Common Pain Points of the Data-Driven CFO


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Friday, August 27, 2021

The role of a CFO in modern business has changed dramatically. What was previously seen as a back office role is now considered one of the most essential positions for the efficient functionality of a modern company.

Article 4 Minutes
Common Pain Points of the Data-Driven CFO

CFOs no longer exist as silent partners in the boardroom – they’re now expected to present themselves front and center alongside the CEO as the powerful marketable face of a company.

The evolving role of the CFO

Aneel Bhusri, Co-Founder, Co-CEO and Chairman at Workday, said:

“Traditionally, finance was a back office function, today the role of the CFO is really to be the partner to the CEO and the business.”

Forward thinking, always innovating, being increasingly comfortable with emerging technologies such as machine learning, and grasping big data are hugely essential to the role of the modern CFO. Bhusri added; “I think we’re in a world of constant learning, there are a lot of technologies out there that can add quite a bit of leverage to your business.”

His advice included being willing to experiment with technology in a particular division, assessing the results, and then analyzing whether it would make efficient business sense to implement the technology in depth across a wider variety of divisions.

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How to make the most of your data

Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman (previously CFO at Carlyle Group) told Fortune CEO Alan Murray that having large amounts of data is beneficial, but can be overwhelming if not harnessed in an effective way.

“At Carlyle, the CIO reported it to me, and it allowed us to both sit together and say, ‘OK how are we going to modernize the technology to support an evolving CFO role.’”

Friedman believes that the skill sets CFOs develop are very relevant to the person who harnesses the data within an organization.

“A CFO doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert in Java or SQL software, yet they might have people on their team who are experts. But a CFO needs to know how to kind of unpack a process and repack it up in a way that gets you a different conclusion.”

Empowering the customer experience

Modern companies worldwide rely on technology and data to power the customer experience - the more data a customer provides a company, the better their individual experience is likely to be. Beyond sending customers a regular marketing communications, companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and other household networks collect data and use it to improve the customer experience.

When a customer is recommended content they enjoy and they reciprocate with positive interaction, it improves a company’s understanding of their interests, and allows them to continuously develop their understanding of the individual customer experience.

Allen Parker, CFO at Zillow, and Christina Spade, Executive Vice President and CFO at AMC Networks, talked with Fortune Senior Editor Lee Clifford regarding the methods of approaching technology and data.

“As AMC is an entertainment media company we’d love for data to be able to predict all the hit programming out there before we invest in it. But unfortunately, we haven’t cracked that code yet. But I keep trying.”

The Executive Vice President, later in the discussion, mentions that companies and in particular AMC are relying increasingly on data to help predict what people will want to watch. She said; “In the world of streaming, we actually learned quite a bit more about our viewership. And so it’s opened up a whole new important world to us that we really are benefiting from.”

What are the key issues with data?

The recent Workday webinar ‘Finance’s Key Role in Building the Data Drive’ found that the majority of modern companies are now aware of the benefits that data usage can offer. Although in equal contrast the webinar revealed that less than 1/6 of firms asked are ‘very confident’ in the data they use to make decisions. When asked about the top challenges to their finance teams brought on by rapid data proliferation, 68% of businesses identified difficulty preparing and reconciling data volume received, while 55% highlighted issues integrating recent, real-time data into analyses.

Just over half (52%) of survey respondents said difficulty analyzing data and forming recommendations was an issue for their finance teams, while almost a third (30% said) found locating and retrieving data to be an obstacle. Disputes over data ownership and validity (29%) and slower network and application performance (15%) ranked bottom for the list of top challenges, but still represent issues with data affecting a large proportion of finance teams.

Some of the main issues that companies face when using mass data range from the actual analysis of the data they collect, to being capable of having visibility into real time data, and having consistent data definitions across the enterprise. There’s also the issue of being able to use the data to form strategic recommendations.

Internally, some of the issues a business can face is the noticeable decrease in network functionality stemming from the collection and assessing of mass data while using older computing systems. The increase in mass data now available causes older systems to struggle with the volume, directly affecting processor speeds and network efficiency.

To watch the full Workday webinar, click here.


A single system for finance, HR, and planning.

Workday is a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources. Founded in 2005, Workday delivers financial management, human capital management, planning, and analytics applications designed for the world's largest companies, educational institutions, and government agencies. Organizations ranging from medium-sized businesses to Fortune 50 enterprises have selected Workday.


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