Go Big, Go Fast: How Finance Leaders Can Jumpstart Transformation

by Junaid Ahmed

Learn how to open a pathway for stakeholders to embrace change, and be excited by the benefits it can deliver.

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Finance plays an extremely important role in helping the enterprise drive execution and attain its operational and financial goals, but what if your finance organization was also viewed as innovative and creative?

Imagine the impact if Finance was responsible for driving change that could propel much greater efficiency in process execution and enablement of actionable insights – at scale – for the business within the enterprise.  In today’s environment, implementing a transformation initiative that can create a forward-thinking, nimble finance operation can ignite new energy among employees and inspire the entire business to embrace new ways of working.

To keep up with the pace of growth at my own company, Applied Materials – the #1 global semiconductor equipment manufacturer, we embarked on a go-big, go-fast journey to creating an Agile Finance organization that could have an impact on teams across our employee base. The goals were threefold: to enhance the scalability and effectiveness of Finance as the company grew, to increase career fulfillment for employees, and to move to a more digital way of working by leveraging new technology platforms to drive agility.

For us, a key transformational goal was to optimize Finance for decision support – doubling the time we could spend on decision support by creating greater efficiency in the transactional accounting and reporting which traditionally consumes the bulk of Finance work effort. We’re well on our way to achieving that goal by 2022, which would see us getting there within 3 years of starting our initiative. To get there, we're building considerable digital capability across the finance organization. Some new applications help us drive automation within our transactional processes, while others help us establish advanced analytics capabilities and real-time visibility into our business operations.

As you start out on your own transformation journey, above all else it is critical to have an overarching vision of how you'd like to change your way of working and then bring in the technology components to help you realize that vision. Rolling out a transformation initiative is bound to encounter a few bumps and resistance along the way. Following are a few insights that can help open a pathway for stakeholders to embrace change, and be excited by the benefits it can deliver:

The elements essential for success. What are the key things needed to drive the successful transformation? Obviously, you need someone with a certain skill set to drive it, a senior finance executive who handles complexity and conflict well, and who can influence and align a diverse set of stakeholders. You need institutional alignment, a strategy, and you need to be thinking holistically. We never put a central team in place, by design, because we believe that sustainable change comes when the people who do the work drive the change.

Any new platform should serve your business objectives. Leveraging technology for the technology’s sake is a big trap to avoid. Have a clear idea about how a new platform is going to change the way you work, and how you're going to leverage it to achieve your specific objectives. Give your team peace of mind that they're not going to be stripped of any existing capability by outlining for everyone how the new platform will work cohesively with your existing digital capabilities.

Empower your people to move on from the old way.  Perhaps the most challenging aspect in all of this is empowering people to move away from their existing systems and ways of working.  Our approach has been to identify the highest friction points first and start working to solve them as we deploy new solutions. Open, transparent and intellectual debate is a requirement in this effort. We've also found that bringing in expert third parties such as our system integrator EY and planning solution partner Anaplan to participate with us in those conversations provides a lot of dividends. It helps people to visualize the future state in a way that they can relate to and really get comfortable.

How we define strong finance enablement for the enterprise is evolving, and finance leaders should feel empowered to create change within their organizations. By encouraging employees to be open to transformational change and embrace tech, your organization can also be a beacon for innovation.

Junaid Ahmed is Corporate Vice President of Finance at Applied Materials.