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Published 10. Sep. 2020
Master Your Digital Leadership in Finance
Data has become the underlying asset driving fiscal and economic growth in this digital economy era. In this article John Brahim (CEO & AI Business Architect at Maistering B.V.) shares his insights and knowledge about innovations in finance today, what financial innovation means for enterprises, CFO-Leadership, and what the future holds.
Finance among organizational functions is unique in the sense that it spans all areas of a business. However, a new digital economic infrastructure and the tools to accompany it are being built with advancing digital technologies such as Cloud Computing, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). What this means for financial innovation is that rapidly evolving technology and the full realization of the value of data are the current drivers developing the digital economy.
Consequently, finance leaders must adopt an all-inclusive view of their transformation across the organization. The effective finance leader needs to remain up to date by ensuring that they are conversant with the trends in technology and identify how they apply to create or support the company’s sustainable competitive advantage.
Trends and What It Means to Businesses and C-suite
Thinking about popular innovative leaders, one would be hard-pressed to remember or find a CFO on a shortlist, with most generally, seeing the CFO as the proverbial bad cop, with a bias for short term top and bottom line, depriving the creatives in the enterprise of oxygen, and subsequently killing innovation.
Fortunately, in the digital era, the CFO should maintain focus on the value equation: less cost, more revenues, and more margin. Thus, the caricature of the nay-saying bean counter does not apply to a holistic CFO. The digital CFO understands that the right type of innovation will, in the midterm, lead to all of that.
“Assuring innovation is tied to value thinking. Assuring creativity is not equal to Russian roulette. True innovation ultimately leads to superior financial performance is a mantra of the modern CFO.”
– John Brahim
“Digital” encompasses a set of trends and opportunities that belongs to the C-Suite. It thus should not be viewed as in contradiction of the long-term strategic focus on innovation and or delivering on the next reporting period. The CFO, as the guardian of value thinking, has a vital role to play. Such as Investment Allocation, Risk Mitigation, and Sharpening benefits cases.
How to Manage Innovation and Change
Change is inevitable, and just as the famous quote by Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, “The only constant in life is change.” Change affects us all, and we deal with each new change differently. There can be no innovation without change and vice versa.
“Make it tangible. Sure, innovation is about soft things like culture and freedom; however, sooner rather than later, it should shape up in concrete Journeys. The CFO can lead the way by focusing on 3 levers for innovation: automating the enterprise round 3, embracing analytics day to day, being digital as a way of life.”
As technology progresses and new solutions become available, the needs of financially vulnerable individuals or businesses need to be kept in mind. Players from various sectors can propel innovation effectively when they partner across sectors and keep the needs of financially vulnerable people at the center.
Automating Enterprise Sequel 3
Firstly, the hard part of the back office was automated. Softer operational processes closely followed this. Where thanks to a combination of Cloud, AI, and Visualization technologies, the third automation wave will go beyond mere operations and transform the tactical layers, augmenting those that orchestrate the enterprise.
The past saw financial functions providing curated historical data to the enterprise. However, current trends show people clamoring for real, actionable, and predictive insights. Fortunately, enterprises only require two components to achieve this: the right tools to capture and analyze Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to deliver more contextual and human answers.
Taking an enterprise digital requires a lot. For starters, the enterprise’s mission, value proposition, and business model will be affected. It will be a series of journeys requiring a dissimilar culture, new skills, different governance, and a new way of working. The mission and way of working have to transform for the CFO to assure financial health, allocate assets rightly, and mitigate risks amid novel volatility.
Remaining Relevant in the Eyes of Your Stakeholders
From a financial perspective, we can deduce that innovation requires proper budgets and timeframes. Smart financial constraints and deadlines do not impede but accelerate creativity by fostering a sense of urgency and focus. As the CFO, you play a vital role by operating with independence and critical empathy.
This translates to creating measured freedom from business-as-usual rules, especially when it relates to funding, contracting, hiring, and reporting. The company can expect significant breakthroughs provided the CFOs know how to exercise their levers to empower and encourage innovation by understanding which rules to relax and which to follow. In this sense, a holistic CFO can validate how ideas outside of the current business logic may be worth pursuing.
CFOs are often being asked by their CEOs to assist in enabling digital innovations in their companies. As the gatekeeper of a data-rooted, value-seeking business model, the opportunity for CFOs is not so much to play the role of a skeptic but rather to be the voice of reason. Similarly, because CFOs can logically relate innovation to key business drivers, they can also engage with the innovation teams as the individual guiding them to a “Yes.”
CFOs: learning from innovation-driven leadership
Brahim shares one of the first things that CFOs need to be inspired to formulate a digital mindset for their own basic processes. Going digital touches all classical financial processes, changing everything from core accounting and treasury management to fraud detection and KPI reporting.
Secondly, established CFOs should take cues from the new generation of digital leaders about more effective and efficient means of collaborating internally & externally. Understandably, changing one’s working style will significantly drag a leader out of their comfort zone than intellectually absorbing the intrinsic contents of the new digital journeys.
Thirdly, AI should pervade the entire enterprise. CFO’s who were not raised with this technology must be willing to get their hands dirty, learning how to apply AI in their daily play. On the positive side, this makes them a better role model whilst signaling to their team that nobody stays behind.
This is all easier said than done. Fortunately, Maistering’s platform, Master Collections, brings all of these together in an entirely new set of services. It offers a completely natural means for CFOs and other C-suite members to adopt a digital way of working. Unlike classical ERP applications, the platform adapts organically and does not require a heavy wall-to-wall implementation. Within weeks a CFO and her team will easily engage in digital or other innovative journeys using Master Collections.
The Immediate Future of Finance Function
The finance function is set to experience the biggest era of transformation. Requiring a balance of solid technical knowledge and data science, as well as a deep understanding of the business itself. Digital and AI innovation spread from the consumer to the enterprise world so that most experiments will start with sales and marketing functions.
However, there will be as many use cases in production, logistics, HR, and so on. Finance will be no exception, but like all others, will wrestle with its own strengths and weaknesses in culture, talent, practices, and assets. To a certain extent, the CFO will be catalyzed by her own ecosystem as the surrounding world of accounting, funding, collections, tax, and compliance is bracing for deep impact from AI themselves.
In the past, enterprises were shaped by processes. However, Brahim believes that the largest impact will undoubtedly originate from leader augmentation by the more practical AI and not the mythical deep stuff. Thus, our century will experience enterprises shaped by leader orchestrated journeys.
““Augmenting leaders in how they orchestrate Journeys, taps into a formidable business case. Imagine all those digital and other Journeys that a CFO or her peers in the C-suite undertake, becoming faster, richer, and more impactful. There is simply no better business case in modern enterprise than that. Surprisingly enough, Master Collections is a first mover when it comes to “augmenting masters”, as we call enterprise leaders, on their Journeys.”
– John Brahim
Ultimately Brahim believes that competent CFOs know how to co-shape journeys, create processes beneficial to the entire business, and make others successful. Master Collections as a new category platform offers CFOs the perfect toolset to engage in digital journeys and naturally fosters the synergies with the C-suite peers and others that require guidance and empowerment from the digital CFO. This is where the future lies for the new digital CFO.