Global Study: Finance Leaders Reveal Key Goals and Challenges for Driving Digital Acceleration

CFOs and other finance leaders recognize that future business survival requires greater agility in planning, reporting, and resource-capacity management. And while organizations will employ their own strategy for meeting these goals, a recent survey reveals that most leaders prioritize the adoption of smart technologies and cross-functional skills sharing.

CFOs and other finance leaders recognize that future business success requires boosting digital acceleration. Digital projects that fell into the “we’ll do that someday” category pre-pandemic became matters of survival when COVID-19 turned the whole world upside down. The top goals of finance leaders, our research finds, are to gain greater agility in planning, reporting, and resource-capacity management. Our latest global survey reveals that to meet these goals, most leaders prioritize the adoption of smart technologies and cross-functional skills sharing.

Our report, "Organizational Agility: The Roadmap to Digital Acceleration”, details the results from the survey, which polled 1,024 C-suite executives and their direct reports from 14 countries and 12 industries. Four key findings emerged across all industries and roles:

  • Digital revenues dominate and are accelerating. Over the past 12 months, the number of firms expecting 75% or more of their revenue to come from digital sources within the next three years increased by three times, from 12% to 36%.

  • Smart technology is driving digital growth. Organizations that are deploying artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), or robotic process automation (RPA) are more than twice as likely to report high levels of digital revenue as those that have made little or no such progress.

  • Changing tools is easier than changing minds and habits. While more than half of organizations (56%) say their technology is compatible with digital transformation goals, just 16% say the same about their company’s culture. Adopting new technology to streamline workflows and help employees in their day-to-day roles is critical for boosting technology ROI.

  • Agility builds resilience. One-third of leaders agree that faster digital growth improves organizational resilience. For example, companies that rapidly responded to the pandemic are more likely to have embedded agile capabilities such as data accessibility and cross-functional collaboration.

What Are the Top Takeaways for Financial Leaders?

The 2020 survey found that a majority of financial leaders are planning to improve digital acceleration and organizational agility by expanding their abilities in:

  • Continuous planning and reporting 

  • Capacity management such as skill enhancement and cross-functional skills sharing

  • Smart technologies

Smart Technologies and Greater Collaboration Improve Planning

To improve continuous planning, financial leaders prioritize smart technology deployment (40%), and 32% consider smart technology capabilities to be the most important skill type in their organizations. Additionally, more than one-third seek to improve team collaboration during planning activities (36%) and real-time data access (35%):

Modern Technologies and Fewer Silos Facilitate Agile Insights

Continuous planning requires real-time insights as well as risk anticipation and management, which is the second-most-valued skill (29%) by financial leaders, after smart technology prowess. 

More than half of financial leaders are realizing the greatest improvements in facilitating continuous insights by investing in smart technologies (56%), as well as highly integrated systems and/or software (64%). Additionally, 49% are benefiting from cloud-based technologies:

On the flip side, financial leaders see the biggest barriers to agile insights and reporting as a lack of cloud technologies or real-time analytics (32%). However, 31% say a lack of analytical skills and a lack of alignment between planning, measurement, and evaluation cycles also pose significant obstacles.

Agile Capacity Management Involves Seamless Recruiting, Skills-first Focus, and Skills Sharing

Driving digital acceleration requires agile capacity management, or the ability to always have the right number of people with the right skills. We asked leaders about the obstacles they’re facing in recruiting, skills improvement, and skills sharing. Because the survey took place during the pandemic, 42% of financial leaders identified global uncertainty as a barrier to recruitment and skills enhancement. More than one-third of financial leaders also identified the inability of teams to add new skills as obstacles to recruitment and upskilling:

To increase capacity for new skills and workloads, nearly half of the financial leaders once again prioritize smart technologies (42%) and cross-functional skills sharing (41%):

Accelerating Cloud Adoption and Digital Growth Boosts Resiliency 

Continuous planning, flexible capacity, and resiliency are closely linked. After tallying the ROI of different strategies during the pandemic, financial leaders see the best way to increase resiliency is to invest in cloud technologies (32%) and digital solutions (31%): 

Financial Leaders Are Facilitating Agile Planning, Reporting, and Capacity Management with IT

While it’s clear that CFOs and other financial leaders view technologies as critical enablers of agile planning, reporting, and capacity management—which are all needed to drive digital acceleration—experts also advise that CFOs and CIOs maintain close alignment in making strategic decisions.     

John Lemmex, regional CFO of Covestro LLC, says, "On one side, you need to invest in gaining the technology, but on the other side there have to be cost savings. There has to be a business case, and you have to be very careful investing in technologies without the underlying business case. It also has to be scalable to other areas so that if you run a pilot—for instance, if you use invoice verification—it's the same everywhere in the world.”

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