How Technology Helps CFOs Move Beyond Collecting Data To Analysis

Written by: Claude Changarnier 

I’ve been working in the world of finance for large companies—for one company in particular—for well over twenty years. Like everyone else, the Finance organizations (and CFOs in particular) have undergone a terrific evolution thanks in large part to progress in technology. Twenty or thirty years ago, we spent most of our time managing transactions using big, complicated systems. It was our job to find the data and present it, primarily to the leadership team. Back then, the biggest power in the CFO’s office was access to this data.

Today, it’s a different story, thanks in large part to advances in technology. Modern business systems make it relatively easy for us to provide the right information to the right people at the right time, even when organizations are physically separated. These innovations have been helping us move away from this job of managing transactions, where we have to get information through an IT person. Now, many people across the company—in various roles—can have access to the data, in real time. For me, that means tracking data on 110 subsidiaries worldwide, and making sure the appropriate people in each organization have access to the data they need to make decisions that will result in success for them and for Microsoft as a whole.

Not surprisingly, my department and I are now are perceived differently these days; we’re advisors and consultants…not just to the leadership team but to organizations, such as sales and HR, that are vital to the success of the company as a whole. We use these tools to gather information directly—quickly—and then help each department unlock the meaning of the data points and determine how best to move forward. My focus now is on analyzing the data, not just providing it—based on the data, for instance, how can we increase revenue or control costs? Now we can use real-time insight and analysis on up-to-date financial and operational performance to inspire action.

For example, we can help the sales team by giving them real insight about their customers. The way we do our job today—it’s not just to show up with some report. We are working extremely closely with sales people to help them understand where they are doing well and where they need help.

Let me give you another example of how technology makes our job easier. At Microsoft International, we benchmark all sorts of KPIs—cost per head, revenue per head, and so on—and we make that information available to all our subsidiaries can see how they are doing. They can see where they fall in the spectrum—are they doing very well compared with the other subsidiaries? I don’t have to tell them. If they are not doing well, they can look at the subs that are and figure out how to apply some of those best practices.

The world is moving at a rapid pace. Speed and agility are essential in responding changes like shifting markets and changes to regulatory requirements. Modern systems have helped me manage this complexity, streamline business processes, and provide insights into the vast amount of business data to make smarter and better decisions for my company.

Claude Changarnier is CFO at Microsoft International