BlackLine Blog

April 28, 2022

Not Your Father’s Digital

Digital Transformation
3 Minute Read

Michael Polaha

Share Article

Welcome back to the second article in my Digital Finance Transformation series (if you haven’t read the premier article, it might helpful to do that first). I’ve titled this one Not Your Father’s Digital and if you will be so kind to indulge me, I will tell you a story about the genesis of a major digital transformation effort at the world’s largest and most broadly based care company.

Triggers of Transformation Value

This story begins in 2018, when the finance department at the Fortune 500 company I worked for was coming out from three years of finance transformation that was largely focused on operating model and placement.

At that point—as was typical at the time—labor arbitrage, spans, levels, and layers were the primary triggers of transformation value. While we were singularly focused on those triggers, there was a significant, disruptive technological transformation underway in the market. It was accelerating at both pace and scale, which could serve to radically change how we could execute and deliver our services.

Refreshing Our Functional Technological Strategy

It was in this quintessential moment that my then-partner-in-crime and I met to plot a path forward. As the famous French poet and novelist Victor Hugo said, “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” We knew we needed to launch an effort to refresh our functional technological strategy, keeping in mind the evolving digital enablers that were taking hold in the marketplace.

But how could we ensure the idea made the leap to tangible plans and funding?

An Education-First Approach

We knew it was important that we did not jump immediately into methodology and timing as we met with the CFO and in various preparatory meetings with the CFO staff. Rather, we needed to take a metered approach to ensure we defined digitization and brought to life the various evolving technical capabilities by referencing industry use cases.

This was especially important in this December 2018 timeframe, when the narrative around digital transformation was net new and evolving and the application and value from investment was still somewhat suspect. Our real goal was to fire the first change management salvo and get everybody in finance leadership grounded—speaking, understanding, and leveraging a common language—and to elicit a call to action to the art of the possible.

I remember it like it was yesterday. In a CFO session titled Not Your Father’s Digital, we educated our leadership, created excitement and momentum, and launched the workshops that would materialize in the most significant functional technology investment in company history.

This education first approach is referenceable in today’s environment and well worth the time and investment. The level of digital finance technology acumen in the CFO levels of any organization can vary significantly. The effort to invest in a common, referenceable understanding of digital finance components is a foundational necessity for any CFO endeavoring to be a change agent in the transformation space.

A Safe Space for Transformation Vetting

The dialogue with the broader CFO constituency was both timely and substantive. This is especially true in this space of transformation, as we know it will be fraught with challenge. The ability to separate true transformational concerns from lack of understanding or misinformation will avoid frustration in both the sponsoring and executing CFO staff.

It will also allow those CFO members who still may hold concerns on the value of these initiatives to voice their unease in a safe environment and have critical questions addressed prior to any substantive action.

The company I worked for was not historically known to be an early adopter of technology and some previous investments in technology disappointed relative to promise. The risk of digital transformation being perceived as more of a creation of the consultants to drum up fees than a tangible way to deliver value was very real. The educational sessions and corresponding workshops were a way to get those concerns in the open to ensure we could move forward as an integrated leadership team.

From Education to Action

From education we quickly had to pivot to call to action. We laid out an agile approach to technology strategy workshops with our practitioners that identified business capabilities needed and identified process, data, and technology to enable. In those workshops, we always started with best practice use cases, in practice, to demonstrate the art of the possible to further provide our colleagues with a referential reason to believe.

Continuing on the Path to Transformation

In my future blogs, I will turn more toward lessons learned and observations as we leveraged the aforementioned workshops to inform our digital finance transformation strategy, order of operation, corresponding business case, and ultimately the pivot toward execution.

I hope you find this informational and fun, and your feedback and observations are warmly welcomed!

About the Author


Michael Polaha