AI in financial management: the importance of Workday for CFOs

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Attendees of Workday Elevate spent the day getting to grips with the future of AI.

The Galleria, in the middle of the Sandton financial hub in Johannesburg, provided an ideal backdrop for executives at the helm of organisations to learn, unlearn, network and think about the future of finance. The 2024 Workday flagship event, Elevate, introduced AI features in its financial solutions portfolio, and plans to tap into growing interest in AI within the South African market.

Setting the scene in his welcoming address, Kiv Moodley, country managing director of Workday South Africa, said, “The main theme for Elevate this year is ‘shaping the future of work’. There are micro- and macro-economic environments that are posing challenges. But I believe we are a resilient nation, and we can thrive through uncertainties. Let’s elevate your knowledge and purpose.”

But what would the workplace look like if it was not people-centred? Kiv meticulously detailed the importance of empowering employees.

“Organisations become hugely successful when their people are empowered, engaged and most importantly, valued – whether that means improving financial processes or employer experiences, or putting that together and building a culture where everyone feels valued,” said Kiv.

Jonathan Randle, EMEA at Workday, added, “AI will augment and amplify humans rather than replace them. AI needs a lot of trustworthy and accurate data to be effective, however, there is a demand for technology that centralises data to make it more accessible, that helps to ensure compliance with regulation, and that addresses the complexity that often arises with large-scale, end-to-end software integration.

“Globally, there is a demand for consolidation and simplification, especially in terms of AI and GenAI, and migration to the cloud. The same applies to South Africa.”

The future needs neuroscience and not hindsight

Keynote speaker John Sanei, a futurist and consultant, addressed the avant-garde applications of generative AI, moving beyond the basics. He explored the frontiers of AI and leveraging GenAI for business and beyond.

John’s provocative presentation showcased innovative examples, including multidimensional storytelling, personalised film creation, and predictive AI for early wildfire detection and climate change mitigation. He highlighted how technology has evolved from analysis and optimisation to creative and interactive outputs. “The skill of the future is not what you know, but how you react,” he emphasised.

John encouraged the audience to adapt and evolve, as excellence is no longer about repetition, but adaptation. He used analogies like windsurfing, canoeing and rugby to illustrate the need for agile leadership in the face of uncertainty. “If you can change your questions and make them clear, about simplifying AI and change your awareness, you’ll become dangerous for tomorrow,” he said, encouraging the audience to update their mindset.

To thrive in this landscape, John recommended updating our “brain hardware” through practices like meditation, changing our brainwaves, and shifting from anxious to calm and collaborative thinking. He encouraged the audience to reflect on their focus – are they stuck in the past or looking towards the future?

Unlocking inclusion: exploring DEI solutions

Ashlee Shuler, Workday’s belonging and diversity portfolio strategy lead, and Shannon Ferley, director of product strategy, led a session on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), with Ashlee praising South Africa’s embracing of DEI. It was her first visit to the country, and she noted that while regulatory mandates drive this effort, she was impressed by the progress made in recognising the importance of DEI in South African companies.

Shannon likened DEI to the anchor runner of a long-distance relay team, emphasising that businesses must prioritise diversity transformation to succeed. “DEI is the experienced athlete who sets strategy for the team,” she said. The duo then showcased Workday’s enhanced capabilities to support DEI initiatives, featuring over 70 embedded processes to analyse DEI insights, gauge inclusion sentiment, facilitate career path planning and identify obstacles to opportunities.

Rocking the financial world

The breakout session on the work of CFOs focused on the theme, “Unlock your organisation’s potential with Workday Financial Management and AI.”

Viren Patel, strategic industry advisor for financial services and insurance at Workday, led a session introducing Workday Financial Management. He highlighted the importance of an agile finance system, stating, “You need an agile finance system that works for you to execute with speed and agility.” Viren showcased Workday’s platform, featuring AI and machine learning capabilities that enable finance leaders to navigate a changing world.

Andries van den Berg, finance and performance leader at Deloitte Consulting, presented alongside Viren. He discussed Deloitte’s Finance 2025 article, outlining eight digital finance predictions. Andries highlighted Workday’s differentiators in addressing these predictions, demonstrating the platform’s potential to support future-ready finance teams.

Both Viren and Andries shared their expertise on financial management and digital transformation, showcasing Workday’s capabilities in these areas. Their sessions aimed to educate and inspire finance professionals to embrace agile and innovative approaches in their field.

 

Explore the expo area

Attendees at the Workday Elevate event had the opportunity to visit the expo area, where they could gain valuable local insights and practical knowledge on best practices specifically tailored to the South African landscape. This dedicated space allowed attendees to engage with Workday experts and partners, asking questions and seeking guidance on implementing Workday solutions in the South African context.

In the expo area, attendees discovered success stories and case studies from local organisations such as Old Mutual, Deloitte and Accenture, which have successfully leveraged Workday to transform their financial management and HR processes.

They also explored the latest Workday features and tools, learning how they can be applied to address unique challenges and opportunities in the South African market. The expo area also provided a platform for attendees to network with peers and industry leaders, sharing experiences and exchanging ideas on how to overcome common challenges and achieve success in the region.

 

Ending with artfully mixed drinks

The evening drew to a close with a vibrant cocktail reception and entertainment, providing a relaxed atmosphere for attendees to unwind, network, and bask in the excitement of the day’s events. As the night came to a close, attendees departed with renewed energy, inspiration, and connections, already looking forward to the next Workday Elevate Event.

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