By Gary Cokins, Founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC
Did my last blog on the topic of the annual budget resonate with anyone? I have a suspicion that it probably did. Here in my final blog for a few weeks I am going to turn my attention to the CFO.
Am I alone in wondering if the many references and articles concerning the CFO’s emerging role as a “trusted advisor” is more hype than reality? Increasingly, I read articles and research studies alleging this emerging CFO role to be actually happening. In an article written by Gianni Giacomelli, senior vice-president at Genpact, titled “Can a CFO Innovate?” he states:
“Modern financial executives are moving toward a more central and expanded role as stewards of the company’s longevity, using the finance function to enable growth, especially in new markets and in response to market changes. For those who are ready for change, the new finance is an exciting and rewarding way to help shape a more intelligent enterprise that is better connected to the market and its customers.”
Really? Just to devil’s advocate for a moment, what proof do we have that Gianni’s observation is true? When we cut to the chase, what are CFOs more concerned about – regulatory compliance or organizational performance improvement? Certainly many CFOs monitor and report on performance using scorecards and dashboards. But do they actively participate in assisting line managers to move those dials. For example, do they:
- Assist sales and marketing managers with identifying which types of customers to retain, grow, win back, and acquire?
- Assist operations managers to determine which productivity actions and projects will realize gains in efficiency, effectiveness, quality, and cost reduction?
Or do they simply serve as gatekeepers and keep score?
Bean counter or bean grower?
In an article by Myles Corson, a consultant with the Financial Accounting Advisory Services of Ernst & Young LLP, titled “The Evolving Role of Today’s CFO”, he writes:
“In addition to overseeing the company’s financial health, CFOs are increasingly involved in setting operational and commercial strategy, navigating their companies safely through tighter credit markets, more complex regulation and unstable trading conditions. … As organizations continue to adjust to market volatility and economic uncertainty, CFOs must increasingly provide expert advice to support boardroom decisions. In fact, many CFOs feel that they are in an exceptional position to offer this level of strategic counsel because of their ability to gather information from disparate parts of the company.”
But is this evolving role one of just better reporting or one creating a greater impact on analysis and decisions?
In a survey conducted by my fellow Big Fat Blogger Mary Driscoll of the America Productivity and Quality Center, titled, “A New CFO Priority,” she writes:
“Surprisingly, only five percent of survey respondents believe that finance is currently delivering game-changing value to their enterprises. Is this cause for concern? … Finance organizations that are seen as a partner to the business generate thoughtful, clear, and authoritative analyses. However, the biggest barrier preventing business partnership is the lack of time to perform this same work.”
My intent is not to be a naysayer and deny there is truly an evolving and expanding role of the CFO. In fact, my intent is just the opposite. I am a believer that, particularly given the opportunity provided by the nexus of technological forces ( advanced analytics, cloud, in-memory computing, mobile and social computing) the CFO’s finance and accounting function is uniquely positioned at this moment in time to accelerate the adoption rate of enterprise performance management (EPM) methods along with emerging business analytics to gain crucial insights that were previously inaccessible and truly facilitate business innovation in new and novel ways. Finance and accounting professionals were born with a quantitative aptitude – which technology will only further fuel.
Delusion or reality?
But do we know or just think we know? Which is it – delusion or reality? I along with my colleagues, for example, bemoan the slow progress in performance improvement methods such as the adoption of activity-based costing (ABC) principles. If ABC is done at all it is typically only taken as far as product and service-line gross profit margin line reporting and does not look beneath that line to report and analyze channel and costs-to-serve for arguably more critical customer profitability reporting and analysis. And what about marginal / incremental expense analysis for that matter? This involves classifying available / used resources as sunk, fixed, step-fixed, semi-variable, or variable. This involves an understanding managerial economics, not just managerial accounting. How many finance organizations have built core competencies in these functions? My suspicion is that many finance organizations are for the most part dealing with more fundamental problems and have yet to build core competencies in many of the practices espoused by analysts, consultants and business pundits.
For now though, my opinion is the CFO function is about to enter a golden age of business analytics and managerial accounting. But we need more evidence. Are CFOs taxiing on the runway, or have they begun lift-off?
I hope that you have enjoyed reading my series of blogs over the last few weeks. I’m taking a break now as I prepare to head to Chicago for the SAP Conference for EPM on 13/14 October, where I’ll be talking more about the subject of performance management and analytics and looking at best practice approaches, as well as taking a look to what we might expect to see in the future. If you’re in Chicago why not pop along and take in the show – but if not then please watch out for my next article as I shall look forward to resuming my blog series soon. Thanks for reading!
About the Author: Gary Cokins, CPIM
Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM/CPM) systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC www.garycokins.com . He began his career in industry with a Fortune 100 company in CFO and operations roles. Then 15 years in consulting with Deloitte, KPMG, and EDS (now part of HP). From 1997 until 2013 Gary was a Principal Consultant with SAS, a business analytics software vendor. His most recent books are Performance Management: Integrating Strategy Execution, Methodologies, Risk, and Analytics and Predictive Business Analytics.
firstname.lastname@example.org; phone +919 720 2718
Hear Gary share some of his thoughts concerning EPM innovations and best practices at the SAP Conference for EPM in Chicago, October 13/14, 2014