Technology is not the endpoint for a business, it’s a facilitator, according to former Coca Cola global finance operations transition lead, Iria Saenz-Diez.
“It’s a path to achieve the goal, but it’s not the goal,” she says. This principle, she believes, is essential for doing digital well.
“In the past, we invested a lot in technologies because we wanted to say we were digital and that we had the technology. But if you do not do the prep work before, if you do not standardise the data and the process and understand what that will be, then it’s probably not going to end up in a nice place,” says Iria, who warns that without this prep work you could end up choosing the wrong digital tools for your organisation.
However, Iria does advocate for digital transformation, saying it’s something every company needs to go through to be their most successful selves.
“But you need to work with someone that can help you understand the future state and then build, only then deciding which is the best technology for your particular journey,” she adds. “Technology is not one size fits all, it’s something that depends on your own journey and destination.”
An example of this is robotics, which is useful for repetitive tasks, but if there are complex and analytical processes, robots alone will not be the technology that will make this more efficient and successful.
A big digital transformation project that Iria worked on a few years ago at Coca Cola was moving the finance function from being local to a more centralised model.
“Our journey started by having everything locally, geographically based,” says Iria. “Each country had their own finance department with their own tools, everything was there. We moved to a global model where we standardised processes and tools and brought in technology in finance for the whole company.”
This change has meant that everything is consistent across the global organisation, that reporting is consistent and therefore more easily interpreted and more valuable.
“Before we tried to see what the marketing expenditure was globally and it was a nightmare. Every Excel spreadsheet was a different template, and of course, the way of naming the campaigns and putting in the data was different,” says Iria.
It meant that global reports were not consistent or accurate. Now, the organisation has a naming convention and more structured data in the system. “And through that, we are able to produce fast and accurate reports. The big difference was the quality of the information because it enables the functions to make much more informed decisions. So, for us, it was truly transformational.”
Alongside intentional digital transformation, Iria is also passionate about taking on new challenges, after a few bold but critical career moves.
After initially starting out as a lawyer in the legal tax department at KPMG, Iria was offered the opportunity to become finance director at a cellular technology start-up.
“I was 23 and it was an awesome opportunity to work with technology and become a finance director,” she says. “It was a wonderful school, as a master’s degree in real life."
“I learned a lot because I had to do everything from start to end, but let’s say, it didn’t work as expected. But at the time, it was a revolution – cellular phones. It was very innovative technology, and the challenge was very exciting.”
Her parents at the time told her to take a more conservative approach to her career and stay at KPMG longer, however, Iria says this career move was invaluable, even though it didn’t work in the long term.
“I became less afraid of challenges and less afraid of doing things because I was there on my own,” she says. “Also, the people I worked with were English – the entire company, except for me – so I had to speak 12 hours a day in English, and I became fluent thanks to that which helped me a lot in my career.”
It was another good learning curve, she says, to become more resilient and learn from mistakes. “So, I’m really happy I did that.”
After the start-up, Iria moved to Burger King, The Walt Disney Company and then onto soft drink giant Coca Cola, where she stayed for 20 years.
Now, Iria is an advisor and speaker, chairing and speaking at various finance transformation and digital transformation forums. “I’m embarking on this different phase in my career, and it’s an adventure and a challenge again,” she says. “One I’m ready to embark on.”
Chris is the founder and MD of GenerationCFO.com and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!
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