Technologies—both established and emerging—are transforming the finance function. Cloud computing can reduce costs, improve productivity, and increase efficiency. Artificial intelligence and blockchain can provide real-time data analytics, make predictions, and help streamline processes such as reconciliations.
“Companies are looking to use data in different ways and create new business models,” says Naved Qureshi, associate partner, finance transformation at IBM. “Finance needs to transition into a much more digital and rapid service to support the business.”
But having the right technologies isn’t enough. Finance leaders also need the right talent to be able to use them effectively to serve the business.
As finance shifts more into a business partnership role, the need for data analysis skills will grow, and prompt the creation of new roles within the function. According to the Accenture report, “Meet the Finance 2020 Workforce,” while traditional finance roles will evolve, newer roles will become more important, such as data scientists, scenario planners, market makers, and social/behavioral scientists. An EY study, “Is the future of finance new technology or new people?,” also highlighted critical skills for the future finance team, with 57 percent of respondents saying that building skills in predictive and prescriptive analytics was critical for the future, while 55 percent noted the importance of improving digital technology skills in areas such as mobility, cloud, and SaaS.
“It’s going to be important to have some sort of data science skills, or at least a general understanding,” says Qureshi. “If you’re going to do cognitive automation for predictive analytics, you’re going to need some statistical skills inside the organization to interpret the data.”
Some finance teams are already moving in this direction. Lena Shishkina, head of finance, EMEA and APJ at Workday, says that she realized the importance of financial data when she joined the company—“So I built a group called ‘Data Science and Management.’” She adds that a colleague who is trained in finance has decided to do a master’s course in data science.
Finance leaders are also focused on developing these skills on their current teams. “I might slowly bring in someone like a data scientist,” explains Rick Rodick, CFO at TELUS International. “I’d rather repurpose or utilize my existing finance team first to see what they can do with better tools, and then maybe we can see what value data scientists can bring.”
These changes in finance comes alongside a more general broadening of digital skills across the organization, explains Bill Briggs, CTO at Deloitte. “We’ve been telling the technology folks for decades, ‘You have to become more business savvy and speak the language of the business,’” he says. “We’re now seeing this interesting shift towards saying that the business needs to be more technology savvy.”