organization is keeping pace with you?

What's very important for us to be successful within FP&A – but also as a business – is to align on our broader business objectives. I think on our operations side we see a lot of forward-thinking and a lot of support for that. But we’re also in the real-estate world, where there are some fundamentals that may not apply in the way they did five or 10 years ago. So you've got to find that flexibility.

And the way our organization is going to keep pace with all that is by understanding the drivers and supporting them, which might involve finding new metrics and ways of considering what drives the business and assessing the risks.

This will help us to make sure that the business makes decisions that are not only supported by data, but also by intelligence.




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