Navigating Economic Uncertainty: Three Strategies for 2016 and Beyond

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We all know that constant change is a business reality. But can it be a career booster, too?

In our recent report, “CFO Indicator Q1 2016: Big Data, Better Vision: The Agile CFO,” we found that CFOs who can use big data to drive business strategy and forecasting in these uncertain times are poised to take on greater influence in their organization. It’s an opportunity tied to an overall expansion of the CFO’s job description, or what Morris Treadway—KPMG global head of financial management and global lead for EPM Center of Excellence—calls the “renaissance of the CFO.”

Here are three ways to make change work for you:

Strategy 1: Plan for multiple scenarios

At our recent CFO Symposium, Splunk Chairman (and former president and CEO) Godfrey Sullivan told a roomful of rapt CFOs that what he and other CEOs need from them is to be a great coach. “Whether it’s coaching a business plan process or coaching the trade-offs between various initiatives solving departmental priorities, all that generally happens in a CFO’s office. So the No. 1 thing that I need is for that CFO to be my partner and to be my coach to the team when I am not there.”

Being a great coach includes being able to turn data into a story that the company staff can get behind. But how do you craft a narrative if you don’t know for sure what the future holds? The answer: Create more than one narrative.

Nearly half (48%) of the CFOs surveyed said planning for multiple scenarios is the smartest way to deal with uncertainty. What kind of uncertainty, you ask? More than two-thirds of respondents cite economic instability as the greatest financial risk for their organization. Regulatory trepidation is also widespread as the U.S. presidential election looms, with 64% of respondents calculating what-if scenarios in anticipation of regulatory changes. CFOs also see regulation as a key focus area over the next three years (72%).

Strategy 2: Leverage cloud-based finance software

The amount, diversity, and veracity of data is growing at unprecedented rates, and CFOs are increasingly using cloud-computing software to help plan and manage everything from financial forecasting to interdepartmental collaboration.

CFOs estimate that 33% of their IT infrastructure today is software as a service (SaaS) but expect that share to grow to 60% in four years. Most respondents say their SaaS is dedicated to financial planning, and more specifically to dashboards and analytics. This makes sense, since our study also found that CFOs believe their role should combine financial data analysis with the kind of easy and innovative reports that SaaS makes possible.

But Murray Demo, CFO of Atlassian, pointed out during the CFO Symposium that the technology itself won’t solve everything. Once again, an ability to play a more strategic role in the organization emerged as a key theme. Interdepartmental collaboration, Demo believes, is necessary to really make use of advanced technology.

Explains Demo, “Just like the planning process cuts across the whole company … business processes touch every organization. If sales ops kind of wants this, but finance needs this, and support wants this data, it just gets very challenging. If we all came together and saw an end-to-end process, and if there’s something in it for everyone … then we’d get the motion going to deliver.”

In other words, getting everyone in the organization on board with optimal processes is key to applying the accurate analysis and forecasting that technology allows.

Strategy 3: Stay agile

Demo’s advice is timely since contributing more to company-wide decisions is already on the minds of CFOs. Our CFO Indicator Q1 2016 report found that many CFOs are focused on expanding their role to include more strategic value. Strategic value will also be key to CFO advancement.

According to the 2015 KPMG Global CEO Outlook Survey, “The view from the top,” which we compare to our findings throughout the report, the No. 1 hindrance to CFOs becoming CEOs is their lack of commercial or non-finance experience, which relates to a perceived weakness in company strategy.

To challenge the perception that the CFO is too narrowly focused to advance, agility is key. The CFO role has evolved from a traditional accounting-based position to an analytics-driven job that over the next four years will increasingly oversee talent management, financial data and analytics, capitalization of market opportunities with IT, and corporate governance.

Providing a coach-like influence across departments will be necessary to succeed in this new role. Many CFOs report that to support their growing position they will rely on technology like Excel, enterprise resource planning software, and customer relationship management software, in addition to cloud-based solutions like Adaptive Planning and other planning software.

Today’s CFO relies on collaboration and smart technology

With shifting global and domestic markets and a major election in high gear, the only certainty is that change is ahead for CFOs. A successful CFO will be technically and analytically savvy with a coach-like attitude that rallies diverse departments in his or her organization. He or she will be familiar with the wealth of planning and analytical SaaS solutions available, how to use them to his or her organization’s advantage, and how to clearly explain what that data all means to the board and to all members of the organization.

Sure, the horizon may be blurry now, but a wise CFO knows that moving forward productively is still possible with careful attention to planning and analysis, the right cloud-based technology, and an agile frame of mind.

For more on these and other findings, access our full CFO Indicator Q1 2016 report here.

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