Since she joined engineering simulation company Ansys earlier this year as its CFO, Nicole Anasenes has been assessing what, if any, transformation is needed to its finance and accounting processes. It’s a task she comes well-prepared for, having helped transform those functions at other technology companies but also having cut her teeth as part of the team that, some would say, saved IBM from becoming a relic of history.
It was the late 1980s and IBM was relying on its corporate development team, of which Anasenes was a junior member, to help it find its way after suffering major financial problems.
“The decision was not to break up the company [but] we started to basically sell all of the commodity businesses and reinvest in high-growth businesses,” Anasenes told CFO Dive. “We were very vertically integrated from a manufacturing standpoint for all of our hardware business, so it was pulling out the value layers … and selling all the things that contract manufacturers could get more leverage out of that didn’t add as much value to us because they were more monetized. Some other selected assets like the global network and the PC division eventually came after the printer division [was sold].”
Starting with that role and then moving into other operational and finance roles over her 15 years at the company, she amassed a set of experiences that enabled her in 2013 to jump into a CFO role at cloud-based ERP software company Infor as her first job away from IBM.
“It was a natural evolution for me because it was putting all of these ingredients I had built in a non-linear, organic way — multiple business models, new business creation, transforming existing, more mature businesses — and applying it to the first be-on-your-own-with-no-net CFO job,” she said.
Although Infor was private-equity backed, it had tapped the public bond markets years earlier to acquire another ERP company, Lawson Software, which required her to manage the finance and accounting functions as if it were a publicly traded company.
“You have public filings,” she said. “You have to do lender calls. You have to do cadences. The only difference is your constituents are bond investors, high-yield investors, vs. equity buy-side and sell-side investors.”
When she left there to head up finance at Squarespace, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) website development company, she inherited an accounting operation which had a soft close of its books every 45 days — “which was not closing the books at all,” she said.
One of her priorities there was transforming that process in part by automating manual tasks.
“How do you instrument the transactional structure, connect the dots, connect the processes, so that you can have the least amount of manual intervention and the most amount of velocity?” she said.
The challenge is very different at Ansys, a company that has had 50 years of dominance in the engineering simulation space to iron out its internal processes.
“We’re a really well-run organization with a lot of automation,” she said.
Her goal is to help the $32 billion company, which generates about $2 billion a year in revenue, improve internal processes and speed access to performance data.
“There’s been some good work done,” she said. “We implemented RPA [robotic process automation] technology to automate manual tasks, we’re implementing some automation around indirect tax software, so, on a tactical basis, we’ve done a lot to improve the level of automation. What we’re looking at is all of the core sub-processes within finance and saying, ‘How do we optimize the system of finance?’”
Answering that question, she said, is different than answering the question of how to, say, reduce the time it takes to close.
“If we want to deliver insights to the business in 10 days or five days or seven days, that’s a different optimization question across many sub-processes of finance than to get the accounting close down,” she said.
Once the strategic question has been answered, she and her team will look at tactical changes.
“Does the tool set we have today adequately meet our needs or do we need to swap things out?” she said. “Are we looking at full upgrades of the general ledger or are there really improvements around the edges?”
She’s optimizing the finance and accounting functions from a talent perspective as well, adding the kind of skill sets that can help the company leverage its data.
“There are some areas that the strategic direction of the business is going to require some incremental investment in the areas we haven’t historically needed, like strategic pricing,” she said.
Talent recruitment is one area she tries to keep rigidly competitive, she said.
“I have a good network and there are people I would like to bring in but in order to have a truly diverse, inclusive team, it’s really important to have every single process be a competitive process,” she said. “It is one of the more rigid rules I have. That’s not to say I would never bring someone in from my network, but as a default, I would bring them in in the context of a robust process rather than just say, 10 people I know I’m just going to bring them over.”
The company doesn’t just benefit from a diversity standpoint, she said. The function areas benefit because skill sets don’t always translate from one organization to the next.
“Someone who is a strong FP&A leader in a certain type of business, who’s been in a certain type of business for a certain period of time to solve certain problems, may not be the best fit for, say, Squarespace vs. Infor vs. Ansys,” she said. “So, it’s being nuanced and thoughtful about the problem you’re trying to solve and the hard and soft skill set people need to solve it.”