Sage’s Gerhard Hartman explains how CFOs should be gearing up for their role

Finance leaders’ roles have shifted from being number crunchers to more strategic business partners.

Gerhard Hartman, vice president: medium business, Sage Africa & Middle East, says the finance leader’s role is evolving.

“The function of the CFO has evolved before and after the Covid-19 pandemic. They now play a critical and strategic leadership role in driving the digital transformation in a business,” he explains.

Digital transformation means you want to automate and improve the way your business works so that you have better insight into your business. From a finance point of view, the focus should be to improve visibility over the organisation by reviewing processes for areas that are ready to be automated.

However, the pandemic has accelerated the move to the cloud for many organisations handling remote working and engaging with customers. Finance leaders now have an expanded mandate, which has shifted from only looking at numbers and financial insights to transitioning to more strategic leaders, directing the business, and being the custodian of the digital transformation process.

With all these shifts, finance leaders have an exciting yet significant duty within their organisations.

What finance leaders want
Finance leaders want to have real-time analytics at their fingertips and access to information anywhere, anytime, to use that information to look ahead and think about ways to keep the organisation competitive. Gerhard explains, “Analytics should paint a picture that guides how you look internally at your organisation, but also externally at customers, which will further help you adopt a digital strategy from those insights.”

Leaders should ask themselves what processes they can automate internally. For instance, teaching employees to self-service by automating leave processes and using electronic signatures to complete these processes are easy wins.

How are we transforming, who is involved, and how do we execute together?
Using digital tools and automating will become more of the norm, and teams and leaders embracing automation need to approach this open-mindedly and with agility. “The business landscape is changing at record-pace, and how you approached a situation a year ago may not apply now. When you’re challenged with a problem, think outside the box rather than sticking to the norm,” he says.

However, digital tools are only that. To get the full impact, finance leaders need to activate both technical and soft skills. While digital tools and flexibility are pertinent for making quicker decisions, they should be paired with soft skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving capabilities, the ability to evaluate pros and cons and unpack insights emanating from the data, creativity, agility, adaptability, and offering appropriate, practical solutions.

The visibility gained should impact other units beyond finance so that other leaders can also benefit from the data being generated and contribute their expertise and knowledge to the evolving pool of insight being created.

Here are five tips on how to successfully automate:

1. Understand your business
Start your digital journey where there is a clear need in the business. Identify the right departments and opportunities, and then decide which process to automate or streamline using technology. Ask if it will make commercial sense; there is always the need to balance the rands spent with the gains you hope to achieve.

2. Get buy-in from management
To succeed, you need the support and commitment of key players in the organisation. On any transformation journey, there will be hiccups. But if you have an engaged, enthusiastic team, they will galvanise behind the change and find solutions to the problems.

3. Make sure the change is future proof
Don’t just think about how the business looks today, but think ahead to how your company will evolve, and ensure the changes you are making are in step with those future shifts. The journey you go on today should be relevant to future growth and success.

4. Integration
One of the most crucial aspects is integrating the technology you bring into your business, as it needs to speak to all your systems. If it can’t integrate with other platforms and tools, you won’t get a full view of what is going on in the organisation.

For example, if you’re looking at the people side of things, your financial system needs to integrate into HR, and those should integrate into your reporting tools. Users logging in from any part of the organisation should benefit from having a single view of the employee or customer. To do that, integration should have happened in the background. But, if you don’t have the right integrations, you won’t have the flexibility to achieve that single view. This is where application programming interfaces (API) come in as an example, as they allow systems to speak to each other in the back end.

5. Choose the right provider
A trusted, long-lasting relationship is vital. Enlist a partner capable of providing you the correct tools and agility, as well as the longevity to go the long haul to help you get the most value out of the technology journey.

Companies that have been able to successfully pivot and keep operations going during the pandemic, could do so because they were able to access cloud-based solutions and other technology platforms that allowed them to work anywhere, anytime.

Storytelling as a superpower
As organisations grow their capacity to generate meaningful data, skilled leaders are tapping into the power of storytelling. Hartman says, “Stories bring figures and formulas to life. They break down the successes and challenges in an organisation and how they were overcome. Data enables a leader to tell a story which, in turn, allows an organisation to be more competitive, productive and profitable.”

Sage showed its support for finance professional at the Finance Indaba Network as a Gold Partner, and will continue to showcase this support at the live Finance Indaba on 7 October.