The role of the finance leader in digital change

The role of the finance leader is going through an enormous period of change. Today, there’s a clear opportunity for finance leaders to become an important changemaker in an organisation’s digital journey. This goes far beyond using their financial acumen to develop the business case for digital change projects. They’re also expertly placed to showcase how digital tools can transform the efficiency and productivity of their own department. Unfortunately, many are yet to grasp this opportunity.

RSM’s research shows that while 92 per cent of finance leaders believe digital will have a moderate or major impact on their role over the long term, just 19 per cent describe digital change as their top priority. Within the c-suite, they’re also the least confident in their ability to lead digital change projects. Just 25 per cent say they have all the skills they need to do this, compared to 57 per cent of business leaders and 51 per cent of IT leaders. They also believe digital change is more the job of the business leader or the IT leader than the finance leader. 

Finance leaders' attitudes to a digital change 

Finance leaders attitude to digital change

Source: RSM, September 2018

It’s important finance leaders challenge their beliefs about digital change, and the role they should play to make it happen. The finance function is ripe for transformation: the arrival of cloud computing, automation and big data holds big promise for each area of the finance function – how transactions are processed, how business insights are shared and how resources and risks are controlled. Those that don’t build a finance function fit for the digital age will face significant risks. Finance leaders must stay alert to this reality. 

Build a finance department for the digital age

Today’s finance leaders should now move their teams from paper-based, manual systems to those powered by automated technology and intelligent insights. The right digital updates will transform the way the department is run, slashing the time it takes to process transactions and helping teams share richer and faster insights with management. 

Yet our research shows only 42 per cent of finance leaders have adopted cloud computing. Even fewer have implemented big data/analytics solutions or automation technologies in their business. In a fast-moving digital world, this will only hold teams back. The arrival of blockchain and further advances in artificial intelligence hold even greater potential to transform the finance department, but these benefits will only be realised by those who have already taken steps to digitise their departments. 

Technologies finance leaders have adopted in their organisations

Technologies finance leaders have adopted in their organisations

Source: RSM, September 2018

It’s critical finance leaders now build their digital awareness and adoption of technologies. A key part of this is being able to separate hype from fact. Today’s finance leaders need to keep pace with innovations coming down the track, and have the ability to understand which will allow them to provide management with a ‘single version of truth’ about business performance, and which hold the most promise for releasing staff from routine transactional activities. This creates obvious pressures. 

Too often, finance leaders are so overwhelmed by the day job – pulling and presenting business insights and preparing for month or year end – that they struggle to find the time to horizon scan for new innovations. Yet technology is the one investment that can reduce their time spent on these activities. Those who are able to reconcile their day job and a digital change agenda will, over the long-term, find success in a digital world. Those that don’t run the risk of remaining uncompetitive in a fast-changing world.

Find out more about the role of the business leader and IT leader in implementing digital change.

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