Tag Archives: CFO
30% or higher of each company’s businesses are unprofitable
According to Jonathan Brynes at the MIT Sloan School, “the most important issue facing most managers …is making more money from their existing businesses without costly new initiatives”. In Brynes’ cross industry research, he found that 30% or higher of each company’s businesses are unprofitable. Brynes claims these business losses are offset by what are “islands of high profitability”. The root cause of this issue is asserted to be the inability of current financial and management control systems to surface profitability problems and opportunities. Why is this the case? Byrnes believes that management budgetary guidance by its very nature assumes the continuation of the status quo. For this reason, the response to management asking for a revenue increase is to increase revenues for businesses that are profitable and unprofitable. Given this, “the areas of embedded unprofitability remain embedded and largely invisible”. At the same time to be completely fair, it should be recognized that it takes significant labor to accurately and completely put together a complete picture on direct and indirect costs.
The CFO needs to become the point person on profitability issues
Byrnes believes, nevertheless, that CFOs need to become the corporate point person for surfacing profitability issues. They, in fact, should act as the leader of a new and important role, the chief profitability officer. This may seem like an odd suggestion since virtually every CFO if asked would view profitability as a core element of their job. But Byrnes believes that CFOs need to move beyond broad, departmental performance measures and build profitability management processes into their companies’ core management activities. This task requires the CFO to determine two things.
- Which product lines, customers, segments, and channels are unprofitable so investments can be reduced or even eliminated?
- Which product lines, customers, segments, and channels are the most profitable so management can determine whether to expand investments and supporting operations?
Why didn’t portfolio management solve this problem?
Now as a strategy MBA, Byrnes’ suggestion leave me wondering why the analysis proposed by strategy consultants like Boston Consulting Group didn’t solve this problem a long time ago. After all portfolio analysis has at its core the notion that relative market share and growth rate will determine profitability and which businesses a firm should build share, hold share, harvest share, or divest share—i.e. reduce, eliminate, or expand investment. The truth is getting at these figures, especially profitability, is a time consuming effort.
KPMG finds 91% of CFOs are held back by financial and performance systems
As financial and business systems have become more complex, it has become harder and harder to holistically analyze customer and product profitability because the relevant data is spread over a myriad of systems, technologies, and locations. For this reason, 91% of CFO respondents in a recent KPMG survey said that they want to improve the quality of their financial and performance insight from the data they produce. An amazing 51% of these CFOs, also, admitted that the “collection, storage, and retrieval financial and performance data at their company is primarily a manual and/or spreadsheet-based exercise”. Think about it — a majority of these CFOs teams time is spent collecting financial data rather than actively managing corporate profitability.
How do we fix things?
What is needed is a solution that allows financial teams to proactively produce trustworthy financial data from each and every financial system and then reliably combine and aggregate the data coming from multiple financial systems. Having accomplished this, the solution needs to allow financial organizations to slice and dice net profitability for product lines and customers.
This approach would not only allow financial organizations to cut their financial operational costs but more importantly drive better business profitability by surfacing profitability gaps. At the same time, it would enable financial organizations to assist business units in making more informed customer and product line investment decisions. If a product line or business is narrowly profitable and lacks a broader strategic context or ability to increase profitability by growing market share, it is a candidate for investment reduction or elimination.
Strategic CFOs need to start asking questions of their business counterparts starting with their justification for their investment strategy. Key to doing this involves consolidating reliable profitability data across customers, products, channel partners, suppliers. This would eliminate the time spent searching for and manually reconciling data in different formats across multiple systems. It should deliver ready analysis across locations, applications, channels, and departments.
Some parting thoughts
Strategic CFOs tell us they are trying to seize the opportunity “to be a business person versus a bean counting historically oriented CPA”. I believe a key element of this is seizing the opportunity to become the firm’s chief profitability officer. To do this well, CFOs need dependable data that can be sliced and diced by business dimensions. Armed with this information, CFOs can determine the most and least profitability, businesses, product lines, and customers. As well, they can come to the business table with the perspective to help guide their company’s success.
Solution Brief: The Intelligent Data Platform
CFOs Discuss Their Technology Priorities
The CFO Viewpoint upon Data
How CFOs can change the conversation with their CIO?
New type of CFO represents a potent CIO ally
Competing on Analytics
The Business Case for Better Data Connectivity
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to a number of CFOs about their technology priorities. These discussions represent an opportunity for CIOs to hear what their most critical stakeholder considers important. The CFOs did not hesitate or need to think much about this question. They said three things make their priority list. They are better financial system reliability, better application integration, and better data security and governance. The top two match well with a recent KPMG study which found the biggest improvement finance executives want to see—cited by 91% of survey respondents—is in the quality of financial and performance insight obtained from the data they produce, followed closely by the finance and accounting organization’s ability to proactively analyze that information before it is stale or out of date”
CFOs want to know that their systems work and are reliable. They want the data collected from their systems to be analyzed in a timely fashion. Importantly, CFOs say they are worried not only about the timeliness of accounting and financial data. This is because they increasingly need to manage upward with information. For this reason, they want timely, accurate information produced for financial and business decision makers. Their goal is to drive out better enterprise decision making.
In manufacturing, for example, CFOs say they want data to span from the manufacturing systems to the distribution system. They want to be able to push a button and get a report. These CFOs complain today about the need to manually massage and integrate data from system after system before they get what they and their business decision makers want and need.
CFOs really feel the pain of systems not talking to each other. CFOs know firsthand that they have “disparate systems” and that too much manual integration is going on. For them, they see firsthand the difficulties in connecting data from the frontend to backend systems. They personally feel the large number of manual steps required to pull data. They want their consolidation of account information to be less manual and to be more timely. One CFO said that “he wants the integration of the right systems to provide the right information to be done so they have the right information to manage and make decisions at the right time”.
Data Security and Governance
CFOs, at the same time, say they have become more worried about data security and governance. Even though CFOs believe that security is the job of the CIO and their CISO, they have an important role to play in data governance. CFOs say they are really worried about getting hacked. One CFO told me that he needs to know that systems are always working properly. Security of data matters today to CFOs for two reasons. First, data has a clear material impact. Just take a look at the out of pocket and revenue losses coming from the breach at Target. Second, CFOs, which were already being audited for technology and system compliance, feel that their audit firms will be obligated to extend what they were doing in security and governance and go as a part of regular compliance audits. One CFO put it this way. “This is a whole new direction for us. Target scared a lot of folks and will be to many respects a watershed event for CFOs”.
So the message here is that CFOs prioritize three technology objectives for their CIOs– better IT reliability, better application integration, and improved data security and governance. Each of these represents an opportunity to make the CFOs life easier but more important to enable them to take on a more strategic role. The CFOs, that we talked to, want to become one of the top three decision makers in the enterprise. Fixing these things for CFOs will enable CIOs to build a closer CFO and business relationships.
Solution Brief: The Intelligent Data Platform
Solution Brief: Secure at Source
According to the Financial Executives Institute, CFOs say their second highest priority this year is to harness business intelligence and big data. Their highest priority is to improve cash flow and working capital efficiency and effectiveness. This means CFOs highest two priorities are centered around data. At roughly the same time, KPMG has found in their survey of CFOs that 91% want to improve the quality of their financial and performance insight obtained from the data that they produce. Even more amazing 51% of CFO admitted that “collecting, storing, and retrieving financial and performance data at their company is primarily accomplished through a manual and/or spreadsheet-based exercise”. From our interviews of CFOs, we believe this number is much higher.
Your question at this point—if you are not a CFO—should be how can this be the case? After all strategy consultants like Booz and Company, actively measure the degree of digitization and automation taking place in businesses by industry and these numbers year after year have shown a strong upward bias. How can the finance organization be digitized for data collection but still largely manual in its processes for putting together the figures that management and the market needs?
CFOs do not trust their data
In our interviews of CFOs, one CFO answered this question bluntly by saying “If the systems suck, then you cannot trust the numbers when you get them.” And this reality truly limits CFOs in how they respond to their top priorities. Things like management of the P&L, Expense Management, Compliance, and Regulatory all are impacted by the CFOs data problem. Instead of doing a better job at these issues, CFOs and their teams remain largely focused on “getting the numbers right”. And even worse, the answering of business questions like how much revenue is this customer providing or how profitable this customer is, involves manual pulls of data today from more than one system. And yes, similar data issues exist in financial services organizations which close the books nightly.
The CFOs, that I have talked to, admit without hesitation that data is a big issue for them. These CFOs say that they worry about data from the source and the ability to do meaningful financial or managerial analysis. They say they need to rely on data in order to report but as important they need it to help drive synergies across businesses. This matters because CFOs say they want to move from being just “bean counters” to being participants in the strategy of their enterprises.
To succeed, CFOs say that they need timely, accurate data. However, they are the first to discuss how disparate systems get in their way. CFOs believe that making their lives easier starts with the systems that support them. What they believe is needed is real integration and consolidation of data. One CFO said what is needed this way, “we need the integration of the right systems to provide the right information so we can manage and make decisions at the right time”. CFOs clearly want to know that the accounting systems are working and reliable. At the same time, CFOs want, for example, a holistic view of customer. When asked why this isn’t a marketing activity, they say this is business issue that CFOs need to help manage. “We want to understand the customer across business units. It is a finance objective because finance is responsible for business metrics and there are gaps in business metrics around customer. How much cross sell opportunities is the business as a whole pursuing?”
Chief Profitability Officers?
Jonathan Brynes at the MIT Sloan School confirms this viewpoint is becoming a larger trend when he suggests that CFOs need to take on the function of “Chief Profitability Officers”. With this hat, CFOs, in his view, need to determine which product lines, customers, segments, and channels are the most and the least profitable. Once again, this requires that CFOs tackle their data problem to have relevant, holistic information.
CIOs remain responsible for data delivery
CFOs believe that CIOs remain responsible for how data is delivered. CFOs, say that they need to lead in creating validated data and reports. Clearly, if data delivery remains a manual process, then the CFO will be severely limited in their ability to adequately support their new and strategic charter. Yet CFOs when asked if they see data as a competitive advantage say that “every CFO would view data done well as a competitive advantage”. Some CFOs even suggest that data is the last competitive advantage. This fits really well with the view of Davenport in “Competing on Analytics”. The question is how soon will CIOs and CFOs work together to get the finance organization out of its mess of manually massaging and consolidating financial and business data.
Solution Brief: The Intelligent Data Platform
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview half dozen CIOs and half dozen CFOs. Kind of like a marriage therapist, I got to see each party’s story about the relationship. CFOs, in particular, felt that the quality of the relationship could impact their businesses’ success. Armed with this knowledge, I wanted to see if I could help each leader build a better working relationship. Previously, I let CIO’s know about the emergence and significance of the strategic CFO. In today’s post, l will start by sharing the CIOs perspective on the CFO relationship and then I will discuss how CFOs can build better CIO relationships.
CIOs feel under the gun these days!
If you don’t know, CIOs feel under the gun these days. CIOs see their enterprises demanding ubiquitous computing. Users want to use their apps and expect corporate apps to look like their personal apps such as Facebook. They want to bring their own preferred devices. Most of all, , they want all their data on any device when they need it. This means CIOs are trying to manage a changing technical landscape of mobile, cloud, social, and big data. These are all vying for both dollars and attention. As a result, CIOs see their role in a sea change. Today, they need to focus less on building things and more on managing vendors. CIOs say that they need to 1) better connect what IT is doing to support the business strategy; 2) improve technical orchestration; and 3) improve process excellence. This is a big and growing charter.
CIOs see the CFO conversation being just about the numbers
CIOs worry that you don’t understand how many things are now being run by IT and that historical percentages of revenue may no longer appropriate. Think about healthcare, which used to be a complete laggard in technology but today it is having everything digitalized. Even a digital thermometer plugs into an iPad so it directly communicates with a patient record. The world has clearly changed. And CIOs worry that you view IT as merely a cost center and that you do not see the value generated through IT investment or the asset that information provides to business decision makers. However, the good news is that I believe that a different type of discussion is possible. And that CFOs have the opportunity to play an important role in helping to shape the value that CIOs deliver to the business.
CFOs should share their experience and business knowledge
CFOs that I talked to said that they believe the CFO/CIO relationship needs to be complimentary and that the roles have the most concentric rings. These CFOs believe that the stronger the relationship the better it is for their business. One area that you can help the CIO is in sharing your knowledge of the business and business needs. CIOs are trying to get closer to the business and you can help build this linkage and to support requests that come out of this process. Clearly, an aligned CFO can be “one of the biggest advocates of the CIO”. Given this, make sure that you are on your CIOs Investment Committee.
Tell your CIO about your data pains
CFOs need to be good customers too. CFOs that I talked to told me that they know their business has “a data issue”. They worry about the integrity of data from the source. CFOs see their role as relying increasingly on timely, accurate data. They, also, know they have disparate systems and too much manual stuff going on in the back office. For them, integration needs to exist from the frontend to the backend. Their teams personally feel the large number of manual steps.
For this reasons, CFOs, we talked to, believe that the integration of data is a big issue whether they are in a small or large business. Have you talked to your CIO about data integration or quality projects to change the ugliness that you have to live with day in day out? It will make you and the business more efficient. One CFO was blunt here saying “making life easier is all about the systems. If the systems suck then you cannot trust the numbers when you get them. You want to access the numbers easily, timely, and accurately. You want to make easier to forecast so you can set expectations with the business and externally”.
At the same time, CFOs that I talked to worried about the quality of financial and business data analysis. Once he had data, he worried about being able to analyze information effectively. Increasingly, CFOs say that they need to help drive synergies across their businesses. At the same time, CFOs increasingly need to manage upward with information. They want information for decision makers so they can make better decisions.
Changing the CIO Dialog
So it is clear that CFOs like you see data as a competitive advantage in particular financial data. The question is, as your unofficial therapist, why aren’t you having a discussion with your CIO not just about the numbers or financial justification for this or that system and instead, asking about the+ integration investment that can make your integration problems go away.
The strategic CFO is different than the “1975 Controller CFO”
Traditionally, CIOs have tended to work with what one CIO called a “1975 Controller CFO”. For this reason, the relationship between CIOs and CFOs was expressed well in a single word “contentious”. But a new type of CFO is emerging that offers the potential of different type of relationship. These so called “strategic CFOs” can be an effective ally for CIOs. The question is which type of CFO do you have? In this post, I will provide you with a bit of a litmus test so you can determine what type of CFO you have but more importantly, I will share how you can take maximum advantage of having a strategic-oriented CFO relationship. But first let’s hear a bit more of the CIOs reactions to CFOs.
Views of CIOs according to CIO interviews
Clearly, “the relationship…with these CFOs is filled with friction”. Controller CFOs “do not get why so many things require IT these days. They think that things must be out of whack. One CIO said that they think technology should only cost 2-3% of revenue while it can easily reach 8-9% of revenue these days.” Another CIO complained by saying their discussion with a Controller CFOs is only about IT productivity and effectiveness. In their eyes, this has limited the topics of discussion to IT cost reduction, IT produced business savings, and the soundness of the current IT organization. Unfortunately, this CIO believe that Controller CFOs are not concerned with creating business value or sees information as an asset. Instead, they view IT as a cost center. Another CIO says Controller CFOs are just about the numbers and see the CIO role as being about signing checks. It is a classic “demand versus supply” issue. At the same times, CIOs say that they see reporting to Controller CFO as a narrowing function. As well, they believe it signals to the rest of the organization “that IT is not strategic and less important than other business functions”.
What then is this strategic CFO?
In contrast to their controller peers, strategic CFOs often have a broader business background than their accounting and a CPA peers. Many have, also, pursued an MBA. Some have public accounting experience. Others yet come from professions like legal, business development, or investment banking.
More important than where they came from, strategic CFOs see a world that is about more than just numbers. They want to be more externally facing and to understand their company’s businesses. They tend to focus as much on what is going to happen as they do on what has happened. Remember, financial accounting is backward facing. Given this, strategic CFOs spend a lot of time trying to understand what is going on in their firm’s businesses. One strategic CFO said that they do this so they can contribute and add value—I want to be a true business leader. And taking this posture often puts them in the top three decision makers for their business. There may be lessons in this posture for technology focused CIOs.
Why is a strategic CFO such a game changer for CIO?
One CIO put it this way. “If you have a modern day CFO, then they are an enabler of IT”. Strategic CFO’s agree. Strategic CFOs themselves as having the “the most concentric circles with the CIO”. They believe that they need “CIOs more than ever to extract data to do their jobs better and to provide the management information business leadership needs to make better business decisions”. At the same time, the perspective of a strategic CFO can be valuable to the CIO because they have good working knowledge of what the business wants. They, also, tend to be close to the management information systems and computer systems. CFOs typically understand the needs of the business better than most staff functions. The CFOs, therefore, can be the biggest advocate of the CIO. This is why strategic CFOs should be on the CIOs Investment Committee. Finally, a strategic CFO can help a CIO ensure their technology selections meet affordability targets and are compliant with the corporate strategy.
Are the priorities of a strategic CFO different?
Strategic CFOs still care P&L, Expense Management, Budgetary Control, Compliance, and Risk Management. But they are also concerned about performance management for the enterprise as whole and senior management reporting. As well they, they want to do the above tasks faster so finance and other functions can do in period management by exception. For this reason they see data and data analysis as a big issue.
Strategic CFOs care about data integration
In interviews of strategic CFOs, I saw a group of people that truly understand the data holes in the current IT system. And they intuit firsthand the value proposition of investing to fix things here. These CFOs say that they worry “about the integrity of data from the source and about being able to analyze information”. They say that they want the integration to be good enough that at the push of button they can get an accurate report. Otherwise, they have to “massage the data and then send it through another system to get what you need”.
These CFOs say that they really feel the pain of systems not talking to each other. They understand this means making disparate systems from the frontend to the backend talk to one another. But they, also, believe that making things less manual will drive important consequences including their own ability to inspect books more frequently. Given this, they see data as a competitive advantage. One CFO even said that they thought data is the last competitive advantage.
Strategic CFOs are also worried about data security. They believe their auditors are going after this with a vengeance. They are really worried about getting hacked. One said, “Target scared a lot of folks and was to many respects a watershed event”. At the same time, Strategic CFOs want to be able to drive synergies across the business. One CFO even extolled the value of a holistic view of customer. When I asked why this was a finance objective versus a marketing objective, they said finance is responsible for business metrics and we have gaps in our business metrics around customer including the percentage of cross sell is taking place between our business units. Another CFO amplified on this theme by saying that “increasingly we need to manage upward with information. For this reason, we need information for decision makers so they can make better decisions”. Another strategic CFO summed this up by saying “the integration of the right systems to provide the right information needs to be done so we and the business have the right information to manage and make decisions at the right time”.
So what are you waiting for?
If you are lucky enough to have a Strategic CFO, start building your relationship. And you can start by discussing their data integration and data quality problems. So I have a question for you. How many of you think you have a Controller CFO versus a Strategic CFO? Please share here.