For many leaders, change is uncomfortable. And an organizational overhaul? That’s downright daunting. But our experiences at Accenture, paired with our extensive research, clearly demonstrate how a digital transformation can greatly improve the finance function—and elevate the role of the CFO.
CFOs everywhere are using data and digital technology to drive sustainable growth. But coordinating these efforts to create what we call an intelligent finance and accounting operating model—one that keeps yielding insights from continually enriched data sets and Artificial intelligence (AI)—is the best way to truly move finance from a transactional function to a strategic one.
Embracing the challenge
CFOs know very well that their role is expanding: Our survey found that 77% believe that it is within their purview to drive business-wide operational transformation, while 81% see identifying and targeting areas of new value across the business as one of their main responsibilities.
But what is the best way to approach digital transformation? CFOs must focus on three main objectives: Harnessing the power of data, leading with new digital technologies, and developing future F&A talent. Success in achieving these objectives will help CFOs drive unprecedented growth and position finance to lead the enterprise through digital transformation.
The CFO’s greatest area of potential strength is the ability to capture, structure, and make better use of data to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their own function and the broader organization.
But the biggest barrier is that much of this data is inaccessible. In fact, our research shows nearly 80% of C-suite respondents say that 50 to 90% of their data is unstructured and inaccessible.
When properly connected and analyzed, data across internal and external ecosystems provides insights companies need to improve performance and grow. CFOs can then make faster, more responsive decisions with rapid reporting and real-time analytics about everything from their cash position to return on investments.
Investing in digital technologies
The second objective is making smart, rapid investments in digital technologies. Three technologies in particular are shaping intelligent finance operations and driving efficiency, improving decision-making, and delivering business outcomes: robotic process automation (RPA), advanced analytics and AI.
These technologies are increasingly converging, which means leaders need to steer them toward the best opportunities to drive value. CFOs need to use Intelligent Automation and data-driven analytics to gain more insights that will help free up time to focus on more strategic issues.
Effectively communicating the benefits of digital technologies is a vital skill for CFOs who aim to lead an intelligent finance function. For instance, 60- 80% of backward-looking accounting activity can be automated and delivered with limited or no human intervention.
Finding new talent
Finally, as the responsibilities of CFOs and the finance function evolve, so will the profile of prospective talent. An intelligent finance function will attract a new generation of finance leaders who thrive on rapid innovation. Enabling companies to change quickly and innovate new ways of working will provide the flexibility that an intelligent finance function requires. And in a virtuous cycle, innovative opportunities will attract a mix of future finance talent.
Today, CFOs need employees with a wide range of capabilities, from data visualization to flexible thinking. Platforms and algorithms don’t run on their own. Organizations cannot achieve true transformation without the best domain and industry expertise.
Carrying out these three objectives can lead to remarkable growth. Consider this case study: A global hotel chain aimed to improve productivity, cash flow, and visibility into financial performance across dozens of countries where it operates. It achieved its goal by enabling new technologies and intelligent automation to be embedded into its F&A processes across the organization.
Accounts payable, accounts receivable, and general accounting activities were integrated across multiple brands and business units. Armed with new digital technologies, these companies and their leaders can continually learn, improve, and innovate. What’s more, they’ve freed up time and resources to focus on delivering better experiences for hotel guests. And while the CFO role is evolving to meet new demands, so are the organization’s finance talent pools.
Overall productivity rose by 45% with employees making better, faster decisions. And operations efficiency improved by 15%, thanks to machine learning and other core AI capabilities.
Becoming a vital strategist
With an intelligent finance function, companies stand to become more agile, generate value more quickly, and achieve a competitive edge when the Finance and Accounting function is at the heart of the enterprise and CFOs are the digital architect. That’s because the finance function operates at the beginning and end of everything, enabling organizational change and measuring its impact.
Our research shows that the opportunities to leverage data, new technologies, and future finance talent arm CFOs with insights no other executive can provide. Equipped with an aerial view of a company and its data, CFOs are uniquely positioned to shape strategy and drive transformation. Through an intelligent finance operating model, CFOs can help transform the finance function; moving from transactional and reactive to proactive and strategic.
As digital architects and strategic enablers, now is the time for CFOs to not only digitize the finance function but to also lead the enterprise through digital transformation.