Futuresense-directors Steven Hyslop & Simon Jackson: CFOs needs to understand IT

“I think the role of the CFO is becoming far more interesting and complex,” says Steven Hyslop, founder and director of Futuresense, a high-end implementation firm for Oracle’s Hyperion solutions. “Our work always starts with a CFO wanting a solution,” adds Simon Jackson, his fellow director. Hyslop and Jackson recently spoke to CFO South Africa about the role of the Chief Financial Officer in driving digital transformation.

"These days many CFOs are almost CIO at the same time," says Hyslop. "Numbers define the company and CFOs need to be involved in systems whether they like it or not. They have a hybrid role and need to get stuck into understanding IT. The CFO is typically the sponsor of EPM implementations or upgrades. Or at least, they should be, because we notice that the successful rollouts are the ones backed actively by the CFO - even when we work with staff 1 or 2 levels down."

"Enterprise Performance Management, EPM, is a set of processes and tools that help management set goals and manage performance; through financial planning, modelling, financial consolidation and reporting, and linking this to strategy. We help CFOs break down what is important and what is not," says Hyslop. "What has caught out a lot of CFOs is that enterprise and other IT systems generate a lot of data. Modern CFOs know that what they need is less data. Finding out what actually matters is so important." Jackson believes that what matters is true transformation, not just new software. "The likes of Oracle and SAP say it is all about technology. But technology alone does not solve problems. If I had to play devil's advocate I would say: do a transformation project in Excel first so you can change your people and processes. Only then roll out your new ERP/EPM System. Nobody will give you that advice though."

Hyslop started the company that is now called Futuresense in 1993 as an implementation company for American financial modeling tool Alcar. "In those days value-based management was very central and Alcar helped create long term forecasts for CFOs. The product got bought by Hyperion 10 years ago. We then changed focus and brought on more people. We now offer services with a broad focus on what the CFO needs. We are architects and implementation partners for all sorts of management and financial reporting solutions within Hyperion, which is now owned by Oracle." Says Jackson; "we offer a better price than the Big 4 or Accenture. We keep trying to win every Hyperion project."

Most members of Futuresense's team of 20 people have a CA or business background, rather than an education in IT. "We don't employ people who are too technical, because they struggle to talk to the CFO," says Jackson. "As software becomes more wizard-based it is better to use financially trained people and teach them the technology." Hyslop agrees with his colleague: "That means we can approach this from a strategic angle and offer interesting solutions. What we implement is not just an accounting system but it gives a strategic view in an integrated fashion. Often we replace Excel-based accounting, but we also do a lot of work for existing Hyperion clients."

According to Jackson "Oracle's beautiful dashboards and sexy mobile delivery platforms" enable CFOs to get their hands on exactly the right data "to look at the results and set targets". The opportunities for CFOs are enormous, Jackson emphasizes. "They are getting frustrated by errors in Excel spreadsheets. Excel is not a bad tool, but it is not appropriate for big organizations. IP is getting trapped in that clever guy with his spreadsheet. They need to demystify the success of their organization to be able to build upon it."

A successful EPM implementation means getting the right number to the executives, explains Hyslop. "Businesses are getting complex, make use of multiple currencies and are often starting up operations elsewhere in Africa. The CFO spends a lot of time on basics, which means companies are drowning in data, but that doesn't mean information. We work with big complex companies that work with foreign currencies like Anglo American, Barloworld, Multichoice and Econet . We also work with the likes of the Imperial Group, African Rainbow Minerals, Royal Bafokeng Holdings, Telkom, MTN, Cell C and the SABC, which also have complex business models."

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

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