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The keynote theme  “Transforming the Finance Function to thrive in a Digital World” set the tone of the entire SAP Financials Insiders conference.  “Digital Transformation was evident throughout the event.  From the Digital Finance transformation keynote to the virtual reality demos and digital caricatures on the exhibit floor.”  Was the feedback from Dave Williams, Head of EPM Marketing, SAP. 

A Digital Finance Function will be the Key to a Successful Digital Business

Ivo Bauermann, GVP and GM, EPM Solutions, SAP kicked off the event on March 15th to an audience of around 2,000 people at the MGM, Las Vegas.   In the keynote, Bauermann shared the impact that digitalization is having on finance. Finance organizations are faced with many challenges.  They need to support new business models, address new competitive threats, while providing instant insight to their business stakeholders.   All while trying to increase automation to reduce cycle times, mitigating new risks inherent in a digital economy and complying with complex regulations.  This leads to two conclusions on how to thrive in a digital economy.

     1) Having a digital core is critical.

     2) A digital finance function will be the key to a successful digital business.

Insights from Industry Leaders and the Audience

Bauermann was joined on stage by a panel of experts including Jonathan Feinstein, Vice President, Insurance Finance, New York Life Insurance Company; Celina Rogers, Vice President and Editorial Director at CFO Publishing; John Steele, Principal and Head of the US SAP Finance Transformation Practice at Deloitte Consulting; and Scott L. Mitchell, Chairman of OCEG.  An interactive element was introduced with the audience weighing in on questions like “What does digital transformation mean to you?”  The results are included below:

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John Feinstein agreed with the audience, of whom 63% said that digital transformation for New York Life covers many aspects; growth of the existing business, reinventing the company, and simplifying processes and systems. Feinstein articulated that digital transformation allowed New York Life to focus on the how. Focusing on digital transformation also enabled New York Life to make better use of the data that was available. They have been able to get the right information into the hands of the correct people and been able to perform advanced analytics.

John Steele from Deloitte highlighted that finance organizations are at a major inflection point.  He said proactive CFOs are shaping their organizations to act as a catalyst for the business.  All the panelists agreed that CFOs want to understand how technology can help them in their transformation journey.  Celina Rogers from CFO.com shared that from recent research it is clear that finance executives are now thinking about digital transformation in a broader, all-encompassing way. Transformation is more than just simplifying processes.  The impact of transformation expands from finance to the business beyond.

Rogers also emphasized that the changing expectations of employees is having an impact on systems as well. Employees want enterprise systems to be easy to use and provide information that allows them to do their jobs better and directly impact results.  The panelists agreed that technology innovation can help finance provide near real-time guidance to their business executives.  This means that a partnership between IT and Finance becomes even more critical.  In the audience 66% said they are already well on their way to a digital finance transformation.

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Scott Mitchell, OCEG, recommended including risk and reward analysis in the planning process.  Companies that do regulatory compliance well can now have a competitive advantage.   

John Feinstein concluded the panel with some good advice for success for digital transformation projects.

      1. Ensure executive support
      2. Keep you end goal in mind
      3. Find a good partner.

Digital Enterprise in Action

Bauermann then showed a Digital Enterprise in action.  SAP shared some of the innovative solutions that can help transform how businesses run in a digital world. From being able to plan, report, manage risk and make decisions in a Digital Boardroom.   

Karuna Mukerjea, Senior Director, EPM Product Marketing, modelling the virtual reality digital boardroom glasses below, reflected that during this conference it is clear that “Analytics is becoming a key part of the finance conversation”.

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Insights from the Executive Suite

Michael Pearl, partner from PWC, continued the digital theme in the afternoon keynote by sharing insights from PWC’s 19th Annual CEO survey, about how we’re redefining success in a changing world.   His summary of the survey showed that CEOs are facing a business environment that’s becoming increasing complicated.  CEOs are still concerned about geopolitical uncertainty, regulation, scarcity of skills, exchange rate volatility. Cyber security is now in the top 10 list of concerns.  Another aspect, which I think closely aligns with increased digitalization is the influence or a wider group of stakeholders.  Customer behavior is becoming more sophisticated.  The survey reports that customers are looking at how companies conduct themselves in the global society.  Mobile connectivity and social media are driving buying behavior and arming customers with more information than ever.  Unclear or inconsistent standards or regulations are still seen as a major hurdles.  Technology is seen as critical for CEOs to help them respond to stakeholder expectations.   R&D and innovation technologies were seen as generating the greatest return in terms of successful stakeholder engagement. Being able to use data to provide insights in areas more than just financialprofit, to drive business decisions was critical.  All of these areas are core to finance.  Therefore finance can take a leading role and help drive transformation.

More insights from the conference will be covered in my next blog.  To continue the discussion on the pivotal role finance will play in digital transformation, join us at SAPPHIRE NOW and follow us @SAPFinance on Twitter.

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