CFOs are acknowledging that technology has become increasingly important to the success of finance departments. That new awareness comes even as they admit there is a serious knowledge gap among finance executives when it comes to emerging technologies.
That’s according to a survey of 930 CFOs conducted jointly by consulting firm Accenture, enterprise technology giant Oracle and research firm Longitude Research. “Technology is becoming more important to CFOs, yet we’re seeing that the second-biggest skill gap the CFO has is technology,” says Scott Brennan, managing director for Accenture’s enterprise performance management practice and co-author of the report. “That means there’s an opportunity for CFOs to become more tech-literate and for CIOs to help CFOs become more tech-literate.”
CFOs don’t necessarily need in-depth technical knowledge or to be able to manage technology on a day-to-day basis, Brennan says, but many finance executives understand that technology is a critical tool that enables them to fulfill and expand their role in the business. As a result, they have become much more closely involved in IT investment decisions and in managing IT infrastructure. According to the report, 84 percent of CFOs say that cooperation between them and their company’s chief information officer has increased over the past three years. Among respondents from Asia-Pacific and North America, the proportion exceeds 90 percent.
CFOs seem more open than ever to increasing their technology know-how, the survey found. Asked where they most need to improve their capabilities, 28 percent of CFOs cite knowledge of technology. Only industry knowledge is seen as a greater priority, while typically dominant CFO concerns, such as regulatory compliance and risk management, ranked lower.
The technology-related responsibilities of CFOs are for the most part still focused on more passive activities, respondents reported, such as measuring returns on IT investment or scrutinizing IT-infrastructure purchasing decisions. Fewer claim responsibility for aspects of technology that are more suited to driving business change, such as data analytics and the purchase of IT services. But 52 percent of CFOs expect that their influence over IT will increase (14 percent believe the increase will be significant), echoing the fact that 71 percent reported seeing their influence on their company’s overall strategy increase in the last three years.
“CFOs in general are shifting their focus from cost management to strategic planning and analysis, and more specifically to strategic technologies,” says Brennan. “For instance, when it comes to priorities for investment, mobile technology was top of mind for 40 percent of CFOs. That’s less about a cost focus and more about strategy – that is, getting more data out to the point of use through mobile technology.”
In particular, Brennan says, CFOs are seeking to learn from their CIOs about technologies in which they’re making the biggest technology investments, which, the study shows, are cloud computing and mobile technology. They’re also working in tandem with CIOs to figure out how to reduce the cost of technology maintenance and integration, the two aspects of technology that most concern CFOs, according to the survey.