Talent + Technology: The Formula For Finance Success

by Katie Rooney

Past experiences, such as the Great Recession and the global disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, have taught CFOs that when organizations are well-structured and prepared to act nimbly by bringing their best resources to the forefront, they will succeed.

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There is no doubt today’s finance leaders have a lot of responsibility on their hands as they work within their organizations to navigate inflation, economic uncertainty, a tight labor market, and additional disruptions brought on by natural disasters and socio-economic events.  

The first half of this year has left many leaders with no choice but to rearrange their chief business priorities, as supported by recent reports highlighting the top CFO priorities to be accelerating finance digital transformation, supporting growth strategies, improving finance agility, refocusing finance as a strategic partner across the value chain, accelerating preparedness for uncontrollable issues, and turning data into actionable insights. 

This is not the first – and will certainly not be the last – time finance leaders must pivot to address unforeseen challenges. Previous experiences, such as the Great Recession and the global disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, have taught CFOs that when organizations are well-structured and prepared to act nimbly by bringing their best resources to the forefront – their people empowered by technology – they will succeed. 

In today’s macro environment, finance leaders need to embrace the right combination of people and technology to position their organization to answer current demands and evolve for the future. While unique to each organization, CFOs should consider the following broad factors as they strengthen their company through a combination of talent and technology. 

The people resource 
The responsibilities of today’s finance teams extend well beyond the function, because previous events have forced them to take a leading role in moving their organizations forward. Leaders identified the need to build finance teams that possess business skills as well as financial acumen. This combination enables the organization to make informed decisions and better navigate complex financial landscapes. Furthermore, creating organizational agility requires finance leaders to surround themselves with a team whose skills complement their own. Employees who have worked in different areas throughout their careers and have learned several disciplines outside of finance will be well-equipped to help identify new ways of innovating and solving problems. Additionally, as organizations seek to fill critical roles within the finance function, pursuing non-traditional candidates oftentimes delivers added value to the organization.  

As CFOs bring their teams together, it is their responsibility to empower them to grow, learn and be prepared to act nimbly when addressing disruptive events. Creating transparency within the team is important as it enables a clear mission, career trajectory and visibility into their potential growth. Clear communication about the team's strategy and goals and objectives also contributes to their success, productivity, professional growth and overall employee experience. 

The technology resource 
As finance leaders create nimble, multi-faceted teams, they must also manage costs, which may result in asking team members to do more with less. This is where technology comes into play. Leveraging technology such as artificial intelligence to automate certain tasks frees up teams to focus on higher value work. AI also enables innovation by providing teams with intelligence at scale, to empower them to solve challenges and create new solutions effectively.  

Keep in mind that data plays a crucial role in helping finance teams deliver business value through AI and machine learning, as it provides new insights, strengthens decision-making and can help teams connect more effectively with customers. 

A foundational data framework (with the correct data inputs) should serve as the team’s and the organization’s navigation system, guiding it towards its desired destination. Data can be culled from many sources both within and outside the organization, such as business units, operations, customers, supply chain partners and other stakeholder interactions. It is imperative that teams begin with the correct data inputs to ensure the right outcomes. The more up-to-date the data, the faster and smoother the journey to the desired destination will be.

In this constantly changing environment, capturing the continuous flow of business intelligence data is key to future business success. Processes like data visualization and modeling can strengthen decision-making for finance and business stakeholders. Unfortunately, there can be many challenges on the journey to success, so real-time recalibration is vital. Even the most sophisticated supercomputers and latest AI iteration cannot predict the future. They cannot factor in environmental, political and economic discourses that will continue to test the efficiency and profitability of businesses and their finance teams.

In all these instances, as in normal times, data is one of the most significant assets of any organization. Unlocking its value can be a catalyst to positive business outcomes, even when the odds are stacked against success. At a time when flight risks are high, for example, data visualization can improve operational efficiencies, support business expansion and maintain employee engagement.

The total cost of an unplanned event is hard to establish without purpose-driven financial planning and forecasting. Traditional finance processes do not have the agility to support these situations, whereas intelligent, automated and frictionless finance processes do. It all begins with having the right data, AI, team and plan in place.

The right balance of talent + technology 
As Gartner analyst Dennis Gannon describes it, “Technology is providing tripwires and early trigger warnings, providing simple recommendations and refining data, while humans are interpreting data, identifying problems and goals and taking on more complex decisions. When it works well, the human and the machine complement each other and make each other better.” 

Achieving the right balance of people and technology is crucial for organizations to succeed in today's macro environment, while preparing for the changes that tomorrow will bring. CFOs must prioritize hiring versatile talent, empowering their teams and leveraging technology to drive innovation and efficiency.  

As finance leaders navigate the challenges ahead, it is essential to remember that their best resources are their people, empowered by technology. With this combination, they can forge a path to success and drive their organizations toward a prosperous future. 

Katie Rooney is the CFO at Alight Solutions