CFO as Catalyst for Opportunity

by Janice Giannini

With a deep mastering at the intersection of IT and business strategy, consultant, board adviser and former C-suite executive, Janice has been harnessing the true power of IT for more than 30 years. An Executive and Board-level digital strategist at the intersection of risk and IT, she enhances competitive position through vision and equity with large-scale risk identification, quantification and mitigation in an ever-changing marketplace, generating long-term value for clients. She engages with senior executives and teams, particularly in complex businesses where misalignment is blocking their desired success, to develop and execute practical business strategies and plans. Clients have found her especially helpful when they recognize they must integrate an eagle's eye and worm's eye view in order to identify and remove obstacles. Janice has consistently taken on those challenges that others chose to run from. This typically involves those challenging times when failure is not an option and integrating business, technology and people changes must be accomplished simultaneously. As a result, many of her clients are complex organizations who won't settle for anything less than developing widespread professional competence.

I recently read a report sponsored by Accenture, Oracle and Longitude Research. While they titled the article CFO Catalyst for Change, my interpretation aligns better with CFO Catalyst for Opportunity!

The authors surveyed 930 CFOs across Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. Key findings of the analysis were:

  • A focus on cost management will remain critical and it must be balanced with an increased focus on growth. On the heels of the past 3 years, continued cost savings/ management are becoming more difficult to attain, and need to be balanced with identifying and exploiting new growth opportunities during the slow economic recovery.
  • The CFO is becoming more strategic and influential, and challenges remain. While their level of strategic involvement has increased over past 3 years, many still cite shortage of time and the current economic environment as challenges opt becoming more strategically involved.
  • CFOs are poised to become more effective change agents. Given their experience in finance transformation, cost management and their unique perspective of the business, CFOs are well placed to lead. Change requires demonstrated leadership, commercial and strategic insight and the ability to overcome organizational resistance
  • Maintenance and integration issues remain the biggest concerns from a technology perspective. CFOs say that the cost of maintenance, integration and the lack of integration among systems as the biggest concern and uses a disproportionate amount of their time. Therefore limiting their focus on exploiting innovative technology to drive growth.
  • Technology innovations provide CFOs with an opportunity to shape IT in a way that supports broader business goals. Cloud computing, big data, analytics, mobile and social technologies are having a significant impact across every aspect of their business today. CFOs have a window of opportunity to collaborate with CIOs and management to implement technologies out achieve vital business objectives. Thereby increasing efficiency, improving collaboration and visibility between finance and business units, increasing organizational agility and fostering innovation.

As a Catalyst for Opportunity, viewing the same data through a slightly different lens can lead to the following:

  • Addressing the challenge of limited time by developing their financial teams' leadership and ability to step into greater roles at all levels. This opens a window of opportunity to enhance the company's capabilities and free up time to for strategic thinking.
  • Setting the expectations at all levels to work collaboratively in seamless cross functional teams to accomplish company goals. Successful companies realize strategic and operational dividends across all aspects of the organization.
  • Participating consistently in strategic business conversations bringing to bear business understanding in addition to financial understanding. There are two roles within most companies that have the opportunity for a holistic integrated view of the business: the CFO and CIO. Those two roles typically touch every aspect of the business both strategically and operationally.
  • Partnering proactively with CIOs on growth strategies in addition to cost management.
  • Championing leadership development of the CIO's senior team. This yields the same benefits as above for the CFO's team; the ability to step into greater roles at all levels, creating a window of opportunity to enhance the company's capabilities and free up time to for the CFO/CIO strategic thinking and scenario planning.

As my days with GE taught me, there is only so much you can reduce in order to control cost; and you can't cut your way to growth. Thinking and acting differently, leveraging technology advances and bringing them to bear to grow the top line is critical. The CFO/ CIO partnership working collaboratively with peer executives is an opportunity that will only grow as time passes.

A few questions as you think about where you are driving your company over the next 2 to 3 years:

  • Are you still experiencing some level of organizational barriers and parochialism?
  • What can you change culturally to give permission and create the expectation that full collaboration is more effective?
  • Are you fully leveraging the unique insights of your CFO/ CIO team?
  • What do you need to change as CEO?
  • What do the members of the executive team need to change in order to achieve growth spurred by integrated high performance teams?
  • What do the leaders/ managers at the mid -level need to change in order to achieve growth spurred by integrated high performance teams?

If you answered these questions as objectively as you can, and your responses indicate you are leaving opportunities on the table, what actions will you take and when will you take them?

It is now January 29, 2014. 1/12th of the year is already gone!