April 08, 2021

Surviving vs. Thriving: Quick Wins in Post-Pandemic Business

6-minute read

Did you catch BlackLine’s Molly Boyle on the Financial Excellence with Game Changers radio show? 

Molly is our director of solutions marketing, and shared her insights into what CFOs have learned from the past pandemic year—and how forward-thinking companies are using those lessons to build resilience into their finance organizations.

Here are a few of the highlights of Molly’s contributions to the segment, Quick Wins to Drive Value for CFOs in Post-Pandemic Business, which was sponsored by SAP.  The entertaining episode was hosted by Bonnie D. Graham, and also featured SAP’s CFO Anthony Coletta and Luke Carlson from Carlson Cash.

You can view the entire on-demand recording here

Run From the Past or Learn From It

Molly’s breakdown of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on F&A begins with a quote from Rafiki, the wise baboon from The Lion King.  “Oh, yes, the past can hurt,” Rafiki says to the exiled Simba, “but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”

Molly says the Disney quote sums up the choice many organizations are facing after a traumatic 2020.

“After the year that we've all lived through, we can run far from it or we can learn from it,” she says. “We can put 2020 behind us, which I think we're all very excited to do,” she notes.

But, she warns, if we run too quickly back to past practices, we risk returning to processes that were not working well to start with.

“A lot of companies had these processes that they know are kind of old and probably could be better,” she shares. “But there's been a hesitation for so long about really transforming and being innovative.

“I think there's a lot of learning that's come out of last year and really the last several years, and there's now sort of a renewed excitement and opportunity for us to learn from the past and to shape a different future. “

From Buzzword to Existential Necessity

SAP’s CFO Anthony Coletta kicks off the next segment to predict that CFOs will have an increased focus on digital transformation in 2021. The companies who most effectively navigated the pandemic, he says, were those with digital platforms that allowed them to turn around new business models faster. 

Molly agrees, noting that, “Before 2020, digital transformation was a buzzword in a lot of ways. It was something people were interested in and talking about—maybe they would dip their toe in.

“My favorite meme of the pandemic was the one with the wrecking ball coming into the corporate office. The wrecking ball was COVID really coming in to say, ‘Hey, it's time. This is the compelling event that is going to make you jump in with both feet.’”

Molly also observes that a lot of CFOs were just happy they were able to manage the initial shock and disruption of COVID—but she questions if that was enough.

The most successful companies out there didn't just survive, she says. “The leading companies already had the processes and resilience in place where they could quickly shift their capacity and they didn’t need to spend time thinking about those things.”

Those companies, she explains, were able to emerge from 2020 even stronger.

“Digital transformation is more than a buzzword,” explains Molly. “It’s the difference between surviving and thriving. The companies that just got by weren't able to make that shift as quickly.”

This is why, she says, post-pandemic digital transformation will be much more top of mind than it previously was.

Early Momentum & Low-Hanging Fruit

Of course, knowing you need to transform and actually doing it aren’t always the same thing. In the next segment of the show, Molly quotes Guy Kawasaki, who once famously said: “The hardest part of getting started is getting started.”

“Business and finance transformation can be overwhelming,” says Molly. “I think the hardest part of getting started is just figuring out, where the heck are you going to start?”

Companies may be embracing the idea of digital transformation, she suggests, “but they're still overwhelmed by the sheer amount of opportunities and options of how they can do that.”

For some companies, working with consultants or mapping out multi-year transformation is the right answer. But, she warns, many teams are also dealing with a tremendous amount of fatigue, change, and burnout.

“Long, lengthy projects that are going to take up extra time can be really overwhelming. One of the things I've seen CFOs do particularly well is helping  drive these projects forward by finding low-hanging fruit.”

For example, “There are still a lot of spreadsheets out there. Low-hanging fruit oftentimes is right there in those spreadsheets.” By getting their arms around some of the processes that take the most time—and suck the most capacity out of talented resources and teams—CFOs and Controllers can more quickly jumpstart broader transformations.

“As finance and accounting professionals, we're really well-positioned to help lead our companies through these projects,” says Molly. “And we can sort of be the change we want to see in the organization by adopting some of our own processes quickly at the start. “

A Single Source of Truth for Cash Application

The panel goes on to discuss the opportunities posed by cash efficiencies. “I think cash opportunities really highlight the interconnectivity of the office of the CFO and the importance of having connected real-time information,” Molly shares.

Pointing out the traditional silos that plague organizations, she notes that the past year has really highlighted how connected organizations need to be within finance and accounting leadership to position themselves to make better business decisions.

“If we have one source of the truth,” she says, “and we've got efficiencies around applying cash or managing our payables, and if we've got a closed process that is recording entries in real-time rather than on day three at month-end, we're in a much better position to provide that real-time data.

“So I think a lot of companies are really embracing the collaboration across these previously siloed parts of the office of the CFO. And I think that's going to be a big differentiator going forward.”

The lively conversation goes on from there to touch on disruptive technologies and the evolving role of F&A talent in the organization—what used to be core job capabilities have now become table stakes. Both Anthony Coletta and Luke Carlson also offer many useful insights and takeaways.

Each panelist wraps with a prediction. Molly’s focuses on the changing nature of the industry:

“I think, going forward, you're going to see it was finance and accounting folks who previously were hesitant to change,” she says.  “You're going to see them flip the switch and start leading change instead.

“I think they now know what they can do and what their teams are capable of. They're excited about it. And I think they're going to be the ones leading and driving a lot of this going forward.”

Watch the full episode here for even more insights into the quick wins you need to drive value for CFOs in post-pandemic business.

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