Incorporating generative AI remains top of mind for many companies, with businesses continuing to prod new use cases and potential benefits that could come out of the emerging technology.
It’s critical for today’s finance leaders to take a top seat in developing their organization’s genAI strategy: the CFO occupies a unique vantage point in the business where they can see processes end to end, making them ideal to act as the “catalyst of change,” said Claire Bramley, CFO of AI cloud analytics and data platform Teradata.
With the technology advancements companies are making, CFOs need to confront and answer critical questions at the very start of the process, including, “how much do we want to invest?” Bramley said in an interview. “What kind of return are we getting? What prioritizations do we need to make? Are we making these technology advancements ethically? Do we trust in the data?”
Plotting the genAI course
Bramley took the top financial seat at the San Diego, California-based company in June 2021 as her first CFO role, after logging a 14-year tenure at IT company HP where she served in a number of key executive roles including a stint as its global controller, according to her LinkedIn profile.
CFOs have three prime areas of responsibility when it comes to a company’s AI strategy, Bramley said. First and foremost, finance chiefs need to be the ones “helping the company decide on the journey,” which means creating a roadmap of what the company wants to prioritize — whether it wants to focus on internal or external genAI use cases, for example — and where it sees a return on investment. This is critical, especially when considering newly emerged tools such as genAI where “there's been a lot of hype about things happening very quickly,” Bramley said.
It’s important for CFOs to have that short-term focus, but it’s also key for the finance chief to encourage the company to “step back and say, ‘Okay, what does 12 months look like, 18 months, two years, etc,” she said.
In addition to charting the firm’s AI course from the jump, finance chiefs also must take point in navigating the compliance and governance piece of this strategy. Putting programs and reviews in place when it comes to tapping new software is essential, both when it comes to compliance and to helping to protect the company’s intellectual property, Bramley said.
Thirdly, CFOs need to think about how they are utilizing the technology as a finance leader, and to ensure they have the necessary skills and talent on their teams — an area of particular concern for today’s executive leaders as the potential use cases of genAI continue to expand, CFO Dive previously reported.
Bramley sat down with her team about half a year ago to establish what they were currently doing and future applications, before breaking down potential use cases into “foundational ideas we should be doing anyway” and what the team is referring to as “golden opportunities” — “what are the things that are really going to accelerate and advance us as a functional team looking forward?” Bramley said.
Earning executive trust
While CFOs need to play an important role in driving their companies’ AI and technology strategies, “you can't just come in and go, ‘we need to do this, make it happen,’” Bramley said. “You've got to help be the problem solver.”
That means honing both the key finance skills one needs as well as leadership skills; the ability to be agile, balanced with the ultimate goal of creating value for the business is critical for modern CFOs especially as the responsibilities of the role continue to expand.
“I remember one of my previous managers, saying it's all very well having a seat at the table, but if you don't have a voice, and a voice that brings value, then it's a wasted seat,” Bramley said. Considering what will be most effective to create value should be top of mind for finance leaders, as the role is morphing away from a pure numbers position to occupying that position of strategic advisor not just for the CEO, but the whole of the C-suite.
At Teradata, Bramley sees herself in that role for her fellow executive leaders, but it’s important for finance chiefs to foster trust and respect among other executive leaders to be able to act efficiently as a strategic advisor. Her experience at HP, a company with a market cap of $28 billion, enabled her to learn to consider others’ point of view, allowing her to provide better advice and feedback as a financial leader, she said.
“You have to earn that trust, you have to earn their respect and invest your time and efforts into doing that,” she said. “So I think that's the other thing we should be very careful about: Just because you've got the title of the CFO, you can't take that for granted, you have to kind of earn that role of advisor.”