CFOs to drive digital change: Survey

Grant Thornton LLP’s 2019 CFO Survey found more than one third of CFOs look to implement artificial intelligence, drones, robots and blockchain within the next two years.

Grant Thornton LLP’s 2019 CFO Survey, conducted in partnership with CFO Research says, CFOs are shifting their priorities from cutting costs to rapidly investing in technology and data.

 The survey titled, “All systems go: CFOs lead the way to a digital world,” found that significant percentages of senior financial executives currently implement technologies such as advanced analytics (38 per cent) and machine learning (30 per cent), while many plan to dedicate additional resources to frontier technologies within two years, including:

  • Artificial intelligence, or AI (41 per cent);
  • Drones and robots (30 per cent);
  • Blockchain (40 per cent); and
  • Robotic process automation, or RPA (41 per cent).

The survey also found that financial leaders plan to speed up their efforts to implement several popular technologies within the next two years, including optical character recognition (45 per cent) and broader distributed ledger technology (44 per cent).

Further, year-over-year comparisons show that CFOs are seeing dramatic changes in technology adoption at their companies:

  • Forty-two per cent reported their finance functions regularly make use of advanced and automation technologies in corporate development and strategic planning, compared to 18 per cent in Grant Thornton’s 2018 CFO Survey;
  • Forty per cent reported their finance function already implements advanced technologies and automation technologies in risk management, compared to 20 per cent in 2018;
  • Thirty per cent use machine learning, compared to 8 per cent in 2018; and
  • Twenty-five per cent use AI, compared to 7 per cent in 2018.

“Financial leaders must embrace and adapt to new technologies to ensure their organizations operate efficiently,” said Srikant Sastry, national managing principal of Advisory Services at Grant Thornton. “The speed with which CFOs are investing in IT shows a clear vision of the digital transformation they want to see at their companies. But, advanced technologies like AI, RPA, drones, and robotics require CFOs to focus on specific use cases, workforce preparation, and measurements for these technologies to facilitate and maximize a timely return on investment.”

CFO role continues to evolve

CFOs reported that they are well-positioned to collaborate with IT and ensure that digital investments fit into their organization’s innovation strategies: Nearly 91 per cent of respondents agree or strongly agree it is the CFO’s job to ensure their companies fully realize the benefits of technology investments. That said, almost the exact same amount of respondents (92 per cent) believe the finance function of the future must do a better job of leveraging both technology and people.

According to the survey, CFOs see themselves as part of a cross-functional, collaborative team. Of the nearly 400 financial leaders surveyed, 95 per cent of respondents said their company’s CFO is a key stakeholder of enterprise transformation planning; while 94 percent reported their company’s CFO actively supports an innovation culture; and 90 percent agreed the company’s CFO actively shares insights about how to run a lean, efficient function with their peers in business units.

Challenges ahead: Skill and collaboration

As CFOs speed toward transformative technology, 60 per cent believed the finance function must provide advanced analytical support. The most important skill sets senior financial executives want to develop in the finance function are:

  • Data analytics (55 per cent),
  • Business strategy (40 per cent),
  • Operations management (35 per cent), and
  • Technology acquisition (33 per cent).

Moreover, the survey showed that financial leaders want to recruit and retain employees who possess traditional financial expertise, while also showing an eagerness to learn new technologies and process design.

“Over the next two years, talent and skills will be one of the top three challenges the IT function faces as it seeks enterprise growth, along with system complexity and business integration,” says Chris Stephenson, Business Consulting principal at Grant Thornton. “As the finance function of the future takes shape, it will demand new skill sets. Leaders will need to move full speed ahead to invest in the right technology and people to transform their businesses and, ultimately, guide strategic decision making across their organizations.”

Stephenson concludes that this transformation will not end with recruiting and developing employees to have the right set of skills – or merely implementing the latest technologies. “Working more closely with the IT organization can help the CFO rethink end-to-end finance processes. CFOs and CIOs must closely collaborate on digital transformation to remain competitive,” he says.


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