May 25, 2021

Top CFO Tech Trends to Lookout for This Year

How CFOs Are Preparing for the Future

The CFO plays a critical role in an organization’s digital transformation. Not only are they responsible for the numbers, but modern finance leaders are competitive, data-driven, and continuously adopting new technologies and capabilities that provide more visibility, collaboration, and actionable insight.

“We're living in a world where information and data form the basis of competitive advantage in business,” says Rob Feinstein, vice president, solution management at BlackLine. “The companies that thrive are the ones that truly leverage data for quick decision-making. A lot of companies talk about being data-driven, but most are just data-laden. A CFO can drive this transformation successfully.”

For CFOs to gain that data-driven competitive advantage, they need to improve processes, invest in state-of-the-art technologies, and commit to the mindset that data is their most valuable asset. But what tech trends should CFOs pay attention to the most?

Both Feinstein and fellow BlackLiner Stephen Wolfman, director of product management—platform, share their perspective on which CFO tech trends rise to the top.

Digitalization of Finance & Accounting

For traditional finance organizations to evolve to a digital-first mindset, one of the most critical steps a CFO can take is to invest in cloud computing. There are many cloud-based SaaS solutions available to support the role of the accountant, including close management software.

“Cloud solutions enable collaboration from anywhere, and this was put into great focus during the pandemic. The need to unify distributed organizations was only highlighted by everyone working from home, but when things go back to ‘normal’, organizations will still have a need to coordinate from afar, and cloud solutions enable that,” Feinstein says.

Cloud computing is not only critical for real-time collaboration, it also enables data scalability. And data is an organization’s most valuable asset, says Wolfman.

“We hear about data being the new oil—when you have the data and the visibility into that data, you have more control over the business. It’s about ensuring that data is treated as the commoditized property it’s going to become. And cloud is the only way you can scale to have all the data in one place,” Wolfman says.

Data Visualization & Decision Ready Data

Often, data is isolated and siloed in various technology platforms across an organization and is difficult to collate. When analysis or operations needs this data—whether to provide leading indicators or lagging indicators of where the business needs to shift, react, or be proactive—it can be hard to get an accurate and holistic view, or there is a delay in gathering that data into an actionable format.

“This will cause a delay in getting ahead of the competition, or ahead of a market trend,” Wolfman says. “Victory is really won in the margins. Is there a little bit of a margin that can be gained from an insight that some data point is going to provide? And what are the risks of not having that data point?”

Before accounting technology solutions like close management software were available, the greatest challenge was assembling the data, and closing the books meant the end of the journey. But times have changed.

“Today’s solutions make the data assembly the easy, automated part, freeing up time and mindshare to interpret the data. And right on the horizon are even better solutions that automate some of the analysis. Things like a prediction of the future, identification of anomalies—all through artificial intelligence (AI) and other means.

“All of these are teeing up more information that's ready to be interpreted, and pinpointing which data points require the accountant’s extra scrutiny,” Feinstein says.

For finance leaders that are still challenged with organizing data, Wolfman suggests focusing on the data input and ensuring it is accessible.

“Make sure data points are in the right places. If you have data in different places and different formats, it is just going to make it trickier to have decision-ready data. Remove the obstacles, and consolidate your data,” he says.

An Increase in AI Adoption & Implementation

One of the more exciting capabilities on the horizon for Accounting is the increase in artificial intelligence (AI) adoption and implementation.

“There’s a deeper leveraging of AI to guide accounting activity,” Feinstein says. “We have AI in our portfolio already. Our latest examples are in our AR automation suite, which has a lot of AI at its core, and we have several emerging projects that will leverage AI.”

Feinstein says that accounting problems are tailor made for artificial intelligence. So much of the accounting function is to help guide the business and identify trends and anomalies to be an early warning system or opportunity detector for the market.

“AI is going to be a giant beacon shining light on all of these things. We are in the midst of a race to find the most important applications for AI, as it’s going to be the most transformative capability in our space over the next five years,” he says.

Embracing a Technology-Centric Role

Accountants naturally have an analytical mindset. They have an innate sense about the correctness—or incorrectness—of numbers. CFOs that embrace and implement key tech trends centered around cloud computing and decision-ready data will attract accountants looking to apply their analytical mindset to a higher level of analysis and strategic decision-making.

“Accountants today are already embracing technology to manage everyday parts of their lives. Everything is metrics-driven and about data visualization through an app. The accounting industry, and specifically its leaders, need to embrace technology or they won’t be able to attract these data-driven accountants,” Wolfman says.

The technology-centric role in Accounting is already here. It’s whether an accounting organization has the digital foundation to shift the majority of a traditional accountant’s role from data assembly to data decisions.

“The power of well-analyzed data is that it provides a window into the performance of the business. The modern CFO will evolve the accounting team into a real driver for improving the fortune of the business,  and that’s a great opportunity,” Feinstein says.

Evolving From a Trend to a Reality

The digitization of accounting and finance has long been anticipated. The industry has undergone a technology revolution over the last 20 years, but some of these tech trends may still have people thinking, ‘when is it going to be a reality?’.

“The pace of technology evolution has gotten even more rapid, and what used to be promised is now a reality and available today. And what you see in even two to five years will be quantum greater than that—it’s only getting better,” Feinstein says.

The capability to scale quickly is incredibly critical as CFOs look toward the future.

“When you take a global organization with billions of transactions, and then actually process those transactions—the processing power is critical. Being able to leverage cloud technology to have the capacity to process quicker and transport data between systems, without blowing your budget, is going to be key,” Wolfman adds.

At BlackLine, both Feinstein and Wolfman are working toward the vision of a truly connected finance and accounting tech stack. And the core of that is the transportability of data.

“We’re building an ever-increasing set of APIs to bridge systems, with integration and open platform initiatives to provide more opportunities in the market for BlackLine and other systems to freely transport data back and forth, to cover more and more accounting use cases. This means an accounting environment with truly best-of-breed point solutions that can speak to one another and share data with one another, to digitize all parts of the accounting department,” says Feinstein.

Bottom line? The modern finance leader needs to leverage the most critical CFO tech trends to ensure accurate and actionable data and embrace their role as the data steward for the finance organization. Because when the numbers are right, and the financials are right, they have key insight into the business to drive the most strategic and competitive business decisions.

Victory is truly won in the margins.

Read this CFO Playbook for the practical guidance you need to accelerate your organization’s finance transformation journey.

Emily Perkins

Modern Accounting