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What have historically been considered “back office” functions, the last few years have marked an accelerated transition to front and center status for Finance and Information Technology departments.This brings immense opportunity to those who can see it; and those who don’t are going to get steamrolled.
Like it or not, the rapid adoption of cloud technologies that has fostered an expectation of immediate gratification at the consumer level has now extended to audiences within organizations. I’ll let you in on a little secret–under that milquetoast demeanor, accountants are impatient individuals and are major control freaks. We now demand anytime access to data and cannot be burdened by legacy systems that are gate kept by IT most times.
Why have we suddenly turned passive-aggressive? The pace of business and need to maintain competitive advantage is at stake, for both the companies we work for and ever increasingly our departmental staff, helping us justify headcount and the value we bring. No longer is the Finance team just a bunch of number crunchers. The same holds true for IT. Our departments are uniquely positioned to lead from behind, and now, more frequently from the front.
The first step in this evolution is to listen. Make yourself and your team more visible and accessible to the CEO and other members at the top of your organization. Hiding in the bull pen or behind green eyeshades just waiting for requests is deeply damaging to your career and your staff. The IT and Finance teams instead need a seat at the table. If you are not there yet, figure out a way to get there. Once you have the required access, obtain an in depth understanding of the company strategy and continuously align your department with it. This is critical, so as you can anticipate and provide proactive solutions for the business–3, 6, 12, and 24 months down the road.
The second step is to understand and respond to your audience with effective and appropriate tools to help them succeed. This truly is the core function of Finance and IT. In the accounting realm, financial reporting itself provides diminishing usefulness to the C-Suite these days. Harnessing data into actionable business intelligence is where new value is being derived for Finance, and this should occur throughout the entire company, with the assistance of IT. A strong focus on self-service, customization and UI are the key components to achieving success. Although it can be perceived as more fun for IT to create outward facing products or services, never forget that in most businesses outside the tech consumer space, Sales and Marketing, Customer Service, Manufacturing, Human Resources–these folks within your company are YOUR customers, even more so than with the outside people and businesses you are selling to.
The ROI of the CFO is ultimately driven by their ability to forecast and anticipate the future. Gaining insight to bits and pieces of data that are meaningful to each of the functional areas within a business, each in their own special way, collectively percolate up to CFO on a real-time basis, shaping their recommendations to senior management. The CFO therefore must enable this data share, but they can’t do it in their own vacuum.
The third step is for the Information Technology and Finance heads to facilitate ongoing collaboration between their teams on the various initiatives that are identified through senior management strategy downloads. I have found over the years that our teams speak much of the same language, albeit sometimes a different dialect, and have complementary functions and traditional perceptions within the rest of the organization (e.g. back office/ cost centers). However, we are in the unique position these days to leverage together the power of data into a win-win-win situation. Increased understanding and efficiencies for our customers, better decision making by management, and higher value/ leadership roles for our respective positions and teams can move us to a profit center stance.
Placing a marker down on the continuing direction of Finance and Information Technology departments, I envision that the two will soon enough merge into one functional area with companies, something analogous to “Data Resources”. There will of course be segments of hyper specialization within such groups in order to address customized business needs. But, starting down the path of a broadening of skill sets now (e.g. coding skills, financial analysis, etc.), will greatly facilitate this evolution, bolstering the perception and future opportunities for yourself and your team members.