In a world where there is no such thing as ‘business as usual,’
all functions in corporations are on a transformational
journey. For some it’s re-alignment, for others it’s redefining
their very existence and the role they will play in
The finance function, arguably at the sharpest end of
this transformation, is dealing with its own internal
and external changes. This was the central theme of
discussion at a special roundtable organized by WNS and
CorporateLeaders at the Savoy Hotel in London, U.K.
The delegates, an exclusive group of business leaders,
exchanged ideas about the future of the finance function,
and how it should respond to technological disruptions.
Agility to Tide Over Change
Talk to any finance professional today and it will be hardpressed
to not talk about technology. Digital transformation
is prevalent everywhere, from homes to cars to fridges. But,
according to Krishnan Raghunathan, WNS’ Chief Capability
Officer, this means the key question for all Chief Financial
Officers (CFOs) is this: as business is impacted by technology,
how is the role of finance affected?
While change brings huge challenges, it could yield benefits
too. “Increased regulations and online payments change the
nature and exposure to risks that companies have. But the
opportunity this presents is the extent to which the finance
function can convert data into insights ,” Raghunathan said.
“Be it systems or standards,
one thing is certain: finance is
now all about responding to
changes as they come”
- Krishnan Raghunathan,
Chief Capability Officer,
“I’m not sure the issue of how finance can be more agile
is getting the discussion it deserves and needs now,”
Raghunathan told the delegates. “Will agility happen by
default or design? This is one of the most interesting
questions out of the many hundreds that CFOs will
arguably need to answer. We believe this roundtable
meeting is a starting point to at least start debating these
Financial Data Management and
Of the three key areas that were discussed, it was the issue
of financial data management that was hotly debated.
Claudio Altini, U.K. Head, GBS Advisory at KPMG, and
moderator of the roundtable discussion, shared findings
from a recent KMPG survey. Results from the survey shows
that 57 percent of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) think
their business lacks the skills to respond to disruption,
while 61 percent worry about the integration of cognitive
processes with Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The CFOs present concurred that poor management
protocols and defining who has access to data was the
primary cause of data management issues. They also
have to deal with issues of standardization, compliance,
data protection, and as one finance director present said,
‘different versions of the truth.’
The debate soon moved on to where CFOs should add the
most value. Notably, how the one percent of data that was
most important to the organization could be identified.
And furthermore, how to keep identifying it (and make
decisions based on it) as the one per cent keeps changing.
The delegates also defined what agility meant to them.
Having a master data management strategy was one line
of thought. This essentially meant separating operational
and financial data, and identifying what could be shared.
This prompted discussions around how to get data to
stakeholders so that they could make the right decisions.
Raghunathan suggested a multi-layered data approach.
Research teams should first identify the data that needs
exploiting and then ask the data team to turn them into
insights. Productization and virtualization will happen
after that. This model, he pointed out, had the ability to
respond to change.
Process Standardization and
This led to discussion around data standardization.
The delegates acknowledged the importance of data
standardization in a continually dynamic business
environment. The group agreed that it was best to hope for
90 percent standardization and live with the fact there
will always be 10 percent variation, especially if it’s in non-business
critical areas. However, one delegate did point
out that CFOs do have the responsibility to challenge the
reasons given by companies for this variation.
Most agreed that despite ERP systems having
questionable return on investment, they do at least drive
standardization. One delegate said: “You still need to tell
the ERP what to do. It’s only the enabler, not the solution.”
The debate was most vocal around whether data should
exist in the cloud or not. Most agreed the uptake was
either slow or barely on some companies’ agendas. The
suggestion, however, was that a ‘tipping point’ could now
happen, unleashing a spike in demand.
This led to the importance of trusting Business Process
Management (BPM) providers and understanding the
concept of data on cloud. Some delegates felt that CFOs
could be forced down this route mainly because technical
support for older ERP systems will soon be removed and
leave them with no other choice.
Adapting to Evolving and New
Is the finance roadmap paved with technology and what
was once described as ‘extreme automation’? This was
the final strand of the roundtable debate. Everything
from blockchain to robotics to automation and machine-learning
were highlighted as technologies CFOs should
adopt to safeguard the future of their organizations.
But while increasing technological improvements wasn’t in
doubt, the roundtable was divided over the extent to which
technology was appropriate at present. One leader argued
that there’s still plenty of room to use existing technology.
“We took 10 business problems we needed to solve and
asked our team if they could deploy Robotic Process
Automation (RPA). We found that the tech we already
had was perfectly adequate,” he said. “We were able to
solve six of the 10 problems by ourselves quickly and
without increased costs.”
Some delegates believed that there was more hype
around RPA than it really deserves. The question came up
whether a company like WNS would ever advise clients to
buy less of something? To this, Raghunathan responded:
“Our mission is to bring down the overall cost of the
finance function. We’d be honest about what a client
needs because ultimately business is about strengthening
relationships. Maybe BPM providers will need to add value
in a different way.”
Will technology precipitate the need for greater, faster
and deeper change? The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.
The unanimous verdict at the table was that those who
don’t change will get left behind. What is certain is that
BPM will play its part, proving the technological case for
improved standards and processes that will streamline
the function further.
Though the challenge around data management and
adoption of new technologies remains, the finance
function is uniquely positioned to take this on. So, while
the future looks uncertain for organizations, enlightened
CFOs can steer the ship and make the finance function
add more value.