We’ve changed the format of our online community events to improve the conversations we were having. This is what we discussed in the first session.

Since our first community meet up on Thursday 13 September 2018, the accounting and finance professionals looking to learn, improve and transform their world using technology have changed significantly.

Ever since that first meet up, we have been building our community and helping them learn more and more about the digital finance function opportunity. We talk to experts and practitioners in this field. We also speak as a peer group, with fellow senior finance people and finance transformation professionals sharing their experiences and opinions on their latest projects.

To support that peer learning, we decided to do something different this month. We call it ‘unMeetup’, based on the ‘unconference’ approach to large expert events, where participants drive the agenda based on their priorities and ask attendees to share and talk about these prioritised themes.

Last week, we took the same approach, with members asking questions as they booked their place at the Fimind meet up via our shiny new website. It was great to see such diverse questions being asked, including “what is generation CFO?”, “what simplification ideas did the community have?”, and the ultimate question “when will lockdown end?” – which no one voted for!

This approach kept us all engaged and is great for peer learning. But it does require a quorum of subject matter experts and a willingness of learners to give their opinion publicly; this is precisely what generation CFO is. A network of digital finance function experts and an engaged community of accounting and finance improvers and transformers keen to give their opinion at our events and at times highly entertaining get-togethers.

Question one: Are any members actually using machine learning in their business operations? If so, how?

This question came from a European business controller. He was not using machine learning and was keen to understand whether the reality of using it was easy or hard. Was it just marketing hype that medium-sized businesses could use machine learning in their business operations?

I got everybody onto the same page by explaining what artificial intelligence was and how machine learning fits into the AI world. I then gave a couple of examples of how companies and finance teams I have worked in used machine learning. Then I opened the floor for other people to comment.

You would think, such a cutting-edge subject and a diverse range of knowledge and experience might lead to a pause, as people waited for an ‘expert’ to comment on the topic. However, the benefit of taking an unMeetup approach is that you tend to find someone within the community who can speak from a technical point of view, then find practitioners who can substantiate those formal opinions and informal learnings with real-world examples.

Once we had debated the core subject, we were able to talk about its real relevance to the CFO organisation and what it meant for people’s jobs and careers.

Networks are a critical lifeline to many people….

Our FiMIND forums are there for all your needs, digital or otherwise!

Question two: What starting blocks have people used in identifying and assessing different digital tools?

Fortunately, we had an expert in vendor selection in attendance who could discuss how to get it right and the pitfalls to look out for. The reality when answering this question is that you need to understand the detailed requirements of an organisation, scope, budget, etcetera when selecting a tool or new software. Our Head of research Mark Cracknell was able to give guidance as to where to start your software selection process and how to make the right decisions, long before spending any consulting money on the process.

The conversation naturally led to people talking about their tools and the pros and cons of using them; their experience of the implementation of them and the ongoing use, support and maintenance. A considerable benefit of the unMeetup approach is that people can give their opinions as peers and not as consultants and avoid the biased point of view you may get marketing hype or consultants spin.

As an aside we have now followed up with one CFO who is looking to purchase budgeting and planning and forecasting software and running a workshop with them so that they can make an informed decision when buying tools.

Question three: Is Python a useful programming language to learn? How can a finance team/function benefit from its use?

This question was answered thoroughly and from several different points of view. First up, we had a finance transformation project manager who had recently started learning Python who could give their opinion on what to learn and potential training providers. A Head of Finance, who had been coding for 20 years in various languages, gave their opinion on the value of learning Python and its use from a finance career perspective.

The resulting debate was super valuable from a peer learning perspective. We were able to discuss the pros and cons of learning a programming language and how it’s supported data and digital literacy in the finance function. Everyone identified digital literacy as critical to the future of the accounting and finance profession and their jobs and careers.

The Shift

As we felt the change of format to the UnMeetup was hugely successful. The feedback from the participants said the same. From now on, all FiMind community meetups will use the same approach, so we can continue to encourage peer learning, fun participation and experience sharing from each other, hopefully avoiding the sales and marketing hype along the way.