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Eight Top Issues for CFOs in 2014

With elevated status following the financial crisis, CFOs are more primed than ever to set and drive strategic direction next year.

4. Plan for better business-performance analytics.
CFOs may need to understand supply-and-demand forces more accurately if they are to drive the best possible business outcomes. Analytics can help them keep pace with the increasing volume and velocity of data as business goes digital. Analytics can also give them real-time, in-quarter insights into customer trends and preferences.

But at the same time, CFOs may need to move beyond the marketing promises associated with new technology/analytics in order to optimize the management of such critical facilities and functions as manufacturing and warehouses, billing, human resources, technology, and sales and marketing. Analytics investments should be carefully targeted and aligned with the organization’s strategy and specific risk-return profile in order to give CFOs a clear line of sight to return on investment.

5. Invest in the digital revolution.
Despite cost pressures, CFOs may want to boost their investment in digital technologies — or risk of being left behind. Accenture research in conjunction with Oracle shows that a clear majority (57 percent) of CFOs believe that investment in new, digital technologies will be a key source of competitive advantage over the next three years. Retail and consumer electronics are leading the way in leveraging cloud computing, mobile technologies and social media to deliver the personalization that their digitally empowered customers now demand.

6. Make sure that managing innovation is a priority.
CFOs can be stewards of innovation — a critical strategic enabler for almost all organizations. Unfortunately, Accenture research shows that fewer than 20 percent of executives believe they derive competitive advantage from their innovation strategies, largely because they are too risk-averse.

Our experience suggests that the fusion of analytics and risk management can help companies to plan better. The CFO’s understanding of innovation’s risk-return profile and clearly established criteria for abandoning less-promising projects can help mitigate risks and realize ROI.

7. Address mounting pressure on financial capabilities.
CFOs should consider expanding their skills and improving their business acumen by partnering more effectively with their peers across the business to better understand risk and other non-quantitative priorities. They will need the best possible people to help them. In the digital age, such people may not necessarily be accountants.

Indeed, CFOs need to consider sourcing talent from a variety of backgrounds — notably IT — and from a diversity of industries. A key to success will be to deploy these resources optimally, and to hang on to them as the war for appropriate talent intensifies.

8. Remember: You’re in the driver’s seat.
Many CFOs now sit at the pinnacle of their organizations. Their success in transforming the finance function has not only made them trusted strategic advisers to their CEO, it also has given them unprecedented visibility into cost structures across the company.

Armed with the ability to see around the corners of the business, CFOs are now building stronger relationships with their counterparts in other functions. In our research with Oracle, for example, 84 percent of CFOs surveyed are cooperating with the IT function to implement new digital technologies and enhance organizational agility.

Donniel “Don” Schulman is managing director of Accenture’s Finance & Enterprise Performance consulting group.

3 thoughts on “Eight Top Issues for CFOs in 2014

  1. Don,

    Valuable insight! Let me expand on an opportunity for CFOs that fits within either of your first two considerations. I am finding that CFOs are uniquely positioned to drive topline productivity increases (i.e., increasing organic revenue) by advocating for the more effective utilization of knowledge workers (i.e., human capital) . . . especially knowledge workers on the front lines of the organization doing sales, service, technical and professional work.

    Managers in charge of large-scale, people-dependent frontline operations are struggling with this challenge, in large part because delivering on this largely untapped opportunity calls for moving beyond some of the traditional methods companies now use to organize work and manage people, most of which were conceived before 1920 for managing manual workers. Work, workers and the work environment have changed dramatically since then.

    As an advocate for increasing the productivity of knowledge workers, CFOs are uniquely able to bring forth the executive attention and financial focus needed to enable operations managers to adopt new methods of organizing and managing that are better suited for today’s knowledge worker.

    The late Peter Drucker famously noted that “knowledge worker productivity is the biggest of the 21st century management challenges.” The CFO seems to play a vital role in successfully meeting this challenge.

    Jim Pepitone, Managing Partner
    DesignedWORK (www.designedwork.com)


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