The environment in which CFOs operate has changed fundamentally and will never be the same again. This is according to IBM's recent global study, titled "The New Value Integrator", which involved face-to-face interviews with 1900 CFOs across the globe, conducted in the height of the economic crisis.
The study exposes stellar performers at a time when the majority of organisations were under immense financial pressure, highlighting the need for modern CFOs to be more savvy than ever before, and take on more responsibility within their organisations, writes Greg Bogiages, director at Cortell Corporate Performance Management.
The top challenges CFOs are faced with, according to the study's findings, is the need for faster decision-making, and a pressure to reduce costs. Their role has expanded, shifting from a merely a finance focus to a stronger enterprise focus – and consequently, enterprise strategy has become a higher priority on CFO agendas.
No longer are CFOs merely involved in the supply of financial data – they are now required to take up a prominent role in decision-making and advisory.
However, fulfilling these new demands is easier said than done for many CFOs, who continue to struggle with structural complexities due to issues related to automation and standards.
For example, almost 40% of organisations still produce finance metrics manually – making it almost impossible to meet the new requirements for faster decision-making; and taking up CFOs valuable time which could be more wisely spent elsewhere.
The stellar performers identified in the study had already responded to such obstacles – ensuring that the demands on the finance function were matched with the right finance capabilities; and that high finance efficiency is achieved. Process ownership, common technologies and alternative delivery models were found to be the most prevalent accelerators of high finance efficiency.
Yet, many organisations with efficient finance functions still failed to make it to the category of "top performers". This is due to them falling short in terms of "business insights": top performing organisations were differentiated from the rest by their engagement with analytics and predictive capabilities, and their ability to convert information into knowledge and share it across the wider organisation.
The study demonstrated that delivering efficiency through standards matters more than ever before, and that providing business insight drives performance improvement. And ultimately, the greatest rewards are achieved by doing both exceedingly well.
IBM coined the term "value integrators" for those organisations who do just this – excel in both finance efficiency and business insight – and the study demonstrated that this group showed on average 20 times higher EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) growth.
What is particularly impressive about this group of value integrators is not only their superior ability to manage enterprise risk, measure and monitor business performance, and drive insight from information, but the fact that they have demonstrated the ability to drive sustained business outcomes, even during times of market instability.
This is largely due to their business insight capabilities – which allow them to create some degree of "certainty" in an otherwise unpredictable and volatile environment. This is achieved through high levels of information integration across the enterprise, and mature analytical capabilities such as planning and forecasting, scenario planning and predictive modelling.
Another key attribute of value integrators is that they are continually working on improving both finance efficiency and business insight capabilities.
They show a higher level of interest in using technology to improve data accuracy, streamline information delivery and develop richer insights to share across the organisation.
As their ability to predict and forecast improves, the opportunity to improve responsiveness also arises: the study suggests that the next step for value integrators is to look at embedding their predictive capabilities into operational systems at the frontlines of the business.
Undoubtedly, this is a trend we will see start to develop in the next few years among these organisations as they continually look towards the next step in their journey to become smarter organisations.
For those organisations lagging behind, the success of the value integrators should serve as framework for their own development, evidencing the value that is derived from placing increased focus on improving financial efficiency and business insight.
Although the pressure on the modern CFO has increased tenfold, it is also an incredibly exciting time in which to be a CFO. Backed by the right tools, what seems at first like a burden of responsibility is revealed as a window of opportunity to not only play a more vital and dynamic role within the organisation, but to assist their organisations in becoming continually smarter and more efficient and leading to sustained growth.