Brett Parker, MD for Southern Africa at SAP Africa: Effective CFOs must be outward-facing

It is clear that the CFO role at today’s leading companies is evolving. Alongside the traditional mandate to provide financial insights and analysis, effective CFOs are far more involved in supporting and even developing strategy, guiding key business initiatives.

Indeed, CFOs can be perfectly equipped to be outward-facing ambassadors of the company they work for, says Brett Parker, Managing Director Southern Africa at software and solutions firm SAP, market leader in enterprise application software. "I am really seeing a change in the way in which CFOs work these days," says Parker. "Previously most of them were limited to back office tasks and kept themselves busy with just that. Now good CFOs are proactively moving into the front office and are getting involved in a lot more customer interaction."

According to Parker, the fact that CFOs are starting to play a bigger role in interaction with customers is a positive development. "SAP Africa's CFO interacts regularly with our customers to talk about financial options when implementing SAP and part of that involves him giving examples from our own company. We have changed how we leverage our people and their skills and knowledge. CFOs of other firms are more comfortable listening to a fellow CFO."

Parker is a rather good salesman himself and SAP is on a high at the moment in Southern Africa. "We are growing extensively in Africa. We had 68 percent growth across Southern Africa in 2012. Obviously new products like cloud solutions are growing even faster than that at the moment, but that is still from a very small base. We're expecting about 30 percent growth in Southern Africa this year and between 15 and 20 percent in South Africa." Those are impressive numbers in a country where the economy grows by less than 3 percent annually.

One of the main things that Parker stresses is that ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, synonymous for many with SAP, represent only between 20 to 25 percent of his business these days. "SAP is about innovations - we are talking business applications and business analytics.

We're also the market leader in enterprise mobile applications, with our products interacting with a staggering 100 million devices. We're also the second biggest company worldwide, in revenue, in the space of cloud computing."

Nevertheless, classic ERP software remains one of SAP's money makers, says Parker, "Especially in emerging markets. Here in the South African mature market, customers see us as more of an innovative, modern company. A few years ago things looked a little different - many thought that SAP was a dusty firm without growth prospects. Our co CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hageman Snabe came with a powerful vision and initiated a number of smart acquisitions. Things have really changed and the market is recognising it."

Parker says he and his colleagues at SAP Africa spend a lot of time trying to convince CFOs that they should not customize ERP and other software solutions too much. According to him, the days of rolling out an ERP system that takes longer than a year are over. "The old approach is to customize, so you can run your current business processes on SAP. Nowadays, we urge companies to stay close to the vanilla version of our products and in doing so, adopt best practices. In remote areas in particular, it is important to keep things simple - if needs be, we want to be able to give support telephonically. If there is a lot of customization, someone needs to fly out."

It all fits in with the philosophy of SAP becoming a partner to a business, rather than simply a supplier. "When you start working with SAP, you are not just buying a piece of software; you are signing up for systems that offer the best business practices. Those alone do not give you the edge - they are available to everyone - but it is crucial to keep up with the times in any industry."

According to Parker there are currently four 'megatrends' in the corporate digital world: mobile, big data, social and cloud. "SAP is focused on these trends and CFOs are adopting things like mobile analytics really well, probably because they are using similar things - Google products, Facebook, etcetera - in their private lives. Nobody pops into a travel agency anymore to book a holiday." Wrapping up, Parker comments that Security remains a huge concern when SAP roles out analytics and other business processes on mobile devices. "You have to make sure that you can secure your data and manage your devices. You have to be able to wipe your device remotely when it gets lost. If someone does something silly with your data, you have to be able to stop it. SAP can safely help manage all that for you." concludes Parker.

In the picture Brett Parker with Melle Eijckelhoff (Director CFO South Africa)

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community and you want to be part of the leading CFO South Africa Community, you are most welcome to get in touch with CFO SA. Please contact Jurriën Morsch at [email protected]

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