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article imageQ&A: CFO's are powering CX and digital transformation Special

By Tim Sandle     Mar 31, 2020 in Business
When it comes to the CFO, modernizing customer experience probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet CFO’s are crucial in driving the modernization in customer experience, which is key to many business strategies.
With a recent study showing 76 percent of respondents believing the CFO drives digital transformation in their business, the role of the CFO is changing, as Planful SVP Marketing Rowan Tonkin explains.
Tonkin looks at organizations who implement a Continuous Planning model as those who are best in control of their digital transformation initiatives: knowing what’s being spent, what’s currently coming in, and what’s predicted to come in across the entire business.
Digital Journal: How important is the customer experience for influencing digital transformation initiatives?
Rowan Tonkin: We’re seeing a massive modernization in customer experience, and CFOs have become crucial in driving customer experience programs and digital transformation initiatives. Some of those initiatives include:
Fast and simple sales cycles
Innovative products that are easy to use and solve real problems
Product roadmaps that continuously elevate your customers’ ability to perform and excel in their organizations
World-class customer care and support that ensures customers are happy and always have their questions and issues addressed immediately
Traditionally, CFOs have had aspirations to address these initiatives but have often lacked the time and resources necessary to execute because they’ve been bogged down with mundane tasks and bookkeeping. Now with Continuous Planning, CFO’s have a better pulse on revenue that’s currently coming in and what’s predicted to come in. This allows the Finance team to easily see where the organization may need to implement additional resources and enables department leaders across the organization to make a business case for specific customer experience programs and digital transformation initiatives that will drive business value.
DJ: How important is digital transformation for businesses?
Tonkin: The world is changing faster than ever before and businesses need to be able to adapt in the face of uncertainty. Continuous Planning is digital transformation in the purest sense of the word—a technology-enabled vision that involves tools, processes, and workflows that empower finance and business leaders to continuously make smarter decisions about the strategic goals and initiatives that drive their company’s success. It’s a matter of quickly reacting and responding to unforeseen events as they happen—such as a major geopolitical incident or global health crisis, like we’re currently seeing with the COVID-19 pandemic—while also proactively anticipating change and having plans in place for every scenario.
Companies would do well to embrace digital transformation if they want to respond confidently and proactively to changing business conditions, mitigate against unexpected risks, and capitalize on new opportunities as they emerge. With the right technology, processes, and culture in place, companies gain a competitive advantage as they become more agile, make better decisions, and allocate resources more intelligently.
DJ: Is digital transformation all about technology?
Tonkin:Every digital transformation initiative is centered around technology—it’s the main catalyst that enables change. However, a business will never fully reach its potential without the right processes, training, and culture in place. Workflows and collaboration will look dramatically different when there’s an AI-enabled cloud-based Continuous Planning platform involved. It will take some training to get the users proficient with the tools and data in their day-to-day work, as it’s not simply a matter of plugging the technologies in place and sitting back and waiting for the transformation to happen. It takes an active and intentional effort to make the technology work for you, and not the other way around.
DJ: Who should be leading the Digital Transformation charge?
Tonkin:Knowing how the company is currently performing and how it’s expected to perform in the future, puts the Finance department in a unique position to ensure the company invests in digital transformation.
The perception of the Finance department as a “service desk” function has evolved. Finance, in reality, serves as a cross-functional strategic advisor to the entire organization. With Finance, the digital transformation conversation—from getting executive buy-in all the way to implementing, living, and breathing it—begins from a place of high organizational financial IQ. A place where the concrete realities of the entire business are factored in and customer experience programs or digital transformation decisions being made never lose sight of the bottom line.
DJ: How can a Continuous Planning framework help?
Tonkin:Continuous Planning takes root as a digitization initiative by the FP&A team to move off spreadsheets and reduce their manual financial close, consolidation, planning, and reporting cycles. Finance teams are able to collaborate with other departments more frequently and effectively through a cloud-based automated platform. Full digital transformation takes place when Finance leaders are driving accelerated planning cycles across the entire organization, incorporating financial insights and planning into every aspect of the business, whether that be marketing, supply chain, or customer experience.
The desired outcome of Continuous Planning is when non-financial functions such as HR or Sales and Marketing are actively incorporating financial insights into their own decision making—e.g. how will a certain marketing spend affect the overall revenue forecast? Instead of going back-and-forth with Finance and struggling to understand the financial data, the Marketing team can interact directly with Finance within the platform based on the latest data. This allows departments to start a conversation at a much higher level—hence the importance of high financial IQ across the organization—and receive strategic counsel from Finance rather than expecting explanations/gatekeeping.
DJ: Are there any case studies you can share?
Tonkin:The Boston Red Sox, an American professional baseball team, went from a manual spreadsheet-based planning process, to a modern Continuous Planning framework where they now run and adjust forecasts monthly, saving half-to-one million dollars a year in Excel-related expenses. “Because we’re able to be more proactive and forecast over the course of a year we saved an additional half-million to $1 million in expenses that otherwise would have been water under the bridge in the old, Excel-driven world.”
Planar is a global leader in developing visualization products from gas station displays to world-class displays that NASA uses to track everything from orbital launches to debris that’s flying through the air. After an acquisition by a foreign conglomerate, they were inspired to move off Excel, keeping overhead flat while doubling revenue thanks to Continuous Planning. As their Manager of FP&A said to us, Planar has “doubled revenue from roughly $175 million to $350 million and held overhead flat. We haven’t eliminated expenses but have become increasingly more efficient.” Planful’s Continuous Planning platform has enabled Planar to deploy a monthly forecasting process where each new forecast is updated by day 3 of each month.
This impressed their new owners so much that their unit ended up running the parent company’s Finances, impacting the wider corporation.
LT Apparel, a supplier of owned and licensed brands of children’s clothing with relationships with more than 1,800 local and national outlets, was previously Excel-only and reporting requests would take four-five hours each time. With a Continuous Planning approach, those requests would take five minutes, a reduction of 98 percent. Their VP of Finance and Corporate Strategy stated: “The whole budget process as we know it is going to be gone.”
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