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How do you move a finance function away from a traditional, siloed approach to something which embraces innovation and collaboration?

For Cedric Assaouloff, Digital And Innovation Lead at R&D Finance pharmaceutical company Roche, you do this by bringing an entrepreneurial mindset into the mix while implementing a hybrid capability approach towards machine and human intelligence.

It’s about taking the age-old question of ‘what’s better, man or machine?’, and looking at it another way, to get the best out of both.  It’s not just innovation for innovation’s sake, it’s innovation for business sake, to create sustainable, long-lasting impact.

How to innovate successfully

“Successful innovation has to be about experimentation and at same time impact and business centricity, a subtle balance” says Cedric. 

“Finance or other functions are used to approach Innovation as a perfect project with the perfect outcome. But it’s more complex than that.”

“Digital transformation is 20% technology, 80% cultural change.”

“To put this in context, finance is usually very traditional in its approach with siloed and perfectionist mindset.” 

Failure, Cedric explains, is ‘not common in finance language’ and yet he’s comfortable using this term a lot. 

“I am often perceived as a UFO in the traditional landscape. This requires a lot of courage, persistence to adopt any solution and experimentation, while not being afraid of failing.”

Cedric’s journey in finance

Cedric, who has worked in finance for over twenty years across different industries and countries (Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich, to name but a few), has been involved in business partnering, driving the roll-out of financial information systems, leading strategic planning and diverse FP&A functions. 

His real interest however, lies in the innovation side of finance, particularly around R&D.

“I really love what I do, this energises me so much when I see the potential that finance can reach every day and I am grateful to work for Roche where passion can have an impact,” says Cedric. 

“My remit at Roche has been to design, influence, and implement a digital transformation within the finance function by driving innovative concepts in a very inclusive manner.”

“Driving digital transformation across R&D finance is central to the future of pharmaceuticals like Roche.”

“And innovation in finance is really critical for the future. We have to move away from static reporting and manual work, into a world where you can really leverage machine learning, AI and predictive planning to get faster – and better – decision making.”

Innovating at Roche

The transformation program which started some years ago and is still evolving, is focused on several key concepts: digitisation and innovation, leverage of our shared services centre, an entrepreneurial mindset that embraces end-to-end solutions and utilisation of both machine and human intelligence.

At its core is what Cedric refers to as The Lab, an incubator of digital experimentation, made up of 25 finance and IT professionals including finance partners, data scientists, and IT specialists.

Together, they approach processes, insights, and projects in a completely new way.

“The Lab is an experimentation centre, an innovation incubator and so far, it’s been extremely successful as a concept.”

“The customer sits at the heart of The Lab, meaning that every one of us is outcome-driven in what we need and want to achieve. Our goals are all aligned in this way because we are all looking for same solutions for our customer wherever we sit.”

This new way of working, says Cedric, not only breaks down silos in a much more agile way of working but also brings new capabilities to the community while offering tangible digital solutions.

What elements go into their new way of working?

An entrepreneurial mindset is a big part: encouraging staff members to come up with new ideas and testing them. 

Sometimes failure is inevitable, but it is celebrated, too, hence The Lab being seen as an experimentation centre. 

Trial and error, says Cedric, is part and parcel of this.

Roche’s transformation story encompasses a lot of key themes: collaboration, empowerment, network, and of course, digital innovation, but what’s made the biggest impact?

“Network is the key,” Cedric says.

“Connected ecosystems and integrated networks are the key to breaking down silos, fostering internal and external innovation and unlocking new opportunities.” 

“We’ve changed our approach where we had separate visions and goals, and now there’s just one. We have embraced end-to-end thinking, where every process aligns to a wider business perspective.” Cedric says.

“We’re a much more inclusive environment now, everything feeds into one shared purpose and goal. We have joined-up thinking and a joined-up approach in a space which is still under discovery.”

Cedric’s Power Profile

What music empowers him?

“I like several kinds of music. Classical music helps me gain clarity and creativity while rock and pop inspire and motivate me into action. I love U2!”

Who is his hero?

“My father – his own father was from ex USSR ( Ukraine) so he grew up living in a mixed French and Russian environment. He transmitted to me this respect for cultural differences and diversity, but he also taught me about hard work, finding my own ways and learning from my mistakes with humility, courage, and loyalty to the community.”