The accelerating speed of business and increasing volumes of data are changing the nature of finance, writes Matthew Kibby, vice president for Sage Enterprise Africa & Middle East. To keep up, Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) need to embrace their role as ‘economic guardians’, the person who is there to provide insight, direction and measurement of business outcomes in a world of fierce competition and evolving customer demands

The finance function’s profile and role within the enterprise is shifting, with CFOs coming out of the back office into the front lines of the business. Rather than simply watching the numbers and running the financial reports, CFOs are now expected to work closely with business stakeholders to understand how the organisation should use its resources to meet customers’ needs.

What’s more, the CFO increasingly needs to provide support to other members of the C-suite in strategic decision-making – not just with the numbers, but also with HR, technology, operations and more. With the flow of data at their fingertips, CFOs have insight into business performance and the levers every other function can use to improve outcomes.

Digital champion

With most enterprises investing in digital transformation, there is also an emerging and often overlooked role for the CFO as a digital champion. The CFO can help support the transition to the digital world by ensuring that the speed and size of the organisation’s investments are sustainable and that the expected outcomes are realistic.

CFOs, for example, have the data at their fingertips to help assess whether digital projects from enterprise applications to artificial intelligence and the cloud will deliver returns to justify proposed investment. They can help translate metrics such as customer acquisition or productivity targets into financial outcomes.

For CFOs to take up these roles, they will need to ensure they have the data and tools to streamline the way they work. Although CFOs are in a great position to initiate and drive change, that won’t necessarily happen if they are time-poor or sidelined by other parts of the business, which might not understand how much positive input finance can provide.

Beyond compliance

What’s more, with regulatory compliance demands growing, CFOs can easily find too much of their time soaked up by statutory reporting requirements. This is why they need access to tools that enable them to automate statutory reporting and generating financial statements. It will help to free up their time to focus on other areas where they can add value.

As part of digital transformation, the CFO should be looking for business solutions that can automate repetitive tasks and provide fast and easy access to real-time financial data. As well as ensuring compliance, these tools must allow them better access to financial and operational data, with automated alerts and capabilities such as scenario planning.

From startups to large businesses, cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology empowers business leaders like the CFO to drive change in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. These solutions enable them to modernise processes and systems at lower risk and cost, putting the information they need in their hands wherever they are.

Through data, the CFO can support the CEO to ensure strategies make sense and investment is put in the right places. In these challenging economic times, that’s more important than ever.

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