Kirsten Mocke, Finance Director EMC: what do the numbers mean?

With nearly 18 years of experience as a finance expert in the IT world, Kirsten Mocke has acquired a good grasp of the strengths and weaknesses in the management of South African IT firms. Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) “is often very high”, sales processes “could be more refined and defined” and forecasting is not taken seriously enough. “Many people can generate numbers.- I always say to my staff: don’t give me numbers, but tell me what the numbers mean.”

Mocke is finance and business operations director at the South African headquarters of American IT firm EMC. When she joined just over two years ago, she quickly diagnosed the familiar ailments. "Forecast accuracy was diabolical. One of the biggest issues in IT is forecasting accuracy and budgeting, although I actually don't believe in a budget, because it is outdated the moment it is signed off. It exists as a guide. But forecasting up the line is pivotal in an international company."

Being able to predict and steer the near and mid-term future is one of the crucial mandates for a CFO or finance director - in Mocke's experience there is often a lot of room for improvement . "Here in South Africa companies have been able to work within their own bubble without giving specific attention to international standards they have been able to get away with murder, but now with smaller European countries battling for economic survival, we have become a significant player for international shareholders and we need to live up to that status. The necessary level of professionalism is not always there, although sometimes it is just a matter of awareness."

When Mocke joined EMC in July 2011 she was not aware of scale of the challenge she will have to take on with EMC operations in South Africa. "It was a huge project to change, but luckily I have a huge amount of experience in fixing IT companies' finances." And in the end sorting out the finances and operations is exactly what Mocke excels at - and what she enjoys. "I enjoy the industry as much as I enjoy the job. By comparison working at a bank appears boring. I like the personalities in IT. It is a colourful industry that has had many ups, downs, mergers and developments over the last years - there is always something happening."

A few years at South African Breweries (SAB) made Mocke understand the buying process much better and how big numbers are casually thrown around in the IT industry - add three zeroes and times by 10 to get the real Rand investment. Some finance people are "happy just doing finance", but that does not satisfy Mocke, who works in the sizeable EMC office in Johannesburg which looks after South Africa, Botswana, Nambia and other neighboring countries. "I am involved in the total process, including the excitement of closing deals. IT is not a transaction based business, which means every deal is unique."

Mocke says she hasn't applied for a job since she was 25. "I have always been approached. And I usually think 'why turn away from it?' Staying with one company is a thing of the past. Changing jobs is not a scary thing for me." Moving back into the international business environment after a stint at SAB, Mocke realized how much the world is changing. "The biggest change is the effective outsourcing of services. As a service we have seen huge developments and maturity in the model. I have next to no staff and most of the routine work is done in shared service centres in Ireland, Egypt and India."

EMC is a company that offers information infrastructure solutions ranging from storage to backup data management automation, information security, virtualization and cloud computing products and services which enable businesses to store, manage, protect, and analyse massive volumes of data. "We have, what we call, a federation model to sell our products. Big data, cloud and trust are the focus for EMC. Many CFOs are becoming more curious and are asking after the big data concept", Mocke has noticed.

Big data basically means the accessible archiving of meaningful everyday data. Mocke: "I have 12.000 emails in my sent items, for example - where is that information stored?" She says EMC is ready to assist clients in understanding this new revolution. "We had a forum recently and we concluded that big data is now where cloud computing was three years ago. At the moment most companies are at least considering cloud strategies. Big data is going the same way, because it is an untapped goldmine."

Mocke is a proud South African who loves and believes in the future of the country.

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, please get in touch with us to arrange an interview with you. Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected].

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