Finance leaders have far-reaching ambitions—and they’re committed to attaining them. For forward-thinking CFOs, moving beyond strategy to embrace a futurist remit that maximizes real-time insights and drives consistent long-term enterprise growth is a leading priority.
The TCS 2020 CFO Study reveals a clear vision of how finance leaders will be operating by 2025, with nearly half (44%) expecting to use their privileged access to cross-enterprise data to drive technology-enabled business model transformation. “CFOs will play a big role in influencing the CEO and the Board by helping them understand the benefits of investing in technology to enhance shareholder value in simple terms. This will enable the push for investments in the right areas in the technology arena to drive competitive advantage,” explains Sujith Chandran, Senior Finance Director at The Hain Celestial Group.
Today’s leaders also intend to embrace a more creative remit, adds another senior finance director at a multinational retail corporation. “They like to work on initiatives that get them in front of people, things that they can get excited about,” he adds. It’s an expectation that is reflected in the data, with more than a third expecting to have a critical influence on the innovation of new products and services that businesses need to pull ahead. The following figure shows the survey responses when asked about which areas CFOs are expected to play a critical role within the next five years.
"CFOs will play a big role in influencing the CEO and the Board by helping them understand the benefits of investing in technology to enhance shareholder value in simple terms. This will enable the push for investments in the right areas in the technology arena to drive competitive advantage."
— Sujith Chandran
Senior Finance Director at The Hain Celestial Group
Question: Thinking ahead, to five years’ time, in which aspects do you expect the CFO in your organization to be playing a critical role?
Are CFOs on the right trajectory?
Despite this clear view of their future role, there are warning signs that finance leaders may not be on the fastest track when it comes to realizing their career ambitions.
Capabilities relating to data, processes and enterprise change management—all vital to driving transformation and building support for new innovations—currently rank in the bottom half of CFOs’ skillsets. Yet, surprisingly, the study reveals that these are not viewed as priority areas for development as shown in the following figure.
Question: How would you rate your skills and capabilities in each of the following areas?
Question: Which skills and capabilities are your priority for development as your organization moves towards becoming a real-time business?
And there are further indicators that inadequate data skills development, in particular, could significantly impact an enterprise’s potential for future growth. Tapping into new data sources can deliver huge business advantages, from building reactive customer-engagement models to monitoring job-seeking behavior or optimizing supply chains. However, currently, according to the study, only 35% of CFOs always use enterprise data to inform their decision making, and fewer than half (43%) say the same of external datasets.
Question: Which types of data do you always use to inform decision making?
CFOs with the confidence to unlock—and consistently act on—a broader range of data will generate solutions that overcome significant enterprise challenges, says Rajeev Subramanian, Head of Finance, Nokia IT. “We connect our ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems with our non-financial systems, the IT systems, and then put together one pool of data,” he explains. “We know which vendor we have spent on, but we also know which service that vendor is providing, and how much that service costs us. And we also know which application it’s finally being used for. It gives us complete transparency and visibility.”
"We connect our ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems with our non-financial systems, the IT systems, and then put together one pool of data,” he explains. “We know which vendor we have spent on, but we also know which service that vendor is providing, and how much that service costs us. And we also know which application it’s finally being used for. It gives us complete transparency and visibility."
— Rajeev Subramanian
Head of Finance, Nokia IT
Defining agile leaders versus traditionalists
This research reveals big differences in the business attitudes and processes of the more digitally enabled businesses and those of their more traditional counterparts.
In this analysis, we refer to these two groups as “agile leaders” and “traditionalists.”
■ Agile leaders are those organizations that are able to access 90-100% of key operational and financial performance data, and act upon the insights with immediate effect.
■ By contrast, traditionalists are able only to access, and act upon with immediate effect, 1 29% of key operational and financial performance data.
Agile leaders get the basics right, then focus on technology
Learning new skills at pace while also “keeping the lights on” is a difficult balancing act in today’s shifting landscape. A minority of agile leaders have gone further in realizing their futurist ambitions, and their approach to technology adoption and long-term planning, people management and culture. Perhaps most importantly, their attitudes and approaches to data and decision-making provide valuable learnings.
Agile leaders have access to a far higher proportion of data than do traditionalist CFOs, whose organizations are in the early stages of their real-time transition. Whereas the latter are likely to prioritize skills that deliver operational changes in the short term, agile leaders, as defined by the study, have moved beyond this to build out their understanding of the new technologies and long-term strategic planning using the data they have available to them.
Question: What skills and capabilities are your priority for development as your organization moves toward becoming a real-time business?
Traditionalists are right to be laying the framework for the future but moving quickly will be imperative if they are to close the gap with agile leaders. According to The Hain Celestial’s Sujith Chandran, the next decade for CFOs will be about building “strategic muscle” within the organization. “To achieve this CFOs must focus on improving analytics-driven decision making, recruiting differential talent and investing in the right technology” he adds. Those who do so will be better positioned to embrace technology, maximize data and accelerate competitive advantage—agile leaders are already pulling ahead in all of these areas.