A CFO’s Story on Finance Team Transformation

Workday’s Mark Nittler discusses how finance teams are transforming their organizations for the future and highlights successes from Workday customer ServiceSource.

In talking with our customers, we often hear that prior to selecting Workday Financial Management they used accounting systems and processes that “worked okay.” That generally meant that with enough duct tape, bailing wire, and bodies, they overcame the challenges of systems that had become inflexible and hard to use in order to close the books and produce financial statements. Not world-class finance, but it was “a living.”

Usually the “ah-ha!” moment occurred when a finance executive saw how Workday Financial Management goes beyond simply automating accounting transactions to deliver insights on real-time operational data. That’s when they realized how Workday could help them finally evolve their finance teams from bean counters to business partners.

We have been talking about how to achieve this evolution in finance circles for the past 20 years, yet it remains out of reach for many organizations, and a big reason is because the systems that “work okay” really don’t. So it’s very satisfying to hear customers talk about how they are succeeding in transforming their teams with the support of our system, as it tells me we’re succeeding on the vision we had when we launched Workday in 2005.

Ashley Johnson, CFO of ServiceSource International, Inc. (NASDAQ: SREV) and a Workday customer, spoke on this topic during a recent Webinar hosted by CFO.com. ServiceSource is a leading provider of cloud-based recurring revenue management solutions; it operates in multiple countries around the world and reported revenue of $272.5 million in 2013. During the Webinar, Ashley said:

I’ve been looking to drive a transformation in the finance organization . . . to change the organization to view itself, and to be viewed, as a very strategic component of the business. Part of this is spending a lot less time looking back, and reconciling historical information, and spending the majority of our time looking forward, trying to identify trends that will drive the strategy of the company.
I often like to think of myself as either a coach, helping other executives understand the strategies and tactics that can drive better outcomes; or a different way to think about it is as the navigator, highlighting what the available paths forward are on the business by analyzing where we’ve come from. So the top priority for the finance team is always to deliver accurate financial results and accurate forecasts, but most important to use these numbers to enable the business to operate more effectively and more efficiently. That means understanding the key metrics that business managers need to have in real time [so they can] understand what changes need to be made to drive the business in a new direction.

Ashley said that to do this, it was critical to get her team out of the data accumulation and tracking business. This required more efficient accounting automation techniques, strong built-in governance, and a smarter approach to analysis, which—for a talent driven business like ServiceSource—means having a single source of truth with its finance, human resources, and payroll data within one system.

Because of the Workday approach, Ashley said her team now spends more quality time on business performance analysis and decision support. As a result, she said:

That has an impact on my organization, in feeling that the role they play in the company is much more strategic. The impact on the finance team in terms of retention and advancement opportunities has been really positive.

This gets back to what I called out as one of four megatrends for finance and HR in 2014: working with—rather than for—the information. This megatrend has gained momentum, because smart companies know that if they want to attract the best talent to help with big investment decisions, they must empower people with tools and technologies to do their very best.

Ashley had a lot more to say about the impact of a modern finance system on ServiceSource, but I won’t steal all her thunder here: please find a little time in your day to listen to the recording. If you want even more detail about the changes ServiceSource has experienced since deploying Workday, you can find them here. It’s proof that with the right approach and system, the vision of finance transformation can become reality. It’s also a reminder that if an organization chooses to settle for “works okay,” it should never expect greatness.

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