Firing up business with the right tech for today and tomorrow

Finance leaders at the Finance Indaba shared how they successfully adopt new technology.

by Jane Steinacker

Under the theme of Talking Tech, a Finance Indaba Conversation sponsored by Workday, finance leaders spoke about the challenges and opportunities they face as the technology landscape shifts.

Edward Bass, account executive from Workday said that to keep pace with technological adoption, it is important for service providers to shift from transactional to partnership models with their clients. He said that vibrant, open relationships with service providers allow for real dialogue on what is coming, and drive the ability to implement technology fast and in a non-disruptive manner.

Megan Pydigadu, the CFO of EOH, spoke on the transformative power of technology. She explained that since she joined the organisation, EOH has embraced technology quickly to address governance and compliance, which were massive issues at the company.

As an IT organisation they have leveraged off skills:

“Technology became a strong enabler for us as a very complex group, and with it we have been able get control and understanding of the internal workings of the company. We have been able to see red flags and weaknesses quicker, having automated things like the bid process.”

Sharon Naidoo, TransUnion’s CFO, said the strategic role of technology has to be defined from the onset because taking a piecemeal approach to adopting technology that in the long run fails to integrate, becomes destructive. She said that organisations need to understand their strategic agenda, and then drive the right organisational culture and usage adoption across the organisation whether in HR, BI or sales, otherwise it has no use.

The right approach
Tencent SA CFO Tramayne Monaghan said organisations often pigeonhole their problem-solving, thereby dampening the true potential of technology. He emphasised that technology isn’t just an IT function and that organisations need to layer technology into every function, from finance and HR to marketing, legal and planning. He added that technology has the potential to address a myriad challenges and that organisations experience inertia when they don’t delve into all the enhancements technology can make across the organisation.

Megan agreed and stated that that EOH has done away with the traditional CIO role and now has a chief digital officer, whose focus is on overseeing all operations in the shared services environment. In this arrangement, IT provides the guidance and specialised skills, but the business co-creates and owns the solution.

Sharon stated that if organisations are not smarter, faster more agile, they will be out of business. She advocated for technology to be integrated across the organisation and said that true ROI comes from having access to real time information, seamless onboarding tools and powerful integrations which drive conversion of revenue.

Maximising the move to being a tech-enabled business
Sharon said having clarity on what your ‘north star’ or strategic intent is, is very important. She says that in order to avoid ‘shiny ball syndrome’, when it comes to investing in the next tech innovation or tool, CFOs should ask themselves, what is our purpose, what is our strategy? They should also question what they want to achieve, how they will connect to consumer and keep in mind that those questions will change every three to five years and that is why it is important to watch competitors, monitor trends, and understand where they are going.

Megan emphasised that traditional IT providers have to adapt as more organisations transition to a variable costs base from a fixed cost base. She said new SaaS offerings present more opportunities to scale up and down and align with current budgets. It’s a process of doing research and understanding what fits in with your strategic objectives.

Tramayne echoed this and said that because technology is cheaper and products are able to integrate faster, partnerships between companies is key. He said that the most effective businesses focus on their core competencies and then build sub-layers to enable the other elements a business needs with the right SaaS tools.

Sharon said that when going through a transformation journey, CFOs need to figure out how to leverage what they have inhouse, versus buying off the shelf. She said, “It is important to me as a CFO to invest in what grows revenue. Investing in the right partners, delivering the best value to us as the organisation and customers and keeping things simple allows us to stay agile and flexible.”

Getting the formula right
Tramayne said that to become a successful technology enabled organisation, you need to recognise that everything is digital. He says hiring someone with a passion for digital is now critical. “We are seeing incumbents being replaced by younger people with less skills but who are digital-first in mindset. I would rather hire a generalist than a specialist who can evaluate and problem solve outside of silos. if you have the right people they will embrace new way of working, evaluate tools in the right way and look for speed and efficiency.”

In the chat
Riaan Davel, DRD Gold CFO, a company which is 126 years old says, as an organisation, they need to understand big data. He says they work with tiny margins and nanotechnology has been important for pulling together crucial data and using it to build a basis to make better decisions for now, and for how the variables will interact with each other in future.

Karien Jones, chief operating officer: group finance at Sasfin Bank shared that they were already on the transformation journey and have a project to move to cloud and automate reporting. She noted that smaller organisations are more agile because they have fewer legacy system issues.

Dale Quaker, CFO of Cupric Africa, a new mining company with no legacy system, said for them, everything is new and fresh. He shared that technology in the mining space has grown, with Wi-Fi networks underground, so managing people and tools has involved a combination of an innovative and traditional approach.