In a fast digitalizing world, how is the role of chief financial officers (CFOs) evolving? How do they separate hype from reality when backing investment in digital technologies? Do they have a real-time or near real-time view of how their organizations are doing in the market? These were among the questions discussed in the CFO panel at the Mint Digitalist Forum 2017 by SAP. Panellists in the discussion—which was moderated by Leslie D’Monte, national technology editor of Mint—included Bharat Moossaddee, executive vice-president and CFO of Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd; Christian Rummel, executive director and CFO of Siemens Ltd; Kedar Upadhye, CFO of Cipla Ltd; Wieland Schreiner, executive vice-president of SAP S/4HANA at SAP SE; and Anant Bhagwati, partner at Bain and Co. in Mumbai. Edited excerpts:
Upadhye: For a pharmaceutical company like Cipla, the value gets created in manufacturing, research and development, and through the field force. For scientists working in the labs or people working on the shop floor, it becomes critical to empower their roles through investment in digital tools.
Moossaddee: In a group of our size (Rs1,800 crore revenue last fiscal year), the information technology (IT) and finance functions need to be very integrated. IT is no longer a support function; it is clearly an enabling function. The role of CFO and CIO (chief information officer) has combined to become the chief insight officer.
Rummel: In the past we used to spend too much time on collection of data and too little on making sense of it. And while we put in place the applications that retrieve the data, the question is, “How do we focus on the relevant information?” With digital, there is a lot of automation and data-driven decision-making has become the order of the day.
Schreiner: With digitization you can focus very much on each individual—what people call a “unit or segment of one”. Also, in many cases, the value of each business transaction you do may shrink—but the number of transactions grows manifold.
Bhagwati: Data will become ubiquitous and transparent. But do we clearly understand where the few things are where the digital value-add really happens? The role of the CFO is to keep a tab on this value creation; if the value addition doesn’t happen in the next quarter or six months or a year, the investors are going to show their frustration.