A good modern function requires a mix of new and existing skills.
The digital finance function is a new concept for most accounting and finance professionals. When most people think about digital finance, they focus on the ‘digital’, but a truly digital finance function project is about more than just the tech.
It comprises data literate, digital-first finance talent who can lead business-focused projects prioritised by the CFO, and technical digital specialists who can execute these projects in partnership with the finance team.
When assessing your digital finance talent needs, we need to consider three major aspects.
- The scope of digital project
- The talent required to execute the project
- Ways to resource the project team
The scope of a digital finance function project
You will hear many buzzwords in the brave new world of digital transformation, from artificial intelligence to blockchain, but the reality today is finance has a shortlist of five high-value projects they can start on.
- Intelligent Automation
- Data Visualisation
- Data Analytics
- Data Modelling
Automation of a process using a combination of robotic process automation (RPA) and Machine Learning (ML) is what is known as Intelligent Automation.
These projects require both existing and new knowledge and skills. Finance people can offer a deep understanding of the process, map it out, and explain the decision that needs to be made, and the context of each decision. New skills include use of RPA tools, use of ML in decision making, and monitoring of the automated process using the tools. What is sometimes called the “human in the middle” approach.
Data Visualisation projects aim to greatly improve the visual messaging of our information to its target audience. This may result in a single chart for an agreed KPI, a collection of charts and tables as a dashboard covering a range of metrics or something more like an infographic to highlight a single critical message, used in many annual reports.
Our existing team can act as “senior users”, helping to design the visuals and how they are displayed, while new technical talent can manage the data, its aggregation, and use the data visualisation tool. This could be anything from a new Power BI chart in Excel, to a cloud-based chart available to thousands of self-service users via a portal.
Data Analytics is a data-driven approach to reporting, forecasting and decision making. These projects can be complex and will almost certainly require new technical skills.
Existing finance talent will be focused on business decision priorities, what the “right” question is, and bring context to the questions that will be modelled. The modelling of the data using algorithms will be done by a data scientist and data analyst. This may require huge volumes of data management and cleansing, so it is unlikely that the finance team will be doing this work unless they are recruited internally.
It is important not to underplay our role in shaping the questions and interpreting the output of analytics, as this cannot be done by the data team if they do not fully understand the business.
Not to be confused with the modelling process in analytics, this modelling project is aimed around driver based forecasting (using drivers like inflation rates, rather than volumes of data) to create forecasts.
This is likely to be carried out in Excel, possibly combined with modelling tools to make the process easier and faster to manage, and the main talent will be a modeller. Many people in your existing team will use Excel to forecast, but modelling is a deep skill, using specific methods and approaches to ensure the output is accurate.
As our use of mobile apps increases, so does our expectation on the platforms we use when it comes to the interface, functionality and usability.
All the above projects may require a level of user interface (UI) and use experience (UX) work, whether it is a ‘portal’ to data and visualisation or a form and workflow to help you automate a process. An app project may help you engage the business better, or help customers and suppliers support your processes.
These projects require us to understand the process and what the user really needs. It will also require technical talent similar to a website project, including an app designer, an app developer and the infrastructure to support it.
All of these projects will require a combination of talent from the existing team and a mix of technical skills, internally recruited or with an external partner to execute the project. It will also require project management and change management resources to ensure the new ways of working are adopted and the benefits realised.
If you believe the digital finance function is a shift in our profession, you may wish to build the team internally by upskilling your existing team and recruiting the technical talent. If you see these projects as one-offs, then you may want to work with an external partner.
Either way, it is important to assess your talent needs with the above in mind, and ensure you are using both the existing team and new talent to cover your needs.