The CFO’s Changing Role in the Age of Digital Transformation
The role of the CFO has changed radically in recent years, significantly affected by the large-scale introduction of digital practices in the work environment known as digital transformation. Historically the job has been confined to finance optimization tasks, but CFOs now find themselves having to confront new challenges and are becoming increasingly involved in the overall strategy of the company.
Under the effect of several years of economic crisis, the traditional CFO is now making way for the open and strategic CFO—a value creator, performance driver, innovator, and communicator. And one that is connected and mobile.
The CFO's role and contributions are no longer limited to their core business. They are realizing that if they optimize finance processes such as invoice processing (AP) they will be better able to manage cash, control spend, contribute to profits, and mitigate risk. And they will find ways to use the data housed in the AP department to make more strategic decisions. This changing role is reflected by ten major transformations:
- From a silo approach to an integrated value chain: Automation promotes fluidity of processes and helps to mitigate, even eliminate, the current silos between the different activities of financial departments.
- From an individual approach to a coordinated approach: AI-powered automation solutions through the precision of the algorithms help improve decision-making by suggesting the best actions to take.
- From an asynchronous approach to a real-time approach: Technological power is making it possible to accelerate the financial processes, to the point that they can be run in real time.
- From an elitist approach to a mainstream approach: Artificial intelligence is becoming more widespread and is now within the reach of companies of all shapes and sizes. In the financial domain, software solutions that incorporate AI offer very competitive quality/price ratios, even if the technologies in question remain invisible to the end user.
- From a mechanistic approach to an intelligent approach: Human interventions are now focused on strategy and taking care of complex problems and exceptions, whereas repetitive tasks are fully left to the machine. Processes are optimized and the risk of errors is minimized.
- From a design approach to a machine learning approach: Earlier technologies had to be continuously reprogrammed by humans, whereas AI is able to learn on its own, allowing faster, better, and more efficient processes to take place and continuously enhance various functions.
- From an intermediation approach to an interoperability and collaboration approach: AI-powered automation streamlines processes, making them more effective and collaborative as well as facilitating interactions between the various internal and external stakeholders.
- From a historical approach to a predictive approach: The learning abilities of machine learning are not only making it possible to reach conclusions about the past or the present, but are also making it possible to conduct accurate modeling of the future—modeling that is far more powerful and relevant than the traditional methods of projecting past trends in order to anticipate future trends. Predictive models have broadly reached a mature stage of their development and are increasingly demonstrating their effectiveness in finance departments.
- From a tedious approach to a staff empowerment approach: By eliminating the tedious tasks performed by human resources, advance technologies powered by AI—such as RPA (robotics process automation) and machine learning—are reshaping skills for the better. Jobs in the financial departments are enriched as staff focuses more time on keeping customers happy, building more positive and productive supplier relationships, and other value-added tasks. All made possible by spending less time filling in spreadsheets and doing manual data entry.
- From a cost center approach to a value-added approach: Through automation, financial management is being positioned more as a value creation center than as a cost center, as a performance driver rather than as a cash manager. According to insight from PricewaterhouseCooper, 30–40 percent of time can be reduced with finance automation and behavior change, allowing time for more value-added functions like data analysis.
The transformation of the finance position is bringing with it a number of expectations. For the sake of performance and agility, CFOs must now become the embodiment of modernization and thought leadership for their customers, suppliers, and peers.
In order to meet the new challenges with which they are now faced, CFOs can count on automation as a significant first step in their digital transformation journey to help optimize processes, gain time, increase productivity, and reduce costs.
Laurent Charpentier is the chief innovation officer of Yooz North America.