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What CFOs Really Think about Technology

Real-time analytics remain at the top of the technology list for finance chiefs. They're also spending more time in the tech department than ever -- and bringing their yardsticks with them.

Call it the fantasy baseball syndrome.

Back in 1998, when the Internet first started coming into real prominence, players of rotisserie baseball believed the Web would give them an insuperable advantage over their competitors. By going onto the Net, fantasy leaguers could read every local newspaper, visit every team Web site, and in general, collect player data that their competitors would not have. And in the world of fantasy baseball, information is everything.

There was only one flaw with this plan. By the late ’90s, Internet access was becoming almost universal. Hence, everyone — from novices to devotees — had access to the same information. It didn’t take long before almost all fantasy leaguers were using the Net to gather player news and arcane stats. Eventually, nonsubscription Web sites blossomed, which meant rotisserie players didn’t even have to scour the Net anymore. Somebody else did it for them.

In the end, it became clear that the using the Net didn’t give fantasy leaguers an insuperable advantage. Not using the Net, however, put them at a sizable disadvantage.

Same thing for business. While there’s not a company out there that doesn’t spend a large amount of capital on technology, the prevailing sentiment among CFOs seems to be that IT is a competitive advantage. Or at least, that’s the takeaway from a study conducted by CFO Research Services and Getronics. In the survey of 288 senior finance executives in the United States and Europe, about half of the respondents said technology is vital to business growth. Another 46 percent believe IT spending enables business process improvement. Only 5 percent said technology is purely a tactical tool, which, if you buy into the baseball analogy, would seem to be the right answer.

The survey also revealed that, despite reports to the contrary, companies are still spending on IT projects. Around 60 percent of the finance managers in the survey indicated they were increasing tech investments, while only a third said they were cutting back on IT spend. Intriguingly, 36 percent of the respondents didn’t know if their competitors were increasing or decreasing their IT outlays. That’s a remarkable gap in business intelligence, given the importance CFOs appear to place on technology.

Only one technology capability was deemed absolutely crucial or very important by over 60 percent of finance managers in the poll: Real-time analytics. But nearly 80 percent of the respondents reported that improved customer service was an important IT investment goal. In fact, well over half of the finance managers in the study responded that showing one face to customers is absolutely crucial or very important.

Technologies that CFOs say are overrated? Well, only 30 percent of the respondents indicated that electronic procurement was real important. And fewer than one in four said collaborative software was crucial to their businesses. That’s bad news for the scores of software vendors who have recently jumped into the collaborative computing arena.

Time Enough at Last?

This will come as no big surprise to any finance executive who’s been involved in an ERP, B2C, or E-procurement rollout: CFOs say they’re spending more time on technology matters than ever before.

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