Starting on the right foot is vital for CFOs juggling multiple other commitments as they plot a successful digital transformation. Deep, lasting change should be the ultimate strategic goal for the finance function, but smart, early-stage, tactical wins can generate momentum, engage the team, and convince leadership about the value of change.
From the outset, CFOs need to capture attention and focus minds. Succeeding with low-hanging fruit is a fantastic way to achieve this, says David Hammel, UK Managing Director at SystemsAccountants.
“Transformation doesn’t need to be everything all at once,” he says. “It can be incremental and affordable, particularly in the current economic environment. By targeting small-scale improvements first, CFOs can demonstrate success and generate momentum for more substantial change.”
Identify immediate value through reviews
Conducting a review of what is most valuable to the organisation gives the CFO an opportunity to identify the quick wins that will have the most impact. An audit exercise that takes stock of the organisation’s priorities, strengths, and weaknesses could uncover what actions are both achievable and meaningful.
For example, says David Hammel, “transformation could be about taking a single process within finance, such as the month-end close, and seeking to quickly streamline it.”
Show, don’t tell, through measurement and analytics
The old adage ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ rings just as true in digital transformations as any in any other business project. Numerous corporate surveys point to the positive impact organisational metrics can have on changing the mindset of a business, so building measurement and monitoring systems into the transformation from the very beginning can deliver fast results.
To sustain the belief of the team assembled to deliver the project, having a proper measurement system from the outset will breed confidence that the transformation is worth the effort and expenditure.
Digital technologies are built for test-and-learn, and allow for effective, low-cost experiments that can quickly iterate success. Applying analytics pilots to areas of the business previously siloed can result in swift operational efficiency gains, improve decision making, or even bolster sales.
“Data and analytics are the key accelerant of an organisation’s digitization and transformation efforts,” says Christey Petter, Senior Director at Gartner. “Yet today, fewer than 50% of documented corporate strategies mention data and analytics as fundamental components for delivering enterprise value.”
Sharing data and reports with colleagues, particularly individuals who may be key to the later aspects of the transformation or senior managers whose buy-in could prove beneficial, organically creates transparency and breeds trust.
Better use of data analytics also gives the CFO more leverage to change internal dynamics and experiment with solutions and processes relevant to the transformation, adapting to capture emerging opportunities or respond quickly to close gaps.
Embrace People power
Gaining true advantages from a digital transformation can only happen with the right talent. People are the most important part of the project, and the CFO can better scale efforts quickly through mobilised, engaged individuals.
Where incremental changes like systems updates can be achieved by small teams working on their own, full-scale transformation can only succeed through the wider engagement of the business.
Identifying and leveraging digital champions who are technologically and business savvy through both formal and informal roles is essential. These champions have bought into the vision and will likely grow to become the business’ future digital leaders.
Gartner research reveals that involving those most impacted by a transformation can increase the success rate by 15%, as it increases the odds that the best ideas are factored into decision-making.
Establish a cross-functional project board
Early buy-in from the C-suite can significantly improve the chance of long-term success in a digital transformation. Bringing together leadership from across the organisation is a shortcut to identifying problems, breaking down roadblocks, and spotting opportunities a fragmented transformation team may not identify.
Research shows cross-functional teams that prioritise both the business and finance office technology side are the most successful in achieving their goals.
A survey by Deloitte found that along with adaptability, a key advantage to cross-functional teams is the enhanced access to resources, such as diverse perspectives, broader skill sets, and new ideas.
But the point is not to turn your senior team into technologists, says George Westerman of Harvard Business Review, “the goal is to ensure that, collectively, they understand the potential threats and opportunities from digital technologies and the need for transformation.”
Early proof of concept is key to lasting digital change
Quick wins speak volumes and will help CFOs mobilise the organisation, generate immediate benefits and deliver a successful finance office transformation.
Taking a holistic look at the business from the outset of the project can help identify simple opportunities that unlock immediate value, while deploying data analytics across lines that may have been neglected can ensure results are visible.
Along with the support of a cross-functional project board that helps to secure senior buy-in and resources from the start, hiring the right people to lead the digital expansion of the finance office is the most important factor in procuring early wins.
Talent is a critical element in any finance office transformation, and CFOs should closely evaluate the company’s pool of digitally skilled employees, particularly those in areas such as programming, data analytics, IT implementation, digital marketing, social media, machine learning and automation.