Cracking the code of the ‘Eighth Continent’

We at CFO India sat down for a candid conversation with Guruprasad Gaonkar, APAC SaaS Leader – Office of Finance, Operations and Digital Supply Chain, Oracle JAPAC, about how Oracle’s eighth continent could lead to a digital revolution and create a significant shift in the role of a CFO. Excerpts:

Guruprasad Gaonkar, APAC SAAS Leader – Office of Finance, Operations and Digital Supply Chain, says the Eighth Continent is a world of disruptive technologies, where 4.4 billion people connect beyond borders & language barriers, that is about 58% of the world’s population spending 6 hours and 42 minutes each day for personal as well as for professional reasons. It is a world without boundaries and endless opportunities, and the one that needs to be leveraged for businesses to thrive in the future.

How do you feel technology is impacting the life of a CFO?
What’s new is the way we have been conducting ourselves; the physical world versus stuff that we do in the digital world. As people, we are spending far too much time in the digital world as compared to the physical world. And if you put some data into perspective and take the Indian population into consideration, which is 560 million, i.e. 41% of the Indian population is spending seven hours and forty-seven minutes in the digital world.
So, this is what we're talking about, that people have moved on from doing stuff in the physical world to doing things in the digital world. From an organisational perspective, everyone is trying to keep up with pace of change and coming up with digital transformation projects, but essentially, everyone is trying to get to “the eighth continent”, which is the digital continent. Now, most companies we see as doing the fundamental mistake, which is trying to stimulate from the physical world the aspects of the digital continent.
What we are saying is that you will no longer be able to operate a digital continent from a physical world. You need to start fundamentally operating yourself in the digital continent, the way you operate your own internal functions, which is HR, finance, procurement, supply chain, as well as the way you engage with your customers and employees, all of it has to operate in the digital world. And this is where the whole concept of recreating, reimagining and taking that leap of digital into the eighth continent comes into play.
What are some of the ways in which we can practically make this vision possible for CFOs?
Before we go there, I’d like to put a few things in perspective for the CFO community. What we see is a significant gap between what the office of finance is today to the future of finance. If you look at finance, it is mainly viewed as the cost to business rather than a value-add service. If we put some numbers to that perspective, an industry such as financial services, finance is anywhere between 1.1% to 1.5% of the total revenue to operate the cost of finance. And the next generation of finance will reduce the cost by 50%. That means a significant shift in terms of skill set capabilities is needed in the finance function.
When we take that journey to the eighth continent, mainly there are four things that come into play:
Number one is data; when we talk about data, there’s connected data and connected intelligence. Most companies have anywhere between 10,000 to 20,000 excel sheets. Excel that is being used for their own business operations. This is where the next generation operation of digital continent comes to the picture. And this is where we see artificial intelligence, machine learning being able to trigger simple use cases like access inequality in finance and trigger procurement discounting for suppliers, as compared to investment in banking products. So, these are the things that we’re talking about data being a currency for CFOs in the eighth continent.
The second aspect is how do CFOs enhance their position within the company from being a transaction support to a decision support, which is being a business partner to the CEO. What we see is CFOs struggling to keep up with the pace of change not just from a technology perspective but also from a compliance perspective. What they need is something they can subscribe to and we call it subscribing to the future by focusing on what’s important from a broad perspective.
The third aspect is transforming the role of CFOs itself. This is where we believe that the next-generation CFOs will be able to take digital mastery from a skills perspective to define the role which is different from what it is today. The last is from a technology perspective; CFOs should be looking at technology not as an enabler but using it as a tool of leadership to get to the next level of finance function.

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