“Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time,” says Captain Chesley Sullenberger in the movie Sully. When COVID-19 caught many organizations on the back foot, there were some like Sully that used their experience, agility and innovation to navigate the ‘unprecedented’ crisis, and emerge successful and unscathed.
Take the case of BMW. In the midst of restrictions and lock-downs during the first surge, the luxury automaker’s share price cratered. But the company’s performance program, spearheaded by its CFO, and in implementation for several years, was key to stabilizing the business. The program helped identify efficiencies and leverage its data in a better way to put the company back in the driver’s seat.
CFOs, according to a ‘Global CFO Survey 2020’ conducted by Everest Group and supported by WNS, are now key players in navigating their companies in an uncertain environment. In my previous blog, I spoke about how CFOs were evolving as strategic business leaders of future-ready organizations. But what does it take to become a futuristic CFO? While there is definitely no overnight success formula, they can gradually work towards this goal by wearing multiple hats across the organization.
Everest’s survey found that 47 percent of CFOs are unsure of committing to technology investments in the near future. However, in the new normal, viewing the business, challenges and transformation through a digital lens will be an imperative. This requires significant investments in the right technologies, including artificial intelligence, automation, analytics and cloud – thereby enabling CFOs to understand and predict operational drivers and serve as strategic business leaders.
There are also solutions such as Quote-to-Sustain (QtS) that help re-imagine traditional operations by integrating technologies and workflows, underpinned by analytics and automation, to deliver sustainable growth.
Speed of decision-making is a defining characteristic of a future-ready organization, according to the Everest survey. Data remains a central element of this requirement, making end-to-end data management a key goal for CFOs. Solutions such as Financial Intelligence in a Box (FIAB) help CFOs analyze all kinds of data, including unstructured and transactional, to enable a data-driven culture.
Digital Transformation Leader
As a data arbiter, the futuristic CFO’s role transcends the finance function to include the entire organization as well as strategic partners in the ecosystem. CFOs can therefore orchestrate digital transformation by determining the economic viability of each initiative and improve paybacks from the same by analyzing cross-functional data.
Let me illustrate with an example. Way back in 2018, French retailer Carrefour set the wheels of digital transformation in motion, under the stewardship of its CFO. By tapping into early trends in retail the company shifted focus to strengthening and expanding its online and home delivery service. Needless to say, Carrefour was able to respond swiftly to challenges in supply chains in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and ensure the safety and well-being of its customers and employees.
Even as the pandemic’s disruption continues to be relentless, CFOs are stepping into new territory. But they can change future odds by leading their organizations through an ‘unprecedented’ crisis with foresight and vision. Just like Captain Chesley Sullenberger!