Despite its name, digital transformation comes down to increments. CFOs who lead the transformation of their finance function typically do so in tactical steps. That’s how it was approached by Teddy Collins, finance chief of event-ticket pricing platform SeatGeek.
The finance and accounting functions at the company were built around a single, 20-megabyte master model Excel file that became obsolete as the company grew. Starting in 2020, Collins led the effort to move everything to cloud-based platforms enhanced with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.
The process started with a deep dive into the data they were going to collect and then, over time, moved functions, spreadsheet by spreadsheet, to collaborative applications as an interim step and then to platforms that transformed their operations by integrating across functions and operations.
“Now we’re able to go from beginning to end, all within our planning tool, and other groups can do their own site analyses,” Collins said.
As the pandemic showed, digital transformation is no longer a luxury for forward-thinking CFOs; it’s a must-have if CFOs are going to manage and scale their operations in alignment with growth of the broader organization.
To help you plan your own digital transformation, we’ve compiled recent articles from CFO Dive on the topic. We hope the pieces help you get a sense of how you might approach your operation’s move to cloud-based, AI- and ML-enhanced automated platforms.
AI will yield biggest return in CFO spending during coming decade: Gartner
By: Jim Tyson• Published Oct. 27, 2021
Spending on artificial intelligence that transforms rather than just automates business processes will help CFOs gain a competitive edge more than any other investment in the coming decade, according to Clement Christensen, a director for advisory at Gartner.
Using AI, companies and government organizations have achieved dramatic efficiencies, Christensen said at Gartner’s CFO & Finance Executive Conference, noting that Amazon increased retail sales 15% to 20%, the Memphis police reduced homicides by 35% and UPS annually saved hundreds of millions of dollars.
“AI is not a traditional investment by any means,” Christensen said, adding “there are a lot of unknowns, there are a lot of risks but also incredible potential.”
“AI will probably be the most important investment that you’ll make in finance, and maybe the broader enterprise for the next 10 years,” Christensen said. “You have about two to three years to get investing in AI or forever be left behind.”
To date, most spending on AI tends to be ad hoc and focused on automating rather than transforming business processes, he said. For example, a company may use AI to streamline its accounts payable system rather than to identify late-paying clients and flag patterns that can help a sales team avoid seeking prospects who are least likely to pay on time.
“AI should do more than just modernize,” Christensen said. “It should transform your business.”
Currently, only 25% of AI projects move from prototype to production — “a worrying concern for most organizations that are trying to invest in this,” he said. Companies can reduce the failure rate by identifying top business problems and focusing AI projects on finding solutions.
“You cannot forecast ROI for AI, you’ll be making up numbers,” Christensen said. “But what you can do is focus on problems worth solving in your business and align your AI investments to those problems.”
Most companies require 12 to 15 months to cultivate an AI application from inception to production.
“You’ve got two to three years but it’s going to take you 15 months to get started,” Christensen said. “Hopefully, that is a mandate and an alarm signal that you need to get going.”
Article top image credit: Chris McGrath via Getty Images
Colonial hack a wake-up call to CFOs with legacy systems
Older systems leave finance and accounting operational data at risk of breach, security specialists say.
By: Ted Knutson• Published Oct. 27, 2021
CFOs whose finance and accounting functions are built on legacy computer systems got a stark reminder last week from the Colonial pipeline hacking of what’s at stake if their system is breached.
The hack to Colonial’s system led to widespread gas shortages throughout the East and reportedly forced the company to pay $5 million in ransomware to get the instructions for reclaiming its data.
“For finance departments, the cybersecurity risk is huge,” Samir Jaipati, a finance solutions leader with EY Americas, told CFO Dive in an email. “Something built on outdated technology won’t be able to keep hackers out.”
Security specialists generally agree legacy, on-premises systems starting from about 10 years ago typically have solid cybersecurity features built in, but those that are older might require significant upgrades if they’re going to stand a chance against today’s sophisticated hackers.
The risk for CFOs who must manage their processes on an outdated system is they’ll try to get by with short-term fixes that won’t solve the systemic problems they face.
“These temporary fixes aren’t as dependable and in the long-term may cost more,” said Jaipati.
For CFOs who don’t have the time or budget to implement the system overhaul they need or to transfer their processes to a more secure on-premises system or to a cloud-based system, the best step is to do a comprehensive review of their end-to-end finance processes to audit for consistency and reliability, said Steve Adams, Gartner finance director.
He suggested reviewing the organization’s record-to-report process from start to finish to understand where non-secure platforms are used, whether there are audit trails that don’t exist, and if exogenous data is incorporated. By eliminating these and other red flags, CFOs can go a significant way to clean up their processes and reduce risk without making system changes, Adams said.
CFOs taking this approach should first engage their IT business partner and ask for a full audit of the cybersecurity capabilities of the suite of financial applications and to use that review as a starting point to making improvements, he said.
Legacy systems pose a broader problem than just security risk; they can impede company growth because CFOs aren’t generating the data or producing the analytics that can help them identify ways to make more money or reduce costs in the same way they can get from sophisticated cloud-based solutions.
Nor can legacy systems be expected to be as good at integrating data throughout the organization in the same way as cloud systems.
For CFOs who can do it, switching from an old on-premises system to the cloud can be a game-changer, said Manish Sharma, an Accenture operations group executive.
“CFOs that are agile and able to overcome these restrictions by scaling digital and cloud-powered technologies have been able to break down data silos and siloed ways of working to support the ever-evolving business strategy with speed and flexibility,” he said.
The importance of using up-to-date IT was emphasized in a recent Accenture report that found “future-ready” leaders are emerging ahead of the pack with higher efficiency and profitability by scaling digital capabilities in ways to improve operational maturity.
“These leaders use better, more diverse data to inform decision-making as part of a cloud-powered continuous feedback loop,” said Sharma.
Another benefit of moving to the cloud or a hybrid cloud-on-premises arrangement is cost flexibility.
On average, the cost of managing an outdated IT system can cost a business around $3.61 per line of code or over $1 million for an application with 300,000 lines of code, said Kevin Shuler, owner and CEO of the Quandary Consulting Group, a Denver-based IT firm.
“It accounts for customizations, maintenance, reporting, server and hardware, etc.,” he said.
While replacing the old with the new might appear to be prohibitively expensive at first glance, Shuler noted what can put a CFO more at ease is the costs are more transparent than maintaining a legacy system.
“Better, they can be categorized as either an operating expense or a capital expense since a lot of software is classified as a service rather than software,” he said.
This gives flexibility to the CFO’s finances and forecasting. It also means more resources can be available for modernized systems.
“That means you can get superior resources at a lower cost than trying to pull from a pool of highly specialized and competitive contractors who work mainly with legacy systems,” he said.
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3 ways leaders evolved during the pandemic and established new levels of excellence in accounting
Given the economic uncertainty of the last two years, controllers, their teams, and the insights only they were capable of offering served as beacons for businesses navigating the rough waters caused by a global pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn.
In doing so, however, controllers were faced with a more pronounced balancing act than ever before. Do we sacrifice accuracy for speed, given limited resources? How do we ensure control when we need to offer greater flexibility for the staff? How do we provide adequate visibility without micromanaging?
All these questions, of course, come with the added pressure of delivering timely and accurate numbers to leadership to help them stay ahead of any turns in the marketplace that could negatively impact business.
Over this incredible time, controllers rose to the challenge in spades. These accounting leaders played significant roles in steadying a volatile situation, overseeing massive shifts in the workplace, expediting vital financial reporting, and revamping existing processes to offer flexibility without sacrificing transparency. They set a new standard for accounting leadership moving forward, but that's only half the battle.
Here are three ways controllers achieved accounting operational excellence.
1. Embracing New Workflows
While the widespread and immediate shift to remote work proved challenging, regardless of function, the move to WFH (work from home) was especially so for the accounting profession. For most accountants, the idea of working remotely was never really an option — you chatted with colleagues, suffered through status update meetings, and worried about your commute from the office.
Naturally, controllers were concerned about communication and productivity challenges that occur when teams make such massive shifts without the necessary resources. As it turned out, the teams adapted just fine, tweaking processes where essential and implementing tools to ensure consistency and improve efficiency over time. As a result, 80 percent of controllers and CFOs believe their teams will be either fully or partially remote moving forward, according to a recent survey.
2. The Strategic Shift
Stop me if you've heard this before. At every level, we talk about encouraging employees to think and act more strategically — to the point where it's become more of a cliche than an actual bit of advice.
But as businesses moved from intrigue to panic as the world shut down and recession loomed, that's actually what happened for accounting leaders. With the demand for accurate, timely numbers at an all-time high, controllers and CFOs were forced to evolve to a more active, operational role.
Crunch the Numbers
Drive and Improve Team Performance
Tie Out Numbers
Explain the Business and Its Direction
3. The Rise of the Accounting Gatekeeper
That last point flows nicely into our third shift. Given the economic uncertainty, business leaders needed to see the company's direction as soon as possible. This, of course, necessitated making those numbers available ASAP without jeopardizing their accuracy.
While reporting on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis will still be required, more information will be needed in a condensed time frame. Having the technology that automates routine tasks, speeds up monthly closes, and centralizes record keeping is mandatory.
The New-New Normal
As clutch as these shifts proved to be, one thing is clear: These are the new expectations of accounting leaders, and there's no going back. Ensuring that teams operate as efficiently as possible to support these heightened expectations is paramount.
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Federated approach touted as best for digital transformation
Let IT build a centralized automation platform while operational teams build the specialized processes that link into it, an integration specialist says.
By: Robert Freedman• Published Oct. 27, 2021
When the pandemic hit last year, the CDC Foundation moved quickly to digitally transform the way it processes donations.
Money was surging into the organization, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the CDC, and to scale appropriately it needed to automate its pledges-to-donations process — what a for-profit business would call its quote-to-cash cycle.
“It forced the CDC Foundation to think about automation in a different way,” Jan Arendtsz, CEO of cloud-based integration company Celigo, said in a SaaStr webcast.
Like quote-to-cash, the pledges-to-donation process is considered foundational — that is, it’s a business process that crosses functional silos and spans the enterprise, so however it’s digitally transformed, other processes and applications must be able to integrate with it.
The CDC Foundation transformed using what Arendtsz called a federated system — an approach in which the IT department builds the mission-critical, centralized automation platform while operational teams build their own processes for integration by IT into the bigger system.
”You get the best of both worlds,” he said.
The federated approach can help with integration when you undertake a digital transformation process, Arendtsz said.
Relatively large enterprises commonly use as many as 300 software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications at any one time. Even mid-sized enterprises — those with fewer than 1,000 employees — will typically have 200 or more SaaS applications, he said.
That makes it a challenge any time an organization wants to transform itself into a digital-first enterprise to ensure all those applications integrate appropriately.
That doesn’t mean all apps must integrate with all processes; each app integrates with the other apps it needs to, as well as with the applicable business processes.
Arendtsz recommends visualizing the applications and processes in clusters. Clusters tend to form naturally around foundational applications, which in turn integrate with one or more business processes.
For example, an organization’s customer relationship management (CRM) application is typically considered a foundational app, because it’s core to several business processes, including quote-to-cash, which can have a dozen or so sub-processes and applications tied to it.
“You have a sales force and leads,” he said, describing the typical quote-to-cash process. “Those leads get converted to opportunities and you go through a sales cycle, and then you close the deal. Then you might have discount approvals. Once the deal’s closed, you have to get it to the back office, to your ERP and your billing system.”
In addition to the CRM, the quote-to-cash cycle typically spans other major and minor applications, like a configure, price and quote (CPQ) system, a contract management solution, a billing solution, a professional services automation system, and the accounting system.
Each of these major apps tend to have smaller, specialized apps clustered around them, so the quote-to-cash cycle has to integrate with those as well.
“So, one takeaway from this landscape is to know there’s process automation occurring at a localized level within these ad hoc clusters and process automation that needs to occur throughout the enterprise,” he said.
Arendtsz recommends leaders overseeing the transformation process think first about automating the business processes, which typically pre-date the apps and often were designed for a non-digital-first landscape.
Building a centralized automation platform that the other processes and apps integrate with is helpful, he said.
IT can manage the centralized automation platform in collaboration with other function areas, especially if there are firewalls around the existing major systems.
“Let IT manage those mission critical processes, because those sometimes need to be under lock and key,” he said. “Then delegate and empower teams to build their own processes. In some cases, have them start an automation and then have it turned over to IT.”
As it is, most organizations already have automation in many of their processes and applications, even if they don’t know it. That’s because many of the SaaS apps already in place came out of the box with automation built in.
Given that complexity — with many major and minor apps already using automation — and the natural way apps tend to cluster around foundational apps and integrate with business processes, like quote-to-cash, taking the federated approach can make the digital transformation process less daunting.
“The model we think is best is the federated model,” he said.
Weed out data before evolving finance tools, planning chief says
Teddy Collins of SeatGeek gave the company's data a hard look before transitioning finance tools from Excel to Google sheets to third-party applications.
By: Robert Freedman• Published Oct. 27, 2021
Don’t be afraid of evolving all or part of your finance tech stack over time with something that scales more effectively as your company grows, Teddy Collins, senior director of corporate finance at SeatGeek, said in an Airbase webcast.
“Every two or so years, our entire financial model infrastructure was totally different, totally unrecognizable from a couple of years prior,” said Collins, who joined SeatGeek in 2015 as a financial operations manager and worked his way to head of financial planning and analysis, investor relations, and other functions. “It’s about not being afraid to throw things away and start from scratch or be beholden to the technical debt of your infrastructure.”
The finance function at the company, which provides live-event ticket pricing and trading, was built around a single, 20-megabyte master model Excel file that became obsolete as the company grew.
“It did all these fancy things, and then we had to start sharing, get other people involved, so that turned into multiple files,” said Collins, who started his career in investment banking. “Then we transitioned into using dozens and dozens of Google sheets. That got people involved but also respected confidential information — who should have access to what. That was a great stepping stone to really know what we wanted and design a more advanced system.”
To add the Google sheets to the mix, he and his team created advanced workflow diagrams of every file, every piece of data that moves between spreadsheets, to know if they needed to retain that data and build it into the next system or get rid of it.
“That helped us to really understand what’s necessary or whether there are certain things we can cut out of this process,” he said.
He then transitioned the system to third-party, cloud-based applications that incorporated automation, machine learning and other advanced functionalities.
“When we started, we had it all mapped out and we understood how we wanted to move the data,” he said.
In the first phase of the move, his team replaced all but about 10 of the team’s 60 spreadsheets. “Then we kept chipping away at it,” he said. “We started with the highest ROI things and then went to the lower ROI things. We were at the point where, a couple of months ago, we eliminated the last spreadsheet out there, so now we’re able to go from beginning to end, all within our planning tool and other groups can do their own site analyses, other bottom-up things.”
Collins said they designed the planning tool with a customer-focused mindset to feed information to different operational functions based on what they need out of the data.
“Not everyone wants to learn all these tools that might not be here in a few years,” he said. “We’ve worked with our business systems partners to create automated connections between some spreadsheets and our connected planning tool as well.”
In the early stage of the process, it was important to get the accounting team to redesign the chart of accounts to make sure it supported executives' questions.
“It’s not just your general ledger accounts, but those other dimensions, whether it’s your department structure or other classes you may need, to understand how the business is operating," he said. "[Those might be] business unit cost centers and so on, and you extract that information in an automated way to produce your reporting.”
One-time expenses is an example. “If we’re running a report that strips out one-time expenses, we know we can filter out certain GL accounts,” he said. “Initially, we’d have a spreadsheet, a transactions report, and look at specific journal entries. We’d put a '1' or a 'true' in some spreadsheet column.”
That all changed when they made the transition to the connected system. “You knew you wanted to filter that out,” he said. “You want to write that formula once in a system and have that permeate through your model infrastructure.”
If you’re preparing to make a similar transition like this, Collins said, your team members' skills don’t necessarily have to change that much. From investment banking, he brought modeling skills, and then later developed Structured Query Language (SQL) skills for manipulating data, but beyond that, it’s more about bringing an analytical approach to the task and knowing what to ask.
“It’s just about being curious and just trying to solve problems with that data,” he said. “Over the years at SeatGeek, once I learned the typical data sets that I work with, it was less about manipulating data and more about sketching a report or setting data from one system to the other. The most important thing is learning enough about a topic to be able to talk with someone who really knows a lot about that topic.”
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CFO used digital transformation to turn back-office function into value driver
LivePerson finance chief John Collins brought in top data scientists and engineers to build a data system that increased growth and improved margins.
By: Robert Freedman• Published Oct. 27, 2021
When John Collins joined LivePerson in 2019 as senior vice president of quantitative strategy, his mandate was to automate the back-office function and create systems to collect, clean, and connect all the data the company was generating to drive growth and improve margins.
A year later, after he had been promoted to CFO and had two quarters in the top finance seat under his belt, the company went from negative margins to meeting the rule of 40: achieving 40% growth and profitability.
“We achieved that partly through revenue acceleration, but another big component was bringing down G&A as a percentage of revenue by automating so many workflows,” Collins said last week in a CFO Thought Leader podcast.
The company, which provides an AI tool for businesses to text back and forth with their customers, took a chance on giving him the CFO job, Collins said. He had never held the position before, but the quick margin improvement his work helped drive validated the decision and the resources it gave him to build out the automation project, Collins believes.
“The results spoke for themselves,” he said. “The impact we had in just the first six months before I took over the CFO role, and in the subsequent quarters — I’ve been in the seat for a year now — was so rapid and impactful that [analysts] got on board with the vision pretty quickly.”
Data models and decisions
To execute on the automation plan, Collins pulled together data scientists and engineers into what he calls the data models and decisions (DMD) team. They designed and implemented the systems for collecting and processing the company’s front office data — sales, revenue — which help fuel its growth. But, equally importantly, they designed and built the systems for collecting and processing back-office data, which helps fuel its margin improvement.
“These are additional metrics that I'm focused on because I have a vision for reshaping … what internal operations does for the business and the kind of data advantages we can generate to propel our organization ahead of the competition,” he said.
Those metrics include how much staff are tapping into the company’s data lake to improve decisions and performance.
Years earlier, both as an MIT MBA student and as head of his own investment company, Collins had been involved in building data systems, so he tapped his network of data scientists and engineers to staff up his DMD team.
“There are not many highly skilled data scientists that work in the back office,” he said. “Same for engineers. Most of these people have their choice of jobs [and prefer to] work on product development for the core of a business that is put out in the market. That’s where the interesting and desirable work has been.”
But he was able to attract them, he said, by giving them the opportunity to turn back-office automation into a value-driver for the organization.
“The vision I’ve set is so novel and appealing we’ve been able to attract the same caliber of talent in science and engineering that our core technology arm under the CTO is attracting today,” he said.
The team also likes how quickly it gets rewarded for its work.
“The work we’ve done presents many rapid wins,” he said. “We have stakeholders coming to [us] saying, ‘Please free me from this repetitive, manual workflow.’ In many cases, because of the data lake architecture we’ve built, and the data we’ve onboarded and cleaned, and connected, we’re able to deliver those automations in mere days.”
The first improvement Collins and his team made was enabling the ability to track customer usage of the platform.
“Part of the problem was due to dirty and disconnected data,” he said. “Most large enterprise customers had dozens of sub-accounts through which they access the platform that weren’t necessarily mapped to the parent account. In addition, attempts to forecast customer usage, which is critical for billing, go-to-market, product development, strategy, were basically simple averages of incomplete data. But despite the simplicity of these models, wrangling the data was manually intensive and error-prone.”
The team deployed automations and leveraged time-series analyses and data features relative to specific products and industries to map accounts to their relevant parents in the data lake.
“The strategic value-add here was not only saving the time of the people who were responsible for the manual work, but also revealing revenue leakage, because of those manual oversights,” he said. “We weren’t billing for all of the usage because we didn’t know all the usage without this enhanced data cleanliness.”
The improvement also enabled finance to implement usage-based billing automations, which saved significant time for the billing team and provided upsell opportunities to the go-to-market team responsible for developing the company’s enterprise base.
“The ripple effect from this one automation, from connecting and cleaning this one subset of data, had a really profound effect across the organization,” he said.
3 CFO mistakes to avoid as IT spend rises to record in 2021
Financial executives should avert mistakes in digital transformation as they budget record capital for IT purchases this year.
By: Jim Tyson• Published Oct. 27, 2021
CFOs are on track in 2021 to spend more on information technology than ever before, spurred on by forecasts that vaccines will curb the coronavirus and open the way for a robust recovery.
IT spending worldwide will surge 6.2% this year to $3.92 trillion as CFOs speed up their pre-pandemic plans for digital transformation by at least five years, according to Gartner.
"You're going to see a lot of increase in spending because of pent-up demand and a lot of return on investment that people can get and need now," said Omar Choucair, CFO of financial software company Trintech.
CFOs will need to ensure they don't throw too much of their record spending away. At least 30% of the typical IT budget is wasted, Flexera said in a survey that identified digital transformation as the top item on technology budgets this year.
Limiting waste is one of many challenges confronting CFOs as they seek to emerge from the pandemic with a competitive edge in digital technology, according to CFOs and business technology experts. CFOs also need to align technology spending with business strategy, trim the number of vendors hired since the onset of COVID-19, and refine how they measure the cost of their digital tools — to name just a few key advances.
Digital transformation can reach into every corner of an enterprise. Companies can shift operations from on-site computers to external cloud servers to improve flexibility, speed software upgrades and cut costs.
Companies can also use analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to boost customer satisfaction or mine near real-time insights from mountains of data. Or they can streamline accounting and finance with robotic process automation (RPA) software that increases efficiency, reduces spending and frees up staff to do higher-value tasks.
Demand has spiked since the final months of 2020 for a range of technologies, including analytics, cloud computing, supply chain management and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, according to Anthony Coletta, CFO at SAP North America.
High performance and digital adoption go hand in hand. The best-performing 10% of digitized companies earn as much as 80% of their industry's digital revenues, according to McKinsey.
Yet failure is common. The typical digital transformation stands a 45% chance of undershooting profit expectations, McKinsey found in a survey of more than 1,700 C-suite executives. The odds of exceeding profit expectations are just one in 10.
CFOs and business technology experts say financial executives can improve their chances of success in digital transformation by avoiding some common mistakes:
1. Underestimating digital transformation
While CFOs shouldn't shirk their role to carefully review budget requests, they need to be ready to back bold, creative initiatives with ample capital.
"You need to take an aggressive position," Coletta said, noting how at the start of the pandemic some bricks-and-mortar retailers gained by adapting to social distancing mandates through heavy investment in e-commerce, delivery and curbside pickup operations.
"You can lose ground to the competition and your first-mover advantage if cost savings becomes the No. 1 factor," he said.
2. Allowing vendor contracts to proliferate
Many companies that have embraced a software as a service (SaaS) strategy have hired vendors that are redundant or not adding value, Choucair said.
"If somebody's not looking at this holistically you can wind up with 30, 40 or 50 vendors," he said. A CFO should then ask, "‘Wait a minute, are they all working together, do we need all of them, do we only need 15 instead of 25?'"
CFOs often discover a glut of vendors months after pushing down autonomy for spending on technology to lower levels and reclassifying outlays from a capital expenditure to an operating expenditure.
For example, they may have moved from on-site computing with hardware purchased every few years (capital expenditure) to cloud computing purchased from a vendor such as Amazon or Microsoft as needed (operating expenditure).
By giving lower-level staff more leeway on spending, the new budgetary approach often sparks innovation. In-house software developers gain flexibility to spin new creations into the cloud or test a new product from a vendor.
Yet outlays can exceed limits, Snow Software CFO James Denena said, adding that remote work during the pandemic has further impeded oversight of spending.
"With more and more workers operating remotely, it's especially hard to monitor SaaS applications and cloud services often acquired by business units without IT input," Denena said in an email response to CFO Dive. "That can result in expensive annual contracts with little or no governance."
3. Failing in 'change management'
A top-to-bottom overhaul of technology can jolt all company stakeholders — from staff and customers, to investors and board members. A financial executive needs a plan for informing and rallying every group, according CFOs and experts in business technology.
"Soft skills, communication, engagement are not part of the DNA of the CFO, but they're extremely important," Kearney CFO Christine Laurens said. "I've seen it myself over and over again — underestimating change management is one of the biggest mistakes" a CFO can make when leading a digital transformation.
Before pushing ahead, a CFO should consider mapping out the different needs and potential concerns of all groups of stakeholders and identifying those who will likely champion or resist digital transformation, she said. Change management "has its own work stream, and I think it's really a big risk if you don't have a plan."
Employees will need training in new skills and roles, as well as an understanding how digital technology advances long-term company goals. The C-suite and board will need regular updates on benchmarks, KPIs and budgets. Vendors will need to know in detail about technical changes such as new coding and shifts in company expectations.
"CFOs don't place enough focus in change management and communication in adoption — the kinds of things that prepare their organization" for a leap forward in technology, according to Chip Cohron, national leader of digital transformation services at BDO.
Financial executives will more likely succeed in adopting technology by following some best practices, including ensuring spending aligns with their company's long-term business strategy, according to CFOs and experts in business technology.
"You need to have your roadmap defined" with company strategic goals as the destination, Coletta said.
When considering whether to replace legacy computing with digital technologies, financial executives need to choose metrics that account for the different ways old and new technology incur costs, the CFOs and business technology experts said.
"What I'm really trying to do internally — and we're also encouraging our clients to do — is to think through the Total Cost of Ownership" (TCO), gauging both direct and indirect costs over the lifecycle of a technology, Laurens said.
TCO analysis of computing measures several types of costs, including support, maintenance, training, security, insurance and tangible expenses such as needed floor space.
The calculations should be comprehensive. For example, when determining cloud computing costs, financial executives should include the expense of syncing on-site and vendor software with software upgrades in the cloud.
CFOs weighing whether to shift computing from in-house systems to the cloud can find useful comparative insights from TCO analysis. The comparison is especially complex because a move to the cloud may require a capex-to-opex reclassification of computing, prompting different accounting and tax outcomes.
CFOs should also consider initially focusing digital transformation on their own operations, CFOs and experts in business technology said. That could mean building a full suite of ERP tools or, on a smaller scale, installing a digital accounting or quote-to-cash system and adding on from there.
CFOs are well positioned to lead digital transformation. In the face of the coronavirus, businesses have relied on CFOs to cut costs, tightly manage cash and investments and provide the forecasts that underpin business strategy.
"The whole business is looking to the CFO to maneuver through the pandemic," Choucair said.
Many financial executives are already leading digital transformation. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, CFOs have become "catalysts of digital strategies" and their companies' "digital stewards," Accenture said. Seventy-two percent of CFOs now have the final say on technology strategy, according to an Accenture survey.
Some CFOs are guiding their companies in new directions, according to Peter Ulrich, EY-Parthenon principal for digital strategy and transactions.
The CFO at a producer of steel, aluminum and other metals prompted the company to embrace sustainability and cut costs by using blockchain to track its use of recycled metals, Ulrich said.
With blockchain the company aims to use more recycled metal and shrink its carbon footprint, he said. The CFO took the lead "in being bold about defining the next digital agenda for the company."
How digital transformation is changing the finance world
The pandemic proved digital transformation is no longer a luxury for forward-thinking CFOs; it’s a must-have to manage and scale operations. Discover how CFOs are leading the transformation of their finance function in tactical steps.
included in this trendline
AI will yield biggest return in CFO spending during coming decade: Gartner
3 CFO mistakes to avoid as IT spend rises to record in 2021
Colonial hack a wake-up call to CFOs with legacy systems
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.
Davide SavenijeEditor-in-Chief at Industry Dive.