The CFO as Chief Innovator

As growth returns to the business agenda, many chief financial officers are finding a need for simpler, more agile operating models. New technologies, globalization, more empowered consumers and employees, and significantly more regulation have disrupted the old ways of doing business. Yet many organizations are still saddled with poorly integrated systems and processes whose maintenance consumes far too much time and money.

New research—a survey of 900 finance chiefs that Accenture sponsored jointly with Oracle—shows that 70 percent of CFOs believe their overall level of influence has increased over the past three years. Many CFOs are seizing the opportunity to drive broader, transformational change.

To reduce operational complexity and boost competitive advantages, a majority of CFOs (57 percent) believe that investments in cloud computing, big data, mobile, and social media will be critical. More CFOs also recognize that strategic investments to enable enterprisewide integrated services can give them the transparency—and thus the ability to measure and manage outcomes—that they so often lack.

Some organizations are already employing this approach. Oil field service company Baker Hughes, thanks to tighter integration, outsourcing, and new technologies, has a transparent view of data. The changes, which also simplified finance processes, allowed Baker Hughes to reduce the time it takes to close its books from 12 to five days. CFO Peter Ragauss now has a much clearer view across the business, which helps the company make quicker—and smarter—decisions about where to invest scarce capital resources.

As businesses become increasingly digital, forward-thinking CFOs are building the foundations for digital business by helping their organizations take a closer look at processes. They are using their enterprisewide perspective to determine the rationale for change, prioritize initiatives, and drive them through.

The traditional cost-management skills that worked so well in the recession may no longer be as urgently needed as margins are squeezed and incremental operational efficiencies become harder to find. But as businesses become increasingly digitalized, they will need, among other things, new skills to navigate a more dynamic environment, balancing those areas that need cost cutting with the digital activities that require investment to grow. They will also need the talent to support them.