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The public service chief financial officer (CFO) role is changing. As routine tasks are increasingly being automated, there are new opportunities to create more meaningful and impactful roles for finance professionals, from leading digital transformations to developing new ways of mining data for insights. Rather than simply remaining in functional roles, CFOs now have a seat at the organization’s decision-making table.
Public service CFOs themselves are reimagining what they can do for the enterprise. According to recent Accenture research in which we interviewed 187 public sector finance leaders, 81% say identifying and targeting areas of new value across the organization is a strategic goal for them. Technology has great power to support this new CFO agenda in which speed, accuracy and focusing on value are of utmost importance.
In my experience, the critical enablers of success for the new CFO are having the right platform, approach and mindset. Let’s explore each of these.
Governments have been hamstrung by legacy systems for so long, there is no choice but to move onto the next platform. Evolving the organization’s technology platform allows the opportunity to grasp the latest technology and tools—such as cloud—and move away from old traditional configurations. Accenture’s research showed that adopting digital technology across the business is a strategic goal for 69% of public sector finance leaders.
CFOs need to access and process a vast amount of data to carry out their new roles. In fact, providing real-time or near-real-time insight of organizational performance is a strategic priority for 68% of those we surveyed. Solutions such as SAP HANA allow the processing of massive amounts of real-time data in a short time. Such platforms make it easier for both business and finance functions. The technology will support the core organizational strategy and CFOs and CIOs can efficiently work hand-in-hand.
Agility is a new imperative for public service organizations, as it allows them to pivot more quickly. This is a wise approach for CFOs who need to explore new ways of delivering programs. Siloed, hierarchical structures make it difficult to move quickly. Agile ways of thinking and working enable the finance function to achieve outcomes. Our research shows that 66% of public sector finance leaders say they will secure new and essential capabilities by creating a collaborative and agile environment to ensure connectivity and cross-departmental sharing of ideas and insights.
From a technology standpoint, an agile approach allows shorter implementation cycles. CFOs will be equipped with the right technology tools to more readily develop programs and solutions that benefit citizens and their business partners within the organization.
Many finance functions have had a mindset focused on managing costs within a limit budget. The new platforms and approaches discussed above enable a shift in mindset. CFOs can become wise investors rather than cost managers. Through automation of transactional work and accurate data management, CFOs will be equipped to better focus on the right outcomes. They can use data insights to be more targeted and discerning about where they invest to drive value for the organization.
CFOs are strongly positioned to lead change, rather than be in the back office crunching numbers after the change has happened. In fact, 71% of those we surveyed agree that the CFO is best positioned to lead any initiative to use digital approaches to improve organization-wide performance. And as CFOs begin to prove their ability to achieve outcomes for the public service agency, they will build trust among other parts of the business.
New role, new possibilities
CFOs are redefining the value they bring to their organizations—and there is great value to unlock. Finance leaders have strong ambitions—8 in 10 of those surveyed believe there has never been a more exciting time to be a senior finance leader. I agree, so let’s encourage and support CFOs on their journey to drive new technology, unlock the power of data and create new value in public service.
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