As dazzling as digital technology can be, it can never serve as a substitute for solid business strategy. While brainy algorithms and meticulous data can be the raw materials from which senior finance executives will build a better competitive edge, such advances by no means guarantee the emergence of a sophisticated and triumphant digital business model.
The push such tools offer, however, can get the strategic ball rolling. Within the finance function, advances such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can shave time off rote tasks and ensure that employees are equipped with the necessary information to perform their jobs ultra-efficiently. As AI relieves their daily workflow of the time-consuming burden of searching for, transforming, and collating data, employees can allocate more of their efforts to creative—and customer-facing—activities. Put another way, automation can take over aspects of their work where humans offer little distinct proprietary advantage.
But such an arrangement must enable an overall re-imagining of the company’s business model. As stewards of financial data, and business partners with the CEO, senior finance executives now play a unique role in conceiving and implementing business strategy. Their deep understanding of the business, combined with their technical ability to turn all kinds of data into actionable plans, positions them to help drive organizational behavior, spreading the company’s objectives throughout its constituent business units.
It’s up to senior finance executives to translate any new corporate strategy into metrics and performance indicators that every employee—whether part of an efficiency-focused operational team or a customer-oriented function fixated on sales-effectiveness—can grasp and embrace.
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