Among other things, today’s CFO needs to be agile

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The functions of the Chief Financial Officer go beyond balancing the books and comparing inflows and outflows. Increasingly, the CFO has become a crucial partner in determining the direction of the firm, especially in terms of what it invests in and how soon it realizes returns.

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, chief financial officers (CFOs) are moving beyond traditional accounting and reporting, and aided by technology, are becoming agile business partners who can leverage data in real time to help improve collaboration, productivity and decision-making across the enterprise.

Indicating this shift in roles, a recent survey by the Association for Financial Professionals found that 63 percent of its members have set aside the traditional annual budget process in favor of rolling forecasts for financial planning and analysis.

Moreover, a recent report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) showed that 90 percent of senior finance executives believe that finance should facilitate collaborative enterprise planning to ensure that operational plans are aligned with financial and strategic plans.

“CFOs can help the organization think about how much they are investing in this area and the return they are achieving,” said Rachele Collins, principal research lead for financial management at American Productivity & Quality Center, which specializes in authority benchmarking, best practices, process and performance improvement, and knowledge management.

CFOs also need to be continuously evaluating the company’s cash flow and revenue sources as they refresh the business model. This involves analyzing data and trends to adjust the product, customer base, and marketing efforts to get out ahead of the competition and respond to changing consumer preferences.

Connecting and adding value to new areas is an essential function of the modern finance leaders. Areas such as supply chain and customer experience are particularly critical, as they are closely connected to profitability.

In its survey, the EIU found that 58 percent of senior finance executives want more involvement in customer acquisition costs, while 48 percent currently collaborate in developing sales strategies by product, geography, or client. On the supply chain side, 59 percent want greater participation in negotiations with suppliers and distributions and 47 percent are currently involved in vendor selection or procurement assessment.

The ability to analyze real-time billing data for trend analysis and preference changes is one example of how the agile CFO can transform the business.

Data visibility and analysis capabilities are key to controlling spending and driving negotiated savings to the bottom line, while the ability to incorporate external and internal data sources can provide insights on where the business stands and where it should be headed to maximize profitability.

Agile finance organizations can use this capability to make more accurate and better informed decisions on major business disruptors — new product lines, mergers and acquisitions, and opening up new lines in a particular market, among others. This is where modern finance leaders are able to leverage advanced analytics and other data-driven tools to provide strategic value.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning can perform manual tasks such as reconciling invoices and payments faster, freeing up the finance team to shift to higher-value finance initiatives when lower-value tasks are automated. The CFO can now focus on serving as a strategic business partner to the business and the board by bringing forward-looking analysis, not just historic data, to the table.