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CFOs & the Intelligent Enterprise: Custodians for a Single Source of Truth

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This article originally appeared in SAP Digitalist.

The power of the intelligent enterprise provides businesses with a single source of truth. With advanced analytics from next-generation technologies including blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and more, executive teams no longer have to wonder whether their data—which they use to make vital, business-changing decisions each day—is up-to-date or accurate.

For CFOs and financial teams, then, advocating for their business’ transformation into an intelligent enterprise should be a top priority.

The abilities of machine learning, a next-generation technology used among intelligent enterprises, are not unlike the role of financial leaders. Machine learning takes massive amounts of data and uses mathematical algorithms and high-speed computing power to generate patterns about this data that are dependable and accurate.

That data can then be used by the technology itself, or a living person, to make a decision that the business expects will provide the best possible outcome.

I view the role of financial leaders similarly to the function of machine learning. As the CFO of SAP in the Asia Pacific and Japan region, I get the opportunity to watch these financial leaders in action every day. I’ve seen that they will always be regarded as the bastions and custodians of the single source of truth.

As financial leaders, we must ensure that we have strong financial controls—and controls around data generally—to make sure that we are looking at the correct information. But then we have to find ways of bringing it to other decision-makers.

This means that Finance has the responsibility to provide insight to support decision-making. I believe, then, that the intelligent enterprise can better enable Finance to perform this job with technologies that provide unparalleled insight into data.

But once a CFO realizes the benefits of the intelligent enterprise, what is their responsibility to provide strategic leadership for advocating for their business’s transformation? Just like any other investment that could increase revenue and growth, CFOs should shepherd their businesses as best they can with the benefits of the intelligent enterprise.

However, there’s more to it than just singing the praises of next-generation technologies. Financial leaders and their teams have a responsibility to assuage employees’ fears about change. For instance, they should get employees excited about how becoming an intelligent enterprise can enable them to do more meaningful work while reassuring them that it won’t take away their jobs.

I recommend these three tips for financial leaders considering transforming into an intelligent enterprise.

Take Ownership

Don’t rely on someone else to run the project. No one else is going to come along and transform your finance organization or business—not for the better, at least.

Your transformation into an intelligent enterprise needs business leaders to own the change and advocate for their vision of the future. The intelligent enterprise may be powered primarily by technology, but it needs you to win the hearts and minds of your people and prepare them for change.

Build Confidence with Quick Wins

Make a case for the intelligent enterprise by providing employees with something that will inspire confidence in the transformation of their business. This can be as simple as thought exercises that give them the opportunity to think about what they need in their day-to-day activities.

What would their work look like in a perfect world? What if they weren’t constrained by the current legacy system? Let them discover that the intelligent enterprise might provide just that.

Create a Culture of Learning & Innovation

Once employees are thinking outside the box about what might improve their daily work, encourage and foster that innovation even further.

From there, employees’ ideas may extend beyond their own jobs and turn them into advocates for change and growth across the business—the perfect frame of mind for a thriving intelligent enterprise. Reward this type of thinking, and it will reward your business back.

Read this CFO Playbook to learn how to use accounting automation to create scalable, built-in process intelligence.

Written by Richard McLean, Regional CFO for SAP Asia Pacific Japan

Richard McLean, regional CFO for SAP Asia Pacific Japan, oversees all key finance and administrative functions for field and regional headquarters, supporting more than 18,000 employees. He has more than 20 years of experience in senior finance roles with leading global companies across a range of industries, including financial services, investment banking, automotive, and IT. He joined SAP in 2008.