The finance function is changing shape. Until quite recently, the traditional pyramid structure was entirely appropriate, but the advent of new technologies mean that organisations need to rethink their shape, quite literally.
Up to now, most finance functions would look something like this: A CFO at the top supported by functional leads in areas such as treasury, reporting, and financial control and planning – a leadership layer. Senior people in their teams share niche insights on managing risk, evaluating performance or driving value. Beneath them a larger cadre of technical experts deliver analysis to create those insights. And at the base, large teams to gather the data and perform basic processing and analysis.
But with the advent of sophisticated technologies to process data automatically, that’s changing. When a business has systems such as Oracle ERP Cloud to automate much of the data gathering, checking and ordering, its requirement for that army of technicians withers.
That’s why the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, the unified voice of the AICPA and CIMA, has a new shape in mind for the modern finance function. “A new operating model for modern finance is emerging,” says Peter Simons, associate technical director at the Association. “It should enable finance to better support business agility.”
That shape is a hexagon – albeit one narrower at the top than the bottom. Finance still requires leaders – senior decision-makers and strategic influencers for the whole organization. But beneath them, technical experts are augmented by those with softer skills – business partnering, influencing and innovating. And they’re increasingly supported by the AI-based technologies in ERP systems that boost their ability to support other functions across the business, upping their workload.
The data processing and data collection layers are already getting much smaller – a process that will continue as new technologies such as blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine Learning (ML) become commonplace.
This evolution will be uncomfortable for some in the finance team. Assembling accurate data and extracting basic analysis – for internal and external reports, for example – are well-defined, straightforward and easily verifiable tasks. Undertaking more sophisticated analysis to generate insights that will drive decisions across the enterprise is much less clear-cut.
“Finance professionals can tend to overemphasize the importance of data integrity, given how important this is for statutory reporting,” explains Simons. “In data exploration, by contrast, finding patterns or correlations to determine whether something is directionally correct may matter more than total accuracy.” Hence the growth and evolution of those middle layers.
The Association explored this in a recent report on the changing mindsets and competencies that finance leaders will need to nurture in their teams. The shifts are clear: from collecting knowledge to interpreting it; from data processing to stakeholder interactions; from supplying basic answers to asking sophisticated questions.
These mirror wider changes in organizational structure, from pyramid to diamond, as every function begins to see the automation of rote tasks – and as systems connected by the cloud allow for consistent, reliable and real-time data feeding into the analytical and decision-support teams in the middle layers. Cloud-based Enterprise Performance Management not only facilitates this shift – it’s driving it in increasingly large numbers of organizations.
But those finance leaders who embrace this change of shape – who invest in the technologies that drive it, and the new skills required in that crucial middle layer – will see competitive advantage. When finance has the agility to deliver faster, better analysis and the connections across the business to ensure it’s properly deployed, the whole business benefits.
Find out more about how CFOs are building new bridges by reading our recent report here.