Sandeep Jain

The pace of change that we see today is the fastest that we have ever seen and probably the slowest that we will live to see (COVID-19 notwithstanding). The engine that is powering this change is technology.

It never amazes us to see how technology bridges the gap so quickly to fill any little opportunity that we give it. Coronavirus is a setback for the world but look at how information technology has seized the opportunity by converting the fence-sitters on virtual offices, e-meetings and e-learning, helping keep some action alive in the economy. Maybe, it is more by default than by design, nevertheless, it has been a defining moment for proliferation of technology and its application.

I believe that this is also the time for CFOs to partner with CTOs and other business leaders to accelerate their company’s digital transformation agendas. This is one of the quickest (not necessarily, the easiest) ways to increase the efficiency of businesses, at a time when growth will not be easy to come by.

In an environment where enterprise resource planning (ERP) environments, robust connectivity and cloud computing are becoming the accepted norms, it is time for CFOs to evaluate which are the other technologies and solutions which can unlock tremendous value from here on.

My focus of discussions with CFOs on this topic in recent times has not been so much about the technologies that should be evaluated for deployment but more about the mindset with which the finance function should approach and lead the transformation agenda.

The following traits would be essential not only for the CFO but for the entire finance leadership:

Tech savvy: So much is happening on the technology front and as a CFO who has a pivotal role to play in digital transformation, you need to be aware of what is on offer. Be it the blockchain, the Internet of Things, Robotic Process Automation, Big Data Analytics, the CFO needs to be in touch with the ever-evolving technology landscape. Equally important is the understanding of applications, scale-up possibilities and use cases which have been tested. The mindset to continuously scan the environment for new technology solutions, knowledge, capabilities and skills that can benefit the business is tech savvy at work.

Innovation and change mindset: Such CFOs are conscious that organisations need innovation to survive and thrive. They are willing adopters of new technologies which can benefit their personal and business performance and enthusiastic nudgers for others to learn and adopt new technologies. They are constantly thinking of how to improve their commercial and operational processes, or even remove some processes completely by leveraging technology. Their mindset is to always question the status-quo. They understand that failure may also be a possibility for early adopters. However, they know how to fail fast (with limited costs) and fail forward (learning from each initiative, irrespective of failure or success). They are willing to experiment and run low cost proof of concepts, fostering a culture of change and innovation each time.

Business savvy: Business savvy CFOs understand their business inside out, they understand the front-end as to how the product or services reach the customer and also the back end as to how the products or services are produced. They equally understand the competitive landscape and the operational challenges. In fact, they see challenges as opportunities. They know that technology interventions can optimise customer acquisition strategies, improve customer service, reduce cost to serve and lower manufacturing costs. They also intuitively understand that the map is not the territory. Hence, they are willing to step into the territory, where the actual business happens, to gain actionable insights.

Lens on input (as much as output): Such CFOs know that managing a business just on the basis of financial parameters is akin to driving a car looking only at the rear-view mirror. Hence, for them, the focus on inputs and processes is as crucial, if not more than, the results achieved. They understand that technology can help not only in controlling the inputs but also in helping move the measurement of input parameters into the hands of the line managers. Technology is not only about measuring what people do better, but also about actually helping people do their jobs better. This distinction is not subtle, it can be a big differentiator in the market and on the production floor.

Project management: Digital transformation for a running business is a daunting task and it needs the project management mindset for effective and efficient delivery. Digital transformation is an enterprise wide exercise and is made up of multiple projects, each connected with the other. Each of these projects needs governance, stakeholder management and an engaged organisation. They also need someone who can see the big picture with all the projects and their interconnections. A project management office is key to implementation of a digital transformation initiative. Giving each project a clear and desired objective, an owner and a team and the right amount of governance, increases the chances of success manifold.

Collaboration: Gone are the days, when we could implement change initiatives without involving the large set of all stakeholders – decision-makers, those who need to be informed and most importantly, those who are likely to be impacted. It is now the age of a facilitative and collaborative approach towards leadership and work. The earlier this all-round involvement, the better. Not only will you get great input grounds up but would also have on boarded people on the change bandwagon, well ahead of time.

Hence, before you finalise the digital transformation journey for your business, evaluate if you have the above mindset coupled with the right skills in the organisation. If not, then building up these capabilities should be the first step in your ambitious journey.

After 25 years in various finance function and business leadership roles across the Asia-Pacific, Sandeep Jain now works as a Strategy Consultant and Leadership Coach, besides mentoring scale-ups and start-ups. He is a Chartered Accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor by qualification and has pursued various executive education and higher learning programmes. He is also a Marshall Goldsmith certified coach, an ACC credentialed ICF member and an NLP practitioner. He now runs his own consulting and coaching firm, Value-Unlocked and enjoys playful exploration of all things serious in life and work.