Machines will augment our jobs, not steal them, argues Oracle's Derek Bose
“The marketplace expects CFOs to be certified accountants but organisations are pulling in CFOs who are able to marry their trade of accounting with the technological capabilities and all the benefits that come with that. CFOs previously used technology to drive standardisation through the organisation to gain control, but are now using it to adapt their organisations to a changing environment and to react more quickly to these changes,” says Derek Bose, Oracle’s senior manager for Southern Africa. Derek believes that technology will augment human capability in future and, he says, the role of the CFO is one of the first in line.
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Derek Bose had been studying actuarial science at Wits in 1994 when he stumbled into a vac job working for the IEC as a helpdesk operator because, he says, he "knew how to operate Windows". Having only ever worked as a bartender or a waiter up until that point, the large paycheque he walked away with proved sufficient incentive to get him to quit university and start working permanently at the company.
"My father had just moved to the United States and he phoned my brand-new manager and told him to fire me and send me back to university. My boss told me he'd called, I said, 'I'm not going back', and that's how I started my career in technology," says Derek. He spent the next ten years of his life working in startups - what he calls "the small, agile edge of technology, building interesting solutions".
In a small company, you have to do everything, says Derek.
"You just do what has to be done, whether it's engineering or sales, and that's what got me into technology. It also resulted in me becoming a continuous student. I never got that degree at Wits, but 15 years later, I did get a degree through Unisa in commerce, business management and strategy. I think that year of working, of being in South Africa at that exciting point in time, created that dual approach for me - a career in technology, but also of lifelong learning."
Because he was working hard in a small company, he was soon made a director, which was when he realised he knew nothing about management. At this point, he started work on his B.Com, which took him through most of his thirties, tackling an Honours degree next.
"Today, there's a huge amount of studying you can do online - you can log into the MOOCS, and join lectures given by the top lecturers in the best business schools around the world. I've studied at Harvard and Wharton in this way," he says. "And of course, Oracle has put me on executive training, which has been a great opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds in the world."
So how did he end up at Oracle? After ten years of working in startups, "learning how to do everything", he was hired by Siebel. After only being there a few short weeks, it was announced that Oracle was acquiring Seibel and, within the course of a month, Derek went from a 100-people company to a 5,000-people company, to a 50,000-people company. "It was a huge culture shock. I had to go through a huge realignment," he says.
Derek then embarked on many careers within Oracle, starting out in the services business, then moving over to the sales organisation, next, spending a few years running the financial services business, and eventually gaining experience in the rest of Africa. Now he is back in South Africa, heading up the business for Southern Africa. Part of his portfolio includes overseeing the financial solutions that Oracle provides to market, and the primary customer for these is the CFO. Because his role intersects with CFOs in this way, Derek has had the opportunity to see how the role is evolving.
"In the days when CFOs were called financial directors, the role was chief bookkeeper or accountant. What we've seen over the past couple of decades is that the role has evolved to become almost the most strategic role on the board. It's gone from the routine of preparing financial statements to a place where a lot of the routine is now performed by software, and the CFO is more of an intelligence gatherer and decision-maker."
He says that he sees this playing out especially in the younger CFOs now entering the market. "They have entered the role more recently and they are borderline millennials. They were born in the 80s and 90s and have a different mindset - one of tech acceptance. They don't see themselves performing their jobs without technology. It's like asking them to perform without a limb."
These CFOs, Derek says, see the incredibly challenging economic environment globally, and see technology as something that gives then agility and the ability to react to market forces much more easily and quickly. "The marketplace expects CFOs to be certified accountants but organisations are pulling in CFOs who are able to marry their trade of accounting with the technological capabilities and all the benefits that come with that. CFOs previously used technology to drive standardisation through the organisation to gain control, but are now using it to adapt their organisations to a changing environment and to react more quickly to these changes," he says.
This level of integration with technology is only going to grow, and, as Derek points out, within the next two decades, 50 percent of the world's youth will be housed in Africa. He believes this presents an incredible opportunity. "It means that, essentially, innovation and thought leadership should be coming out of our continent. My view is that we should be enabling the youth of our continent with as many technologies as possible to bridge that digital divide. We should be bold in the technology decisions that we make. We owe it to the youth of Africa."
Derek says that instead of importing skills into the continent, we should be creating skills we can export, and investing in bold new technologies that will give the youth skills that will pay dividends in the decades to come. There is an undercurrent of fear in just about any industry right now that machines are going to take jobs, he says. "But if you look back through the last 100 years, in every decade, the headlines say that the machines are stealing human jobs. I don't believe this. I think that machines are augmenting our ability to perform our jobs - and we are becoming bionic."
He says that today, when his son wants to learn a skill, he uses his dad's iPad, and finds a video that teaches him that skill.
"His intelligence is augmented. And in business, CFOs and CIOs, or whomever, can augment their roles and capabilities to do so much more, so much better and so much quicker."
That, he says, is where he believes technology is going - augmented capability. This is reflected in the evolution within Oracle, which has, over the past five years - and probably for the next five or ten more - says Derek, gone through the transformation from being a product company to a services company. "I have to help my business adapt to that transformation from the old to the new," he says.