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What finance leaders need to succeed as strategic leaders post-Covid.
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As the world is limping towards some sort of post-pandemic status quo, the lasting impact of Covid-19 on the workplace is becoming clear. Companies are seeing the promise of the Great Resignation becoming a reality; they are battling to get employees back into fixed routines after having had the freedom of working from anywhere, anytime; and they are struggling to balance available finances with the manpower required to emerge from the economic slump.

They must find their feet in this environment, looking at new ways to create cohesive teams with clear strategic objectives.

In a recent white paper on the rise of the digital CFO, global enterprise software company Sage argues that finance leaders should stand at the forefront of this strategic drive if their organisations are to avoid irrelevance.

Jordaan Burger, vice president of finance for Sage Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific, believes that CFOs have already reinvented themselves enough to step into the role of visionary leaders.

“In this new reality, the financial leadership role is undergoing reinvention. Rather than using the numbers to simply report on what is, finance leaders are now required to be strategic storytellers who can turn data into compelling narratives that interpret trends timeously and articulate the future of their businesses with acuity and agility,” he says.

To do that, they need to overcome some challenges – including data overload, and the integration and cybersecurity issues from a hybrid work model that is here to stay.

Data overload

Burger agrees that now that business data is fully digitised, it can become overwhelming and confusing for people in finance roles to make sense of it all, at the speed required. That is why software providers such as Sage have walked the journey from simply digitising data, then automating data entries to assist with quality input, to developing the analytical skills to make sense of the data and then systematising and automating that analysis.

This means the entire finance team, not just the CFO, can use the insights to steer good, strategic decisions.

Burger tells the story of digital disruptor Booking.com, a company that uses extensive experimentation and the subsequent data analysis to test scenarios for decision-making, rather than relying on intuition.

Cutting edge cloud-based solutions, such as Sage Intacct, says Burger, allow teams to navigate the maze and craft roadmaps for the business.

“A recent case study showed a business that implemented Sage Intacct improving its accounts payable cycle [by] 60% while eliminating accounts receivable inputs completely,” he says. “And they obtained the insights to grow their historically restrictive revenue just because they were able to execute the correct strategic actions.”

Hybrid hurdles

In the Sage study that underpins its white paper, 60% of financial professionals agree that hybrid and remote work is now a permanent working model. The McKinsey Future of Work study emphasises this. It finds that 20% to 25% of all workers in advanced economies could work from home three to five days a week. For emerging economies, the percentage is 10%.

“That is four to five times the level before the pandemic,” the study reads.

For finance teams specifically, says Burger, remote work adds to the complexity of accessing the necessary systems to get the data required to complete tasks – a challenge that can be overcome with the use of quality software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions in the cloud.

“Around 95% of the respondents in our study say that Covid-19 has highlighted the need for better financial technology in their organisation, while 85% of finance teams are planning to improve the software they use to thrive in this new world,” he says.

Burger suggests that companies start with a solid backbone in terms of an enterprise resourcing planning (ERP) system, and then integrate any niche cloud-based applications that is required.

He is not convinced that the use of the cloud adds to cybersecurity woes. In fact, he argues that the single source code of SaaS applications allow for vulnerabilities to be patched quickly, with added support from the big security budgets of large cloud suppliers.

Growing cloud

A Gartner report from last year promises that multicloud and hybrid environments will keep growing. The company predicts that user spending on public cloud will reach $482 billion this year. By 2026 the prediction is that public cloud spending will exceed 45% of all enterprise IT spending.

“We are definitely seeing the shift happening from on-premises systems to cloud,” says Burger. “From a pure business point of view, cloud means being able to use the best-in-breed piece of software that is relevant to your unique business need.”

Brought to you by Sage.

Moneyweb does not endorse any product or service being advertised in sponsored articles on our platform.

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