When data is king, how should CFOs lead?

5 mins read

Diana Spalding, Head of Applications, Oracle Singapore | 30 Aug 2021

Diana Spalding

Head of Applications, Oracle Singapore

To be prepared for constant change, every business needs the one asset that can provide them the flexibility to pivot: good data. 

The problem with data is accountability. Data needs to be valid, accurate, reliable, and available. Good data has been part of finance teams’ bread and butter, helping stakeholders relate better to financial performance or make data-driven decisions. With more lines of business and external stakeholders relying on good financial data, finance has to step up.

A research done by IDC revealed that data and analytics solutions revenue in the Asia-Pacific region was estimated at USD$22.6 billion in 2020. In fact, even with financial regulatory authorities such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore, we see data analytics used to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism. Finance teams rely heavily on the cloud for analytics and insights, to balance numbers with strategy to generate the results stakeholders desire. By leading with data, CFOs can help ensure the rest of the organization isn’t overwhelmed by the data. 

A new dawn for data

Undeniably, data decides business success – provided businesses have the means to analyse and understand it. 

This task now increasingly falls to Finance. Data has always been important to the Chief Financial Officer’s (CFO) role, with every decision they make based on and justified using data. Yet, their job no longer focuses on the preparation and maintenance of it – not when there is a bevy of automated tools to cleanse data, and often data teams responsible for it. 

Instead, the emerging role of the finance team is to interrogate, interpret and exploit data for the rest of the business. As business units are most likely to invest in analytics, according to Deloitte, finance leaders use data to understand and monitor business performance in real time, making them more reliable and informed decision makers. The CFO is not only recognized as the right hand of the CEO, but he is also a trusted advisor and collaborator for every part of the business – from Human Resource to customer experience. 

The stark difference now, with how finance teams use data, is that they’re obliged to source it more widely, from every corner of the business. However, there’s a big difference between the ownership of data and the stewardship of data. Yes, one department – such as marketing – may have generated huge quantities of valuable customer information, but if that data looks different and can’t be accessed or understood by others, it’s no use. That’s why data needs to sit in one team’s domain, so one team can interpret that data for the good of the whole business. 

However, technical and political reasons make handing the reins over to finance team complicated. Data must be easily available and in order. However, most organizations are a complex patchwork of legacy data environments, hastily stitched, lacking overarching data strategy. Data hygiene is a recent invention, and for many companies, a possibility that it has never existed. These technical bottlenecks can make data stewardship achievement difficult. 

There can also be resistance from other departments within a business. Most executives understand that data is power and it’s what gives their department its value to the business. But this can make them reluctant to share data with other business functions – a byproduct where businesses lack a coherent data strategy or executives aren’t shown the bigger picture. Other resistance includes non-compliance and slow adherence to data policies, but the outcome is always the same – Finance struggles to get the data it needs. 

The tools of the trade

To overcome these obstacles, data strategy is key. CFOs need to figure out what data is most important to the business and what it needs to do with it. It’s also equally critical to ensure that the right skills are there. Data analysts will offer the most value gain from data – a gap possibly filled through new hires and upskilling across the business. 

The lesson is this: have the governance, reporting requirements and right people in place first before you attempt to exploit the data. 

Younger startups have a big advantage over established businesses. It’s easier to build a data strategy over infrastructure when you’re starting from scratch. Yet, introducing new data strategy and building a new data infrastructure remains necessary. It needs to be done concurrently while running the old systems in parallel to maintain service continuity. Upon migration of vital data and workloads to the new data infrastructure, these legacy systems can then be shut down.

For instance, a leading provider of semiconductor and electronic assembly solutions serving various global markets from automotive, communications to consumer and industrial markets. Kulicke & Soffa (K&S) was keen to move their back office and customer facing applications to the cloud for scalability and easy access to support their strong growth trajectory. In order to facilitate seamless functionality across their finance, human resource, supply chain and customer experience, K&S leveraged Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications. 

Under Oracle Cloud, K&S will have access to unified project planning, budgeting, and execution across 18 countries, leading to better business agility across finance, manufacturing, operations, customer experience and human capital management. The business is also able to make more data-driven decisions to accelerate its growth.

The cloud must be the central ‘brain’, connected to all data environments through a digital nervous system. Finance has easy access to abundant data sources through the cloud, and the latest tools for keeping that data clean and properly managed. Of course, these benefits aren’t solely restricted to the CFO and their team – all departments should have similar access. As the number of applications needed to run a successful business grows exponentially, the cloud takes on this role, freeing up employees to focus on the decisions that will grow the business. 

Finance at the helm

With Finance at the helm, a company’s data is in good hands. CFOs and their teams have the objectivity, experience and ethical code to be the ideal data stewards – which in turn makes them a real force for good within their companies. The next step is to get the right tools and understand the strategies they need to build an organization that’s truly data-driven. 

A cloud-based infrastructure that is built off the back of a watertight data strategy – one that’s there from the very beginning – offers an unrivalled breadth of insight and the tools needed to realize data’s true potential. Only then can data become the common currency by which business success is measured.