People, processes and tech key at vibrant Get Smart in 2016 event

People, processes and technology took centre stage during an incredibly well-attended CFO event on 23 February 2016 at Summer Place in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. Thanks to the expert contribution of partners WNS, Oracle and KPMG, CFOs received updates on the latest and greatest in business process outsourcing and cloud computing, but also got to discuss the human side of it.

KPMG partner Alida Taylor ably summarised the Get Smart in 2016 master class for the 120 attending finance leaders, by sharing three questions CFOs should consider to become more agile and flexible and better able to handle change.

  • "Challenge your operating model - is it time to outsource to be more agile if you are struggling?"
  • "From a people point of view, what are you going to do to create the capacity with your existing talent to fulfill the value-add services?"
  • "And lastly, how do you develop your technological environment and processes to be more customer-focused?"

The short presentations and debate were moderated by the dynamic CFO South Africa MD Graham Fehrsen. In his introduction he cited the book Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together by William Isaacs, in which the author states that dialogue is "a conversation with a centre and not fixed sides".

Graham then gave the floor to Krishnan Raghunathan, global chief capability officer at business process outsourcing (BPO) provider WNS. Krishnan is based at the global headquarters in India and had flown out of Hong Kong that very morning to be able to share his views with the South African CFOs. He stressed that shared investments that drive outcomes, not inputs, are vital in the cotemporary business landscape.

Among the drivers of future readiness - a balance between efficiency, effectiveness and control - are optimal automation, actionable intelligence and the agility and flexibility to respond to external stimuli. WNS places great emphasis on providing customised solutions for partners, whether big or small, and collaborating on strategies, Krishnan said. "Everyone talks about the Fortune 500, but we prefer to think of the Forgotten 5 000. If the internal rate of change of an organisation is the same as - or slower than - the external one, the end is near," he said.

A lively CFO panel discussion with contributions from CFO Awards 2016 nominee Bikash Prasad (Olam International Africa) and Sean Doherty (Standard Bank Investment Banking) provided great insight in the nuts and bolts of BPO. Bikash admitted that Olam had initially struggled to standardise processes before it looked at the option of shared services and outsourcing. However, he warned that only companies of sufficient size, maturity and with the necessary human capital would be able to take full advantage of BPO.

Associated interviews:

Sean emphasised the importance of human capital, more efficient utilisation of talent and increased productivity in thriving in a time of constant disruption and digitisation, citing Yves Morieux's Smart Simplicity theories. "Tech and processes are crucial, but without people, they go nowhere. There is a war for talent, but often it is more a question of underutilised talent than a shortage of it. We should also look internally to solve our HR challenges," he said.

His comments tied in perfectly with a presentation by Oracle's ERP MD Dee Houchen, who talked the finance leaders through the results of a study conducted with the Chartered Institute of Management Accounting (CIMA) in which 700 CFOs were surveyed about the state of their profession. The results showed that South African CFOs place human capital and strategic decision-making as top value drivers - well above their global peers, who opted for customer satisfaction.

Houchen identified cloud computing, innovation, standardised processes and ownership of these processes as key business accelerators in 2016. "Identify processes that will stimulate a high-change environment and become comfortable with continuous change. You can't go about breaking things as a CFO, but don't be disheartened when it happens. Fix it up and keep moving."

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