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Leadership / Strategy

The evolving CIO and the finance frontier

Technical knowledge in finance has quickly grown in importance, as organisations have looked to transform their operations into modern cloud and data first enterprises. Finance departments are no longer focused on paper invoices, excel spreadsheets and traditional book-keeping. Automation and technology is helping to broaden financial inclusion and the flow of monetary data across organisations.

Growing customer demands are largely where responsibility for these changes lie. Demand for faster, always-on solutions is forcing organisations to innovate applications to be more reactive and provide immediate access to services. Iain Cunningham, IT Director at Swiss Re, has for example suggested that customer demand encouraged his company to improve its ERP system.

Leaders like Iain are in a unique position – they are ultimately the gate to digital transformation in finance departments. Critics of the role IT plays in leading digital transformation have highlighted the case that new technologies need no longer to be implemented by IT. After all, cloud and ‘software as a service’ tools have admittedly made it easier for departments or individuals to ‘go rogue’, pick and implement their own technology. However, without buy-in from IT these tools will never fulfil their full potential and provide companywide benefits.

It is in this need to foster companywide transformation where CIO and CFO collaboration is essential. From enterprises through to start-ups, CFOs of all types are expected to enhance their departments with technology. According to KPMG, we’re seeing a new breed of CFO emerge from today’s disruptive environment – the “Renaissance CFO”: an individual who embraces multiple roles – from financial controller to technology evangelist – “to be a leader… beyond [solely] finance.”

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Similar is true of CIOs where the line is arguably blurring between head of IT and head of productivity. Many are looking at how smart analytics can improve and automate tasks in departments – taking control of processes they wouldn’t previously have had a relationship with.  For example, as a client of Coupa, Iain Cunningham has highlighted improving the internal customer experience of procurement as an area falling under the scope of his team.

The CIOs Dilemma

Ultimately, within any organisation no-one but the CIO has the detailed knowledge and tools required to encourage companywide buy-in on a new application. Questions around changes to existing processes, compatibility and security will always arise, so an IT head is an essential part of any implementation team. Timothy Wong, IT Director at Staples has, for example, led the implementation of Coupa across 17 countries in Europe for six to seven thousand users. Wong worked to implement a solution to improve control and visibility of spend across the Staples business – a real example of IT departments crossing into the domain of CFOs. For technology to truly transform the way businesses operate, it needs widespread buy-in, and IT teams are the best placed people to manage that process.

The challenge CIOs and CFOs alike face is how they can collaborate and work together to foster productivity and positive change where the two meet. Worryingly, the 2016 State of the CIO survey found that just 31% of CIOs collaborate regularly with their CFO in small organisations, with even fewer (19%) doing so at larger enterprises.

For CIOs, finance does represent a frontier, but one that can and should be bridged. It is something we at Coupa see a lot. Introducing technology and automation requires both departmental expertise and IT knowledge. Such close collaboration obviously makes sense as part of the initial implementation but also once the projects go live, especially when you consider the rate of innovation for SaaS solution providers such as Coupa. IT/Finance collaboration needs to be managed on an on-going basis for the business to reap the true rewards of transformation projects. Jointly agreeing upon a range of IT & Finance success metrics/KPIs is thus critical to ensure the overall success of such projects across a multi-year timeframe.

In short, organisations must not be afraid of encouraging collaboration and adapting to new ways of thinking; ultimately, it will pay off.

This article is from the CBROnline archive: some formatting and images may not be present.