Growing Your Income

Turning Data Into Business Insight: Finance And IT Converging

We live and work in the era of “Big Data,” and increasingly rely on data analysis and insight to make business decisions. But with the technology having moved so far so quickly, many CFOs have struggled to keep up. It’s all the more essential, then, for CFOs to work as closely as possible with CIOs and other IT leaders to ensure the strengths of both departments are being brought to bear on generating insight in real-time. This was a topic I recently discussed with Hamza Benamar, CFO of Kyriba, a global leader in cloud Treasury and finance solutions for CFOs and their teams. Hamza explored not just Kyriba’s offerings in this area but the broader ways in which finance and IT can – and must – collaborate to drive value for the long-term.

Jeff Thomson: CFOs and their Treasury teams depend on real-time information from their banking partners for strategic decision making. Yet many of the systems CFOs and Treasury use are not optimized for this type of information exchange to occur. Your company provides technology solutions to improve the type and quality of information finance teams receive from their banks. How did you come to understand this pain point for CFOs? How has your two-decade long career in international finance informed your ability to provide technology solutions that address real-world problems for CFOs?

Hamza Benamar: As CFO for Kyriba, access to timely information from financial institutions, market data, third-party service providers and our own internal business intelligence has always been of utmost importance and the optimal starting point for many finance functions. Bank reporting is one of those capabilities that must be automated, accurate and fast. Establishing a daily baseline with real-time, synchronous reporting with continual updates ensures CFOs and treasurers are working off the most accurate and up to date information. Applying cash, payment and making investment decisions in minutes is becoming the new norm over past standards of using day, week or month-old information. The decision to invest, pay down debt, withhold large payments in times of “crunched” liquidity are all made easier with a sound and real-time bank reporting capability. In a rising interest rate environment, it’s especially important to know where your cash is, the status of receivables and what may be going in or out on an hourly basis. If a banking partner or investor is looking for data, we should be able to deliver that in the same day [and] same hour in some cases.

My goal is to streamline as much manual process as possible so my finance and accounting teams can spend more time on analysis. Having intelligent automation, real-time connections and de-batched information supports this reality for our teams in finance and our business partners. The application of receipts, the clear status of payments and balances across the entire span of bank accounts helps keep surpluses invested and future shortfalls planned for. Liquidity decisions affect the entire organization, not just finance and accounting. The quality, completeness and location of the information creates better decision making to support strategic investment decisions for new development, M&A decisions and expansion.

I’m always trying to solve the right problem and determine the most accessible path to growth. Having real-time data in a BI dashboard gives me the tools to move a project forward and help my business partners reach their objectives. In some cases, the data also points to limiting projects or redefining the project scope to hit business targets.

Thomson: In the wake of the pandemic, CFOs focused on accelerating digital transformation initiatives and partnering with CIOs to deploy technology solutions, both within the finance team and across the organization. What is your advice for CFOs who now must work collaboratively with IT for solutions to problems? What are some of the challenges and benefits of cross-collaboration with IT?

Benamar: Because of the talent and time constraints IT teams face, CIOs are seeking greater productivity. When it comes to recommending technology solutions, CIOs must consider the capabilities within the tech stack that the C-Suite uses. For example, can the office of the CFO provide guidance to streamline IT initiatives and maximize the opportunity for growth in finance and across the organization? The answer, thanks to innovation in finance technology, is “yes.” CFO and CIOs can and should collaborate to introduce new apps into existing processes that connect real-time processing, data analysis and AI solutions that unlock liquidity for the benefit of the organization.

Transformation initiatives to digitally arm finance with better strategic liquidity can be started and managed by finance, given a strong partnering mentality and dynamic is created. One enabler of finance contribution is finding technology platforms for liquidity and treasury management with strong finance data security and certifications. IT can relinquish some level of oversight to finance since there are less risks to the integrity of the overall finance systems landscape. This is not a departure from the IT and finance partnership, but rather a way to empower CFOs to take greater share of the finance digital transformation in achieving true enterprise liquidity management success.

My advice to any CFO and treasurer is to focus on the areas creating problems and to do so, use KPIs and measurable metrics that help build a strong business value case. This should be done before the project is completed using KPIs to create benchmarks for your real-time and automation initiatives.

Thomson: As CFOs continue to build out the digital capabilities of their teams, what are the primary competencies they should consider when recruiting and promoting staff? What skills will be more in-demand in the years ahead? Furthermore, how should finance and accounting educational programs update themselves accordingly?

Benamar: The demands of a digital and globally connected economy are driving the need for new skillsets in the wake of the great resignation and hybrid work dynamics. Data science in finance is a new and in-demand skill set. As an aspiring finance leader, a drive to solve the right problem and leverage data are key.

I like to continually challenge my teams to drive new ways to aggregate data and convert it to valued information in real-time. The employees we hire and staff should be capable of advancing improvements and strategic information while automating the repetitive.

There are several areas I see advancing the ability for finance and treasury to drive financial real-time digital transformations resulting in greater employee satisfaction and value:

  • Payments – Real-time payment use cases now clearly create opportunities to reduce FX costs, identify the value of unoptimized payment discounts and payment terms across supplier spend, and [to] reconstruct a digitized payment policy to combat payments fraud, help modernize finance teams, reduce costs and unlock new business opportunities.
  • Application Programming Interface or APIs –Data unification, increased internal governance and two-way instant conversations between ERP, treasury, and banking partners are all use cases brought to life through APIs. Empowering employees to envision and design extreme automation through composable financial systems connected via APIs increases the value of ERP platforms and eliminates the need for manual work and semi-automation.
  • Artificial Intelligence – AI continues to enhance digital transformation and accelerate decision support for CFOs. IT must work together with finance leaders to identify key areas where AI can enable transformation across the enterprise. Data science is an excellent bridge for IT and finance. This is the key starting point in understanding how to use data, implement the right KPIs and to leverage AI to predict behaviors in areas such as cash forecasting, reconciliations and payments.
  • Workflow Redesign – With full-time remote work and hybrid work now a norm post-Covid, treasurers and organizations will need to rebuild business continuity plans that protect daily treasury workflows such as payments, cash reporting and bank account management.