Digital disruption took center stage at the recently concluded FinNext 2019 for financial planning and analysis (FP&A) practitioners. More than 300 attendees and a dozen exhibitors gathered to discuss the state of FP&A and how the profession can thrive amid transformative change driven primarily by new technology.
Interestingly, though, many attendees and educational session leaders said that the best way for FP&A to cope with digital disruption is to be better business partners. “The only way you’re going to be able to really drive business transformation is by business partnering,” said Brian Mehr, FP&A, assistant vice president, financial planning and analysis, for Southern New Hampshire University.
Mehr was one of three panelists to speak in the session, “Thriving in the Digital Age.” When FP&A connects with other stakeholders with the organization, he said, “you’re only going to be more successful, and that involves relationships.”
“The key is to be humble in the sense that you realize that you yourself don’t have the answers,” added panelist David Cooperman, vice president of finance with Hunter Douglas. “You’re more of a shepherd. And you shepherd by sharing the vision, sharing the goals. And then work it out together—that’s how you’re going to get buy-in.”
When working to drive strategic business outcomes, “it can’t just be a finance exercise,” said Frank Chou, CTP, FP&A. Chou, who is senior FP&A manager with H&T Battery Components, led a session on “Finance for E-Commerce Fulfillment.” In order to understand the business from a finance perspective, he said, “you need input from your partners. So it’s really vital that you work with operations.”
Interestingly, finance and FP&A seem to be lagging in digital transformation, according to new research from The Hackett Group, presented at FinNext. According to Nilly Essaides, senior research director for Finance/EPM/FinOps with The Hackett Group, “finance is lagging a little bit in its adoption of digital technologies,” she said. “We saw that only 42 percent of finance organizations are meeting their management expectations for progress on digital transformation. And only one in five finance organizations has a mature strategy in place and the associated initiatives for digital transformation. So if you don’t have strategy, you don’t have the initiatives, you still don’t feel this massive impact on the talent. But that’s going to change fast.”
TECHNOLOGY AND DATA
Of course, popular technology like Excel and forecasting software also were discussed at FinNext. In his presentation on “Excel 2020 and Beyond,” Khaled Chowdhury, FP&A, corporate FP&A manager for KMG Chemicals, said that “if you have not checked what has come out over the last couple of years, you’re definitely missing out big.”
In a presentation on finance and artificial intelligence, presenter Koo Sing, CTO of SiteFocus, explained the promise of “natural language” and AI. “I think natural language will help you improve your product,” he said. “There are areas where you bridge the fields in between the traditional data science with machine learning and qualitative assessment with symbolic logic.”
Three keynote speakers highlighted the need to confront digital disruption in finance. Anders Sorman-Nilsson urged attendees to develop a “digilogue”—a connection between analog business practices and the new, digital present. Tricia Wang of Sudden Compass explained that organizations need a “Department of the Unknown” to bridge the gap and make sure insights from the frontlines make it to the decision-makers. And Reb Rebele discussed how leveraging data analytics can drive a collaborative workplace culture. If a single theme can unite the 23 sessions, it would be that keeping up with technology will require using the tools well, and being more human in applying them.
The FP&A track at AFP 2019 will feature sessions on digital disruption. Register for the conference here.