CFOs are dealing with a range of issues from tumultuous political events such as Brexit through to the challenge of a slowing economy. Along with this political and economic uncertainty, they face increasing regulatory demands, emerging global competition and long-term commercial issues such as pensions’ provision. And on top of all this is the pressure to adopt transformational technologies. The cloud is having a seismic effect on business; the CFO now needs to be a key player in this transformation.
Are CFOs up to it? There are reasons to be concerned. A survey by CFO Research found that 93 per cent of senior finance executives believe the CFO of the future will need a much stronger technology skillset. As a result, 64 per cent of the respondents said they had taken specific actions to upgrade their technology skills during the last year, with 80 per cent planning to do so in the future.
When CFOs are able to effect a transformation, the results can be dramatic. There are some outstanding examples of organisations hitting new heights of productivity. St John’s Buildings, known as SJB, recently introduced a cloud-based document-sharing and collaboration tool. The move will save £350,000 a year and dramatically reduce SJB’s carbon footprint. Barristers, paralegals, clients and advisers can access documents securely, and work on them collaboratively. The system permits working even without an internet connection, which is important when staff are on the move.
SJB is taking the lead in a move to paperless working, championed by the Ministry of Justice. With its fee income rising 13 per cent to £35 million in 2016, the firm sees itself as a pioneer in legal working practices.
"The CFO now needs to be a key player in transformation"
Another organisation undertaking groundbreaking work is Highways England. It operates, maintains and improves England’s motorways and major A roads, with approximately 40,000 devices connected to the road signs network and emergency services. In July, Highways England signed a £6.7-million deal with Advanced for mission-critical IT infrastructure. Advanced will be hosting a new traffic management system, which will give Highways England a real-time view of performance on the roads, and will provide up-to-date information for the millions of drivers who rely on safe and efficient road transport.
Motivation for a CFO getting involved in transformation is twofold. Firstly, they have the unique skills and knowledge required for tackling major projects. Who else can create financial models and analyse risk factors like a CFO? Secondly, the financial payback is so significant. Business transformation projects can release cash flow and improve overall performance.
St Andrew’s Healthcare is another example of an organisation undertaking transformational change. It wants to give staff mobile technologies, to offer patients tools to help with their therapy and deploy the internet of things to improve the supply chain. It is a huge undertaking. St Andrew’s employs more than 4,500 people across four locations, helping up to 900 patients in 78 hospital wards. The secret is St Andrew’s decision to rely on cloud technologies. These offer seamless scalability, as well as working well with mobile technologies. The cloud means the roll-out will be done with minimum disruption.
The project will take five years to complete, but the dividends are already becoming clear. The organisation will be more effective, with staff able to focus on their work regardless of location. The infrastructure is more resilient, able to cope with high demand levels and external threats. And the total IT bill will fall. These are objectives that any CFO should be looking to champion.
The future CFO is going to be tackling more issues than ever as the role continues to expand. There are some challenges on the horizon, but with the right tools and skills, a thorough understanding of innovative business technology and a passion for investing in digital transformation, the rewards will certainly be great.
As originally seen in ‘The Future CFO’ published by Raconteur Media on 14th September 2017 in THE TIMES.