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By embracing data analytics, CFOs can keep their status as strategists

CFOs’ résumés are getting longer and more complex. Naturally they are the stewards of the company’s finances and the operator of the treasury, financial planning and analysis, accounting and tax functions. Now, they are also embracing being strategists and catalysts. This is according to Kathy Ryan, CEO and CFO of RoseRyan, and Myles Suer, senior manager, CFO solutions, at data integration company Informatica. Ryan and Suer recently tag-teamed as speakers on a webinar about “Analytics and Data for the Strategic CFO.”

“It’s increasingly important for CFOs to be strategists, who help shape the overall strategy and direction of their company, as well as catalysts, who instill a financial approach and mindset throughout the organization to help other parts of the business perform better,” Ryan said during the event. “These varied roles make up a CFO’s job today and make it more complex than ever.”

Successful senior finance executives have made their careers by embracing the tough stuff. They rose to the challenge following the regulatory reforms in the early 2000s and were really able to show off their skills during the Great Recession of 2008, when their expertise was needed to not just keep companies afloat but to get back on track.

Now that the recession continues to fade in the rearview mirror, CFOs need to keep the respect and elevated status they gained in recent years—where their opinion and insights are more valued than ever—intact. “The strategist and catalyst are newer roles that came on very strong during the recession, and CFOs, in my opinion, should not relinquish these roles going forward,” Ryan advised.

A key way to keep the momentum going? Get a better grip on the data that finance teams have at their fingertips. During the webinar, Ryan and Suer emphasized the uphill battle facing CFOs to accomplish that goal. As it is, manual processes still reign at many companies, and many finance organizations lack the skills needed to make sense of all the information. “Data collection is messy,” Ryan said. “A lot of data comes in through separate and distinct sources, in differing formats, and it requires a lot of knowledge to even know how to think about trying to organize the data, much less try to analyze the data.”

The motivation to improve is there, Suer said. He cited a KPMG study reporting that two-thirds of finance chiefs said their enterprise technology platform is duplicative, complex, and the financial information they pull from it for making decisions could be more useful. And three-fourths of CFOs want to do something to fix it.

“When we talk to CFOs, data is really at the heart of everything they do,” Suer said. “They have to be able to control better the integrity of the data. What we found is what was driving CFOs so much toward manual processes was that they didn’t trust the data from each and every source, so they would either manually pull it, condition the data and push it into the next systems if they had multiple GLs, or they’d be constantly massaging it and moving it around.”

The good news: The CFO position can be more gratifying than ever. Finance chiefs are no longer pigeonholed as narrow-minded accountants in the backroom but are more and more being included with other strategic leaders whose observations and analysis can influence future directions. The not-so-good news: it is hard work and it’s not made any easier by increasingly complex business models, changes in accounting rules and regulations, and unwieldy IT systems with data that can’t be fully relied upon. CFOs—those sticklers of data with integrity—are in a tough spot.

Suer suggested that CFOs who want to be considered “data driven” and strategic should:

  • Improve data quality at every source
  • Break down application silos and integrate data across sources
  • Automate the movement and consolidation of financials based on good data
  • Slice granular consolidated financials for better analysis
  • Manage the governance and access to data

“In an ideal world, data should be entered into a system only once and be accessible to address many, many different queries from many people within an organization,” Ryan said. “The more often data is entered in different ways, the more likely it is that the data won’t be consistent, and not having consistent data will quickly undermine the results.”

For more insights on the CFO role today, watch the replay of “Analytics and Data for the Strategic CFO.”

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