Embrace digital tech to be a top CFO

This article is more than 12 months old

High-performing finance leaders know how to work efficiently and effectively

One of the biggest challenges my team and I face is to continually do more and do it faster. When we meet that challenge, we have the opportunity to drive better business performance.

Why are some chief financial officers (CFOs) more successful than others? A recent study by Oxford Economics found six distinct traits top finance leaders share. The common thread is that they understand the importance of digital technology.

In a global survey of 1,500 finance executives, these leaders said they view cloud-based applications, Big Data and real-time analytics as critically important to the finance function's successful performance.

Finance needs to free up resources to focus on tasks that are of greatest value to the organisation. This requires running a large part of the core processes as efficiently as possible, with as little touch as possible.

Cloud-based applications enable efficiency by standardising and automating processes, as well as lowering infrastructure expense and other IT barriers to making these improvements.

In the study, nearly a third of the leaders, whose revenues grew by between 5.1 per cent and 10 per cent over the past year, said automation improves the finance function's efficiency - twice as many as respondents with slower revenue growth.

We also need insight into business data, which can be a challenge with the increasing amount of data generated today.

Companies need not only the digital tools to manage Big Data, they also need people who can use these tools, articulate the insight, collaborate across boundaries and influence better business decision-making.

We are increasingly moving to a world of dashboards.

I have a CFO dashboard built by our Enterprise Analytics team that displays a standard set of KPIs (key performance indicators) and metrics that SAP CFOs use to stay informed and steer their businesses.

I increasingly see new dashboards emerge for different areas of our business. Each draws from a trusted source of data, so everyone sees the same view of how the company is executing on its business priorities.

This has enabled us to improve our decision-making process and work more effectively.

In the past, it was common for SAP's business leaders to use spreadsheets to track and present KPIs in face-to-face meetings. People would spend hours producing the data for the spreadsheets and even more time creating PowerPoints to present the KPIs.

Now, rather than meet, we click through dashboards and see various levels of detail on a self-help basis.

In these ways, we have the insight we need in a visually consumable way that goes straight to the point of what action we need to consider.

We can also have a much more forward-looking approach aided by simulation and scenario modelling tools. We can better deploy our resources to drive performance and growth.

When I talk to other finance leaders, it is clear that our thinking is aligned on our greatest challenges and opportunities.

Fortunately, with the ongoing evolution of technology, there are more tools at our disposal that enable us to work smarter, faster and more efficiently, so we can all be high-performing leaders.

The writer is CFO, SAP Asia-Pacific Japan. This article was published in The Business Times yesterday. It has been edited for length.