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FP&A Roundtable: Moving Up the Technology Ladder

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A
  • Published: 10/29/2019
RT Tech

Corporate practitioners shared stories of frustration and success at moving up the technology ladder during an FP&A Roundtable at AFP 2019, sponsored by IBM on behalf of QueBIT. Increasing your capabilities is essential, but execution is hard.

“We have tried three major IT projects in finance and achieved nothing,” said one frustrated FP&A professional. “How are you getting it done?”

In this peer-mentoring session, the group provided many useful takeaways for each other, highlighted below.

Tailor your digital roadmap to your situation.

  • The roadmap may be focused on a single tool that needs to be implanted between budget cycles, or broad in view, as members referenced the AFP 2019 educational session detailing American Express’ seven-year transformation journey.
  • In designing your roadmap, interview your stakeholders to see what they need and design for that functionality; it also serves to build supporting allies around the company.
  • “Change fatigue” from successive implementations can dull the motivation of the best employees; the roadmap can combat this by showing progress towards a goal.
  • It may be useful to build your own roadmap due to a limited view of market options; outside consultants can guide the discussions to navigate different technologies, vendors and the vision process.
  • To help win support for your plan, consider showing how easy it is to ask FP&A a question, but how hard it is to get the answer in the current system.

Work closely with IT.

  • In the best case, finance can have a tight partnership with IT.
    • “Two in a box” leadership describes a project where ownership responsibility exists with both functions, and both leaders have their name in a box on top of the project org chart.
    • You may even be able to have an IT relationship partner embedded in finance. One participant reported that they hired their own IT person to sit in finance with a dotted line back to the IT.
  • In a counter example, the IT team was focused on delivering services to external customers rather than internal teams. In this case, the finance team chose cloud solutions where they controlled the administration of the SaaS software.
  • In all cases, cultivate a strong relationship with IT project managers, who can translate business requirements to technical requirements.

Uncover, hire or rent your enthusiasts.

  • Many people at the roundtable reported that they “uncovered” people with tech skills or aptitudes that were not obvious, in use, or realized. Often a good project will attract or transform staff members and can redirect an employee’s career in exciting ways.
  • It’s a good idea to hire finance people with a “tendency towards technology,” as demonstrated through interview aptitude questions, experience with APIs, SQL, and building structured data tables.
  • Some FP&A departments may opt to outsource rather than hire; assess the situation and use your best judgment. “If we have some work to be done and are going to need the skill for the three years, we will hire or train for it; otherwise, we use consultants,” explained one practitioner. This keeps the employees motivated because they are developing forward-looking skills.

Train up your boss.

  • Several practitioners reported that their digitization efforts stopped at the CFO, who would not understand, trust or use the new technology.
  • Remember that executives are also afraid of appearing dumb or unaware, so consider private training sessions, sharing “tips” as a euphemism for training, or send them offsite classes to get them onboard.
  • Mainstream the use of technology in meetings and regular operations so that the new technology is routinized.

AFP 2019 may have just wrapped up, but AFP 2020 in Las Vegas will be here before you know it. Interested in speaking? Submit a session proposal for the conference today.

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