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Tools for the sparring partner

The CFO's role is becoming increasingly strategic. For this, he needs a central IT platform that collects and processes data from many different sources. This should be easy to use and ideally come from the cloud.
Peter M. Färbinger, E3 Magazine
December 14, 2021
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This text has been automatically translated from German to English.

Anyone who asks Michael Ladurner about his role as CFO at the credit management company Intrum will get a very interesting answer. He sees himself as a sparring partner for the CEO, Ladurner says: "I think my role has evolved from technical reporting to a tactical and strategic role to drive the business forward."

This describes the transformation that the CFO function has undergone in recent years. For the finance department, it is no longer just about presenting figures. Senior management expects guidance from the finance department. The CFO is becoming a strategic partner who influences business decisions and provides the necessary information - and this is more than just the pure financial figures. "For me as CFO, it's no longer just about protecting value, but also creating value" says Ladurner.

Michael Ladurner, CFO at Intrum: Reporting in a tactical and strategic role.

To do this, he needs access to data and the right IT tools. The data comes from various internal sources such as the finance department, human resources or sales, as well as from various external sources such as market figures. With the help of the right tools, this data is collected, merged, prepared for analysis and finally evaluated. This is how knowledge is created from the data.

This means that the use of IT is becoming essential for the CFO. And the corresponding tools must be easy to use. No programming skills should be required to analyze data or configure processes. After all, there are no IT experts working in the finance department. If data analysis requires a detour via the IT department, this has nothing to do with agility.

There is also another challenge that causes many data projects to fail. Bringing together data from different sources sounds simple in theory. But in practice, most companies work with a large number of IT systems that perform their tasks independently of one another. And building interfaces to access the data they contain is time-consuming and expensive.

The example of Intrum shows what this looks like in reality. "We are currently represented in 24 countries in Europe and in Brazil - with a total of 10,000 employees.", Ladurner reports. "In each country, we have previously worked with different IT applications - or rather with solutions that were used in different ways. As you can imagine, this has made the work in the different regions quite complicated."

More planning scenarios

How difficult it is to make decisions on this basis has been particularly evident in the pandemic. This is reported, for example, by Tim Wakeford, Vice President Financials Product Strategy at Workday, see also E-3 Cover Story July/August 2021. "When the pandemic began last year, we saw that 30 times more planning scenarios were conducted."

As the business environment kept changing, companies needed to find quick answers to specific questions. For example: What was my spend with a particular supplier? Or: How high is my receivables risk with a certain customer? It was very difficult for companies to get the right answers to these questions when they were working with many separate systems, Wakeford said.

Tim Wakeford, Vice President Financials Product Strategy at Workday: In the pandemic, thirty times more planning scenarios.

A study confirms his assertions. Workday commissioned 260 CFOs worldwide to be surveyed about the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on finance. According to the survey, data management and analysis were the biggest challenges CFOs faced during the crisis. Forty-nine percent cited limited implementation skills - that is, the ability to use appropriate data to make quick, informed decisions - as the biggest problem. The need to change this situation quickly was correspondingly great. When asked about their investment projects, half of the CFOs named the development of an intelligent data basis as well as modern analytics for well-founded decisions.

Unified architecture

Intrum also relies on a central information base. The company is now working to roll out solutions on a global scale - with a globally uniform architecture and standardized processes. A key component in this strategy is the collaboration with Workday. Intrum already uses Workday's human capital management (HCM) system and has begun rolling out the vendor's financial solution as well. The advantage here is that the Workday solutions form a unified platform. On this basis, information from human resources and finance as well as forecasts and data from procurement can be linked, Ladurner explains.

Another important argument from the perspective of the specialist departments is the usability of the solution. With the HCM system, for example, processes can be configured and changed easily - without support from the IT department.

Another important criterion for the selection of such a solution is now whether it is available in the cloud. This offers the necessary flexibility to always be able to adapt the use of the technology exactly to the current needs of the company. This is particularly helpful in the uncertain times of a pandemic. In addition, the IT department does not have to worry about the operation and maintenance of the solution and can instead devote itself to other tasks.

The trend towards the cloud is also confirmed by the Workday study. According to the study, 60 percent of CFOs are currently investing in moving their operational processes to the cloud - as well as in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. This item is also on Intrum's agenda. For example, according to Ladurner, AI is being used to optimize processes. Workday's HCM system offers corresponding machine learning options.

The journey Intrum is on is one toward both digitization and more process optimization, Ladurner says. "In general, we can say: We significantly increase the probability that the right person has the right information at the right time." This automatically leads to better business decisions. Ladurner can then also fulfill his strategic role as CFO.

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Peter M. Färbinger, E3 Magazine

Peter M. Färbinger, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief E3 Magazine DE, US and ES (e3mag.com), B4Bmedia.net AG, Freilassing (DE), E-Mail: pmf@b4bmedia.net and Tel. +49(0)8654/77130-21


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