CFO role morphs into ‘company venture capitalist’
AccountingWEB spoke with Unit4 chief executive Stephan Sieber to find out why he believes company finance leaders are morphing into internal investors, using bots to cut down on routine admin work and data to make decisions about the future direction of their business.
After leading Unit4 for almost a year Sieber delivered his first keynote at the Dutch software vendor’s annual Connect Conference, and speaking with AccountingWEB prior to the event Sieber asserted his belief that the CFO needs to become the ‘venture capitalist’ of their company or risk becoming obsolete.
For Sieber understanding the trade-off decisions companies need to make around balancing resources is crucial, whether that’s allocating funds or staff to an internal project, or bidding for an external contract.
“In a project-driven world where within minutes, hours, days or weeks the CFO needs to take decisions on whether to go for a project or not, having the data available is vital,” he said.
Sieber sees finance leaders increasingly playing the role of internal investor in their company’s future.
“It’s about looking forward,” he said. “What works well, where you want to fast-track growth, what doesn’t work so well and to correct it. If you can’t fix it or give it the required priority then you probably should stay away from that market segment or project type”.
Bots and budgeting tools
Two separate but complimentary pieces of technology are helping to make Sieber’s assertion a reality.
On the one hand bots like Unit4’s Wanda are designed to cut down the amount of routine administration done by the finance department by automating tasks such as expenses, approval workflows and timesheets as much as possible.
On the other hand powerful forecasting, planning and budgeting tools fed by financial and non-financial data are being used to predict the future with increasing accuracy.
How do you make humans more productive?
Over the past two years the Dutch software company has chosen to narrow its focus on the service sector, with former company CEO José Duarte admitting at last year’s conference that the company had spread themselves too thinly in the past.
“Having the service industry focus we do, we work in a sector where human beings are the most important production factor,” said Sieber, “so the question ‘how do you make human beings more productive?’ is overarching.
Economists have pointed to a generational shift occurring in the labour force, with mature economies finding that an aging population leaves them with a shrinking pool of potential workers. This has left companies looking for alternative ways to increase growth, and as you might expect for the chief executive of a software vendor Sieber believes that putting technology front and centre is the answer to the productivity gap.
“Our objective and overarching purpose remains to help individuals to be more productive,” said Sieber. “Our research has found employees on average spend more than half their time on non-core tasks, which is a massive waste of productivity and human potential.
“We want people-centric organisations to achieve economies of scale that previously were only possible to achieve in highly automated industries, and software plays a big part in this”.