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Strategy

Embracing Change in the Epoch of AI


by Jim Perry

According to big data expert Bernard Marr, AI allows finance organizations to “scrub colossal amounts of data — much faster and more accurately than human scientists," allowing today's CFO to spend more time focusing on innovation and creating forward-looking business strategies to bring their business to the next level.

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From cloud computing and robotic process automation, to machine learning and AI, a new class of digital disruptors is fundamentally transforming the role of the modern CFO. In fact, out of 769 CFOs and finance leaders surveyed by Ernst & Young, more than 64 percent say that automating processes and building agility into business processes will be a top priority for tomorrow’s finance function. This raises the question: Will all the new age technologies that CFOs have at their fingertips replace the need for a traditional finance chief, or will CFOs be able to harness this technology to improve their bottom lines? 

CFOs are no longer seen solely as finance managers. They are now expected to be strategic partners within the entire business, advising leaders based on data and insights, while connecting the dots to inform smart business decisions. This new role is a direct result of technology’s impact on the way CFOs can perform their jobs. While automation and other emerging technologies will not replace the need for a traditional finance chief, they will cause the role of the CFO to significantly evolve. Leading financial executives are those than can strike the balance between technology and people, utilizing each team member to complete tasks that fit their unique skill sets.

According to big data expert Bernard Marr, AI allows finance organizations to “scrub colossal amounts of data — much faster and more accurately than human scientists.” In fact, computers detect correlations and patterns that humans might overlook. Not only does this help to remove the potential for human error, it also helps to free up time previously spent looking through massive amounts of data. Now the CFO can spend more time focusing on innovation and creating forward-looking business strategies to bring their business to the next level.

Machine learning technology will help CFOs and their teams to dig much deeper into the ever-increasing amounts of data  -  uncovering the latent trends that, when used correctly, can provide actionable insights linked to business-critical information and risks. This data will allow business to more quickly respond to potential risks and opportunities. Embracing AI will also help reporting teams extract forward-looking insights from large, fast-changing, disparate data sets, thereby narrowing the expectation gap between what insights boards now seek from corporate finance and what CFOs can deliver.

Together, machine learning and AI algorithms can deliver objective, predictive models to help CFOs unlock greater financial value from business processes. Digital technologies provide massive analytical power, offering finance teams new clarity into value drivers—not just financial drivers such as revenue growth and expenses, but drivers at the operational and individual business unit levels. Ultimately, this informs business leaders on what the overall business – as well as each separate department - should focus on most heavily when working to improve key business areas.

As advanced technologies continue to penetrate the finance function, a new crop of skills is rising to the forefront when it comes to finance’s core competencies. Routine, transactional roles are becoming less prevalent, while the need for strategic thinkers with cross-functional knowledge and technology prowess is becoming increasingly more critical. In fact, according to aforementioned EY study, more than half of CFOs and finance leaders surveyed noted that building skills in predictive and prescriptive analytics is critical for finance’s future.

Data-driven intelligence via machine learning is permeating every corner of every industry, and it is starting to disrupt the way we do business globally. According to Rob Kugel, Ventana Research VP and Research Director, AI, machine learning and automation will continue to disrupt finance and accounting departments over the next few years. By combining these technologies, they will eliminate one-third of these departments’ workload by automating mundane, rules-driven processes. More data and tools for analyzing this data for actionable insights will be readily available. Technology will profoundly impact the mission of finance teams and the role of the CFO more than ever before. Because of this, CFOs must become quick adopters of technology and remain up-to-date on the latest trends, to avoid the risk of being disrupted.

Digital technologies may be the most effective way to manage the challenges of today’s fast-changing business environment. These technologies help organizations to respond quickly to market changes and remain competitive in an ever-evolving business landscape. By drawing on digital tools and their many benefits, forward-thinking CFOs can transform the role of finance and add more value to their business – while systematically balancing performance, efficiency, and risk. The key is to develop a comprehensive strategy that ensures digital tools deliver the most impact and value.

Jim Perry is the Director of EPM Enablement at Infor.