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Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Decoding the DNA of Agile Finance Leaders

Guest Author

By Margaret Harrist, Director, Content Strategy and Implementation, Oracle

In the world of finance, it’s safe to say that those who can be termed agile leaders are in the minority by far, according to a new research report from Oracle and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), Agile Finance Revealed: The New Operating Model for Modern Finance.

Based on survey responses from more than 480 senior finance professionals in North America, the report found that only 30 percent agreed or strongly agreed that their finance function is actually providing the forms of support that businesses need to become agile. 

The report also revealed that agile finance leaders are more effective at delivering forward-looking analyses that identify new business opportunities, and their companies are more successful at launching a new product or service and are more likely to report positive revenue growth.

Further, an agile finance function is a high-performing team that is responsive and flexible, embraces digital technologies, automates transactional work, and invests in analytic and strategic skill sets.

Get the blueprint for the new finance operating model. Download the research.

“At Oracle, we believe that digital transformation brings companies into the future, and it enables them to be more competitive,” said Ivgen Guner, Oracle’s senior vice president, Global Business Finance. “We also believe that the cloud gives CFOs an opportunity to restructure their current operating models to support new business models and more agile ways of working.”

Because the scale of these changes can be daunting, Oracle and the AICPA set out to develop a clear and actionable blueprint for modern finance that enables CFOs and their finance teams to lead digital transformation—not just react to it, Guner said.

What are the traits of an agile finance organization?

The AICPA/Oracle study found that the following three traits are critical for a modern and agile finance organization:

1. Greater efficiency through automation

In order to achieve operational agility, finance organizations must start by simplifying, standardizing, and automating transactional processes as much as possible—using new technologies such as cloud, robotics process automation, and artificial intelligence. In addition, they should centralize subject matter expertise—whether that expertise is in tax reporting, data analysis, or other subjects—in cross-functional, integrated shared services and centers of excellence.

2. Better information to predict the future

Agile finance organizations unleash the potential of big data, advanced analytics, and artificial intelligence to stretch the traditional role of financial planning and analysis. FP&A becomes a powerhouse that generates the insights organizations need to develop innovative business strategies.

3. More influence to drive business outcomes

Agile finance teams develop new skill sets in statistics, data analysis, data visualization, and business partnering to support rapid decision-making and performance management. With these skills in place, finance can implement cross-functional teams with multi-disciplinary and business partnering skills—providing strategic guidance to the various lines of business.

But while 80% of survey respondents said that their finance function has a leading role to play in driving business agility, only 30% agreed that their teams are equipped to provide finance agility. Significant obstacles remain in the areas of organizational structure, technology systems, and finance skill sets: 

Structural Barriers

  • 33 percent of respondents said their organizational structure is too complex and that data is held in silos
  • 26 percent believe the finance function has difficulty getting the information it needs in a timely fashion

System Barriers

  • 33 percent of respondents identified old or complex IT systems as a barrier to becoming more agile
  • 32 percent said their processes are too customized and/or complex

Skills Barriers

  • 23 percent told us the current skill set of the finance function is too narrow
  • 42 percent said they need more data analytics skills if they are to deliver more forward-looking analysis for the business

For organizations to thrive in the digital age, they need to be able to make informed decisions quickly, manage performance closely, monitor operations and be able to make changes at a fast clip. That’s simply not possible in an organization where the structure and technology are in silos and the employees’ focus is on repetitive transactional activities—rather than strategic analysis and predictive guidance.

The bottom line: there is much work to be done.

In future posts, we’ll take a more in-depth look at each of the three qualities needed for operational agility, and how companies can take steps to overcome the barriers to each.

Learn the traits of agile finance organizations. Get the report, Agile Finance Revealed: The New Operating Model for Modern Finance.

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