CFOs are fast becoming “digital stewards,” central to companywide decisions about cloud services as well as adoption of cloud-based emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain.
That technical influence jibes with the CFO’s expanding role overall. Some 81% of the finance leaders who responded to a recent Accenture survey said one of their main responsibilities is to identify business areas that add new value, and 77% said they should drive business-wide operational transformation.
“The CFO role has evolved over the last several years, from accountant to business partner to a strategic adviser across the entire enterprise, becoming the economic guardian of planned outcomes for digital investments,” says Steve Culp, global head of Accenture’s Finance & Risk practice. “CFOs are fast becoming the digital stewards of their organizations, leveraging predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to better interpret data for key business decisions…beyond the finance function.”
Those expanded responsibilities require CFOs and their finance departments to become more fluent in those technologies, notes Christian Campagna, a senior managing director with Accenture Strategy. “The CFOs who step up to manage these opportunities will be the true guardians of the enterprise,” he says.
This was a consistent message at Oracle OpenWorld 2018, held last month in San Francisco. But one of the obstacles to gaining the “adaptive intelligence” rendered by AI and machine learning algorithms is that many products require companies to figure out how to integrate those capabilities into their current IT environments—and AI talent is in short supply. The US alone is short about 150,000 people with the needed data science skills, according to an August 2018 report by LinkedIn.
The dearth (and high price tag) of AI talent makes it vital for cloud vendors to integrate such emerging capabilities into their cloud applications, so customers don’t have to, said Juergen Lindner, Oracle senior vice president of ERP cloud marketing, during a panel session at Oracle OpenWorld.
At the conference, the company announced five new Oracle ERP Cloud features that incorporate machine learning, letting finance teams reduce costs, enhance supplier relationships, improve financial and operational decision-making, and protect data:
• Intelligent Process Automation. One of machine learning’s main attributes is that it identifies data patterns over time to automate tasks that applications based on static business rules cannot. This new feature can identify opportunities to reduce the time staffers spend on such financial tasks as processing invoices, matching transactions, and reconciling accounts.
• Expense Reporting Assistant. This new chatbot assistant can help all employees—particularly the most valuable ones—spend less time on filing expense reports. It can also improve accuracy and help ensure that company policies are consistently followed.
• Intelligent Payments. Using machine learning, this new feature can take advantage of up-to-date internal and third-party data on suppliers to generate vendor-specific payment offers—potentially enabling a company to negotiate better prices with suppliers in exchange for early payment.
• Supplier Recommendations. This feature can combine internal ERP data about suppliers, purchase orders, invoices, payables, and other details with external data sources to help companies choose the best suppliers.
• Advanced Access Controls. This feature can help protect business data from insider threats, fraud, misuse, and human error by constantly comparing all users, roles, and privileges against a library of security rules—across general ledger, payables, receivables, and fixed assets. Embedded machine learning also helps to identify fraud patterns.
Another critical focus for CFOs is ensuring that the right employees have access to the right data throughout the company.
At Oracle OpenWorld, Lindner cautioned audience members about the “cloud hairball”—multiple services from multiple vendors that aren’t integrated with one another. This structure can not only inhibit process automation, he said, but it can also hinder the flow of information from one system to another.
That information flow will become even more important once all applications come embedded with AI and blockchain capabilities—which will happen by 2025, predicted Oracle CEO Mark Hurd during his opening keynote at Oracle OpenWorld. “This nonsense about these are separate solutions and you’re going to extract data from an application, send it to some other solution that’s called blockchain or AI—that’s not how the market’s going to go,” he said.
Hurd also predicted that AI and other emerging technologies will change the tech industry so fast in the coming years that 60% of the IT jobs that will exist in 2025 haven’t even been invented yet. “I believe there will be more people in IT in the future,” he said, “but working on a different set of tasks.”
From IT to finance through virtually every corner of a business, new technologies intertwined with ever-increasing customer expectations are already changing how successful companies operate.
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