Digital Transformation » Technology » Accenture’s CFO is driving business reinvention – here’s how

Accenture's CFO is driving business reinvention - here's how

CFO KC McClure discusses the company’s digital transformation path and the strategies used to achieve success

As a company which promotes the need for all businesses to embrace digitisation and reinvent themselves, professional services company Accenture is keen to practice what it preaches.

Its message to its clients is simple: ‘to deliver on the promise of technology and human ingenuity’ and help companies become the ‘next best version of themselves’ – and this is at the heart of Accenture’s own business philosophy.

With about 900 clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture offers its professional services to a broad range of sectors from aerospace, defence and automotive to health, financial services, retail, energy and utilities. Its offering includes automation, the cloud, digital commerce, applications and AI as well as business strategy, change management, finance and technology consulting and sustainability.

Today, the company, which employs nearly 740,000 people worldwide and has a presence in 200 cities in nearly 50 countries, is digitally transforming and reinventing itself – driving business transformation through digitisation. It recognises the benefits as increased efficiency, greater business agility and the unlocking of new value for employees, customers and shareholders.

CFO KC McClure points out that digitisation is absolutely critical to both the finance function and the enterprise more broadly. “There are two ways in which it is critical: firstly, to allow automation across existing processes that are siloed within the business – this delivers important tactical benefits,” she says.

“Secondly, it can transform and reinvent the business, which is even more powerful. That’s the journey Accenture is on now – through our ongoing commitment to Total Enterprise Reinvention.  This deliberate strategy is about continuously reinventing our business to, not only, increase our agility and resilience in the face of disruption but, more importantly, deliver more value for our clients, create better experiences for our people, and help our business continue to grow and achieve new levels of performance.”

Continuous transformation

McClure explains that Total Enterprise Reinvention is characterised by continuous transformations that consider every aspect of the business – including finance.

“One of our first steps was to consolidate all our finance systems into a single global Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) environment in the cloud. By integrating data and information into connected cloud-based applications across different departments, we were able to bring more rigor to our financial processes and transactions,” she says.

“Shifting to the cloud also allowed our finance team to take full advantage of new capabilities that provide deeper insights on key financial data, hence driving greater value through enhanced advisory support on complicated finance questions.”

She explains that the finance function relies on the company’s SynOps platform, which combines human and machine capabilities to bring more analytics and predictive insights.

“Our use of SynOps has enabled the finance teams to better identify and prioritise transformation opportunities – using machine learning to automate core transactional processes such as journal reconciliations and leveraging predictive and generative AI to enhance forecasting and financial reporting,” she says.

L to R: Jason Dess, KC McClure, Accenture

Investment in automation and digital technologies have also enabled the streamlining, and sometimes elimination, of lower value, manual tasks. “We still need basic transactional, accounting, controlling, reporting and compliance activities but our finance people now spend less time on these areas than in the past and more time on higher value work – for example, driving financial and commercial acumen in the wider Accenture business,” says McClure.

She concludes that the outcomes achieved – predicting business performance more accurately using real-time data from across the enterprise; simulating the impact of potential decisions on key metrics like profitability; and enabling the finance teams to spend more time advising the business – demonstrate the power of strengthening the digital core.

Understanding the desired outcomes

McClure believes that achieving digitisation success emanates from having a firm focus on what the company wants to achieve in the first instance – before starting on a project – and then finding the most appropriate tools and strategies for the job.

“The key to finding the right tools is understanding the value you are trying to drive. Too many organisations focus on the tools and technologies versus considering the business outcome they are aiming to achieve, and thus which tools and technologies best support that outcome,” she says.

“At Accenture we used to leverage multiple digital tools to handle management reporting – but when we looked at business value and realised that the most important element was to have a single version of the truth, it became very clear to us what the right tool was to go forward with to make that happen.”

“CFOs should always take a business-led approach to understanding the value they are trying to drive,” adds Jason Dess, global lead, CFO & enterprise value, Accenture.

“In many cases multiple tools will enable you to achieve a similar result, so it’s important to understand the differentiation that matters for you to drive maximum value and then select a single set of composable applications that take an end-to-end view of achieving your value objectives.”

 Role of the CFO in driving a digital future

McClure recognises that, as CFO, her role is critical in moving the company forward into a digital future. “Data is central to our job, especially when reinvention is required.” she says.

“CFOs are uniquely positioned to help their organisations think through data from a business importance and value perspective. Our inherent ‘convening power’ helps to not only bring the different functions together in their efforts to activate digitisation, but to also link outcomes to value across the enterprise.”

She also stresses the importance of collaboration. “A CFO should never operate in a silo. First and foremost, connecting with peers to understand data points that will help achieve success is crucial,” she says. “Next, it is important to build and strengthen partnerships with key, related stakeholders such as the chief information officer and the chief data officer to ensure the right support when moving forward.”

She adds that, it is also important to identify professionals within the finance function that have the skills and commitment to take digitisation projects forward and then select an external partner that brings the ‘right blend of business value, technology acumen and proven success in driving complex programmes.’

Ensuring success

 Accenture believes that the digital projects that fail do so because of one of three things: a lack of the right management support or commitment; taking a technology-led approach without understanding the business outcome; and no focus on change management to ensure the organisation is ready to accept the transformation.

McClure recognises that there will be instances in which a digital project might fail – for example as a result of resistance to change, but she believes that these can be averted or easily overcome.

“There are things you can do to safeguard against failure from the start – or course-correct as needed,” she says, pointing out that Accenture’s strong governance structure has played a big role in the company’s own digital transformation.

“As we navigated our own reinvention, we focused on strong governance, prioritised change management, and remained committed to value creation. This is not to say we got everything right. However, where we did not get it right, we avoided jeopardising the success of the project. It was merely an opportunity to tweak our approach to get better.”

Recent Accenture research revealed that 90 percent of C-suite executives believe their organisations are undergoing accelerated digital transformation, and that CFOs are  typically driving this.

The company’s decision-making survey in August 2022 revealed that 86% of CFOs consider that the speed of their strategic decision-making has increased but also that 67% of CFOs feel paralysed at times by the number of decisions and volume of choices they are expected to make.

Accenture’s CFO success paradigm survey in September 2022 found that only one in ten CFOs achieve their organisational and professional objectives.

Dess concludes that data is now one of the top three priorities for CFOs. “For them, digitisation and data are intertwined, not separate. CFOs are concerned with whether they have the data they need to help their organisations plan for the future,” he says.

“Data is a key control point as CFOs look to provide better information – both within finance, and more importantly, holistically across the business. AI is top of mind for every finance function right now, and quality data is needed to maximise the value from any investment in this technology.”

 

 

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