CFOs can no longer ignore digital platforms
First published on Executive Finance, May 14, 2021
Conor O'Kelly, senior director of statutory accounting at Workiva Inc. (NYSE:WK), has more than 20 years of experience in senior finance roles with multinational companies such as Hewlett Packard and Ericsson. “With increasing globalization and digitization, you can no longer ignore platforms. There you work together as financials."
“I was fortunate to work for multinationals that embraced digitization early on,” O'Kelly begins the conversation. “They were progressive companies where the finance teams were sometimes housed all over the world. It was therefore already a must to standardize and digitize across those countries. Long before the corona crisis happened. ”
The director sees globalization on the rise. “Also in finance. You work together with your shared service center in Eastern Europe or India. Must comply with laws and regulations in multiple countries, cultures and jurisdictions. And more digital skills are being demanded from financials. These developments were already there, but have been accelerated by Covid-19. There is no longer a company that does not work on a platform in the cloud. Whether that is a platform from us, from Microsoft or from Google. The collaborative platforms have gained ground en masse. ”
One version of the truth
It is also simply impossible to run separate spreadsheets for the finance function. “No, because what was the last version of the spreadsheet again and where are we in the process? You don't have those kinds of issues if you have a finance platform in which the process is clearly described, where you have an overview of the same process and can monitor progress. Finally, you always have one version of the truth in which you can see exactly who has been working on what. There is always a digital audit trail. This is more and more a requirement now that companies are or are already essentially digital and regulators worldwide are increasingly requesting data digitally for their supervisory tasks.
More non-financial information
For example about non-financial information. “Boardrooms are under pressure to submit more data on non-financial information to their stakeholders. Think of data about CO2 emissions, about employee satisfaction, but also about their climate strategy. In short, criteria in the field of Environmental, Social & Governance. These criteria provide an insight into how well an organization has organized itself. Investors know this too and that is why they are increasingly charging listed companies. These ESG criteria must be reflected in the capillaries of companies. Ideally, you formulate key performance indicators on it as multinational. To structure this, a digital collaborative platform can help to consolidate the data. That in addition to the more traditional accounting information. ”
Without realizing it, O'Kelly says we've seen a massive transition to cloud technology. “The amount of people working on collaborative platforms has increased enormously. We ourselves have also experienced significant growth in this corona crisis. The demand for cloud-based accounting has never been higher. Also because you can facilitate collaboration between disciplines working at home and at work via a highly secured platform. Would you still want to do this with a system from the nineties, then you have a big problem. ”
Not just domain CFO
O'Kelly believes that the digitization of the company is not only the domain of the CFO. “Of course, he or she has all his financial consolidation and reports and is therefore the right person in that area to also get non-financial information into the capillaries of the company via KPIs. But the digitization of companies goes much further than that. Completely new business cases are emerging. The CFO does play a role in cultivating those business cases, but then together with the rest of the Board of Directors. I do see a specific role for the CFO in engaging knowledge experts. In digital business cases, when integrating non-financial information into the business and obtaining assurance about sustainability information. The CFO is used to hooking up with specialists. ”
Finally, O'Kelly recommends CFOs to be benchmarked. “There are various digital competence models in which you can see exactly what the maturity of your organization is in this area. You can see exactly where knowledge is lacking or which steps you can still take. Based on that, you can set up a digital strategy in which you indicate what your goal is. The precise way to get there is then contained in a roadmap. It is clear that this development includes a digital first and a cloud first strategy. There is simply no other way. Just look at Microsoft, Salesforce, but also SAP, Oracle and ourselves as Workiva. Those platforms are also easier to link together. Cloud continues to determine the future.”