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A Conversation with John To (ServiceNow)


Tell me about your organization and your role

ServiceNow is changing the way people work. With a service-orientation toward the activities, tasks and processes that make up day-to-day work life, we help the modern enterprise transform the delivery and management of services. ServiceNow provides service management for every department in the enterprise including IT, human resources, facilities, field service and more.

My role at ServiceNow supports the financial planning and finance teams in their ability to make financial forecasts and generate financial reporting. I’m in charge of the SAP Business Planning and Consolidations system and serve to bridge that gap between what end users think they want and what IT thinks the business wants. I strive to build one of the best financial planning and reporting systems in the world to meet ServiceNow’s rapid growth.

For what business processes does your organization use SAP software (i.e. that are relevant to the event)?

We employ a full suite of SAP products from mature applications such as ECC for accounting, BPC for forecasting and consolidations and BOBJ for reporting. We have also adopted and/or are in the process of evaluating some of SAP’s latest product offerings such as S4 to better integrate transactional data, Cloud for Planning to capture and structure financial dark data, and Predictive Analytics to infuse statistical precision to modeling. There’s also Concur, SAP’s recent acquisition.

The integration of all these products and the financial meaning that can be extracted from such data will be crucial as ServiceNow continues to grow and scale, so SAP software supports all aspects of our organization. Centrally behind all this is our deployment of the HANA infrastructure which accelerates speed and performance, allowing for faster turnaround and decisions.

What are the three key benefits that this software brings to you?

 A lot of today’s solutions focus on automation of processes and centralization of data. We’ve seen reductions in time to monthly financial close, elimination of late night work culture within FP&A, and systematic alignment of finance policies.

How important is the new generation of planning/analytics in relation to the cloud?

The cloud combined with deep machine learning analytics will be incredibly beneficial to the aggregation of any and all financially relevant data that can then be used to extrapolate organizational relationships and behaviors to provide insights that facilitate decision making.

What are the biggest challenges facing internal Finance teams at present?

My observation from the financial planning standpoint is that the biggest challenges involve aggregation of data, simplification of data entry at necessarily granular levels of detail (a bottoms up approach), and ease by which that data can be matched with transactional activity with drilled through to identify meaningful relationships and explanations for financial activities. A step beyond this is the prescience of these financial activities and the ability to plan appropriately for them. Also important is the ability to simultaneously standardize and customize data perspectives such that different areas of an organization can maintain its unique language and culture, while also easily compare and reconcile between a “business perspective” and “finance perspective.”

What are the biggest opportunities for internal Finance teams at present?

Core finance activities are fundamentally routine and thus can be automated. As companies grow and scale, there is a spectrum of approaches to meet the increased demand ranging from investments in people to investments in technology. Whereas it takes time to recruit, hire and train staff, software can be identically copied infinitely many times – which creates an interesting new paradigm for work. I am not implying that machines can replace all people; far from that, but there is ample opportunity for finance teams to reevaluate their investment mix to find a balance that reduces redundancies in unproductive and dehumanizing activates for staff, while empowering them with technologies that add more significance and meaning to the work experience and ultimately increased productivity and ROI.

Looking to the future, in just a few words do you have an opinion on what aspect of technology you think will have the biggest impact on your business or your role, and how will it do this?

Advanced intelligence will be able to track data change over time and apply probabilistic models evaluate the changes in data to assist finance personnel in auditing data and finding meaningful storylines to explain financial performance. The current paradigm in finance is “addition” at a fixed point in time. You have accounts, which represent something based on how users interact with the account. Groups of these accounts are combined into nodes that subtotal the values. Imagine if each account represents a range of possibilities based on all the underlying data while automatically accounting for known and seemingly unrelated variables. The aggregation of these probabilities represents a range of potential outcomes.

You’re going to be appearing at the SAP FPCC conference soon. Why are you joining the conference as a speaker – and what are you going to talk about?

ServiceNow is leading the world into the future of the cloud and fundamentally changing the way people interact with technology to accomplish work. The possibilities are endless. I want to share that story, but also share the commonalities of our experience with colleagues across all industries which technologies like SAP and

ServiceNow touch and will disrupt in the near future.

There’s a paradigm shift in how businesses need to operate. I will be speaking to ServiceNow’s experience as it relates to our SAP Business Planning and Consolidations implementation and the changes which this system has undergone to adapt to the future of work where people expect data quickly and immediately.

SAP Conference for Financial Planning, Consolidation and Controls_Twitter

Join us at the SAP Conference for Financial Planning, Consolidation and Controls in Las Vegas 10-11 November, where I’ll be delivering a presentation on performance and risk management. I hope to see you there!