As CFOs grapple with challenges brought on by increasingly high interest rates and a still extremely tight labor market, welcoming automation into their arsenal of tools remains top of mind.
Although investing in technology that can automate certain activities is a priority for many finance chiefs, it remains expensive.
“Right now, I could probably list out 10 things and I think every CFO could list out at least 10 things that they want to see automated in their organization from the data perspective, but those those things upfront definitely cost money from an implementation perspective,” Coupa Software CFO Tony Tiscornia said in an interview.
Tiscornia has been at the financial helm of Coupa — a cloud business spend management platform — for over a decade. He previously served as controller, vice president of finance, and chief accounting officer before taking on the CFO post in 2021.
Before Coupa, Tiscornia also held executive financial positions at Soraa and Blade Network Technologies, the latter of which was acquired by IBM in 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile.
When it comes to when and how CFOs should make tech investments right now, timing is everything, according to Tiscornia.
“I think for most CFOs, myself included, you have to pace yourself,” he said.
Bang for your buck
“I mean, we're always looking at things that can deliver the biggest bang for our buck with a really quick time to see a return on investment, meaning within three months to six months and only in some cases, nine months,” said Tiscornia.
Although some CFOs are postponing tech spending and hiring until the possibility of a recessionary storm retreats, they may be able to avoid lagging behind by only postponing tech spending that will have an ROI further down the line.
“I think it's tough for CFOs to support projects that are going to take two years, like major overhaul projects, before they start to see some return on that investment,” said Tiscornia.
Between higher interest rates and market volatility, there are cross-currents like demand from investors forcing CFOs to take a step away from a growth-at-all costs mindset.
Although finance chiefs may be more lean when it comes to deciding where to invest in when it comes to technology, the impact of AI is not going anywhere.
“My hunch is that this AI technology, this level of recent advancement, and what we're going to see in the next three to five years is going to really catapult a lot of areas of automation in a more accelerated way,” said Tiscornia.
One of the ways that CFOs can see a swifter ROI in both a cost-cutting and morale perspective, is the automation of back office jobs.
Digitizing the back office
Back office jobs — like billing customers, collecting payments, treasury, and banking — are in most cases not intellectually stimulating and a waste of time and resources, according to Tiscornia.
“These jobs are really anything that supports the business and its front-facing activities, but it's not in and of itself front facing, it's the kind of the backbone of the company,” he said.
Automating these activities are where CFOs can really start to see scalability — 40% of finance jobs will be new or reshaped by 2025 as autonomous finance efforts continue — and organizations can actually see a boost in morale as well.
“There's a lot of high volume, low value work at organizations… and you know these jobs are really not something people should be spending their time on. So that's one area from a cost perspective, and also from a morale perspective, where automation should be a key focal point,” said Tiscornia.