CFOs using data to move on from 'bean counter' moniker

Chief financial officers are increasingly relying on data from different parts of the business to help drive business decisions.

The historical "bean counter" accounting function CFOs previously had is now history, Pitcher Partners executive director Matthew Wilson has claimed, saying that aside from the standard accounting data, they are now using data from other parts of the business to help make business decisions.

Data collected from social media, the sales channel, supply chain, and manufacturing data are among some of the additional data CFOs are being required to aggregate into a single system, Wilson said.

"They are very much part of the executive team that means there's a reliance on them to use their skills to drive growth and be involved in much more of the business aspects," he said.

Wilson, however, pointed out the key challenge this brings to the CFO is deciding which data is appropriate to them, cautioning that data analytics is only useful to a business if it is used effectively. He said beyond Excel spreadsheets, there are now accessible tools in the market that can help CFOs analyse data.

"Anything from Microsoft BI to ERP systems through to cloud-based offerings, as well as tailored analytical software. The advent of that opportunity for the finance department to effectively use technology as an enabler becomes important," he said.

In addition, Vince Randall, Epicor Software ANZ regional vice president, said CFOs are increasingly demanding for integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions to give them better visibility of different business units within the organisation.

He added that having a suitable ERP solution is particularly important given organisations are becoming more customer-centric, which requires CFOs to have access to a "single source of truth" that they use to make business decisions.

"The customer becomes the centre of the system, whether you're paying bills, driving your collection process, fulfilling an order; everything is tying back to the customer ... If you've got that centricity around the customer, it means you're able to access information that is relevant to your customers at the click of the button, which improves how people are able to answer the phone when a customer is asking, for example, about a quote or an estimate time of arrival."

Wilson advised that having the right digital strategy in place to help CFOs is important, as well as having the right skills. He noted CFOs are "much more rounded individuals" who have strong management skills, IT skills, have an understanding in the sales and supply chain process, and have strong communication and collaboration skills.

However, the role of the CFO for smaller organisations is slightly different, as it's a role that does not exist, but rather is a position held by the founder of the business, who also wears the CFO hat, according to Philip Barnes, CFO Insight managing director.

Barnes said a common mistake SMBs -- often turning over from anywhere between AU$2 million to AU$60 million per year -- make is relying on implementing accounting software at times when business system processes are not in order. He said this results in broken systems, noting it has nothing to do with the software.

"It also has a lot do with the fact that often these businesses have come from a small single manufacturing environment to a multi-site manufacturing environment where the level of complexity has increased, yet they exist because there are a couple of key people who know what's going on and they manage the business intuitively, and when they grow beyond to being managed intuitively they go to a piece of software in hope it will do it for them," he said.

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