by Thor Olavsrud

Does the CFO Need to Become a Technologist?

May 23, 20144 mins
AnalyticsBig DataIT Leadership

Technology like big data analytics is disrupting roles throughout the enterprise, including the CFO role. Today's CFOs need to understand how technology can help them do their jobs.

Technology today, particularly big data and analytics, is disrupting roles throughout the enterprise, whether it’s the CIO that needs to seek new ways to be a strategic partner to the business or the CMO constantly faced with decisions about technology that can make the marketing function more data-driven and efficient. Even the CFO role is not immune.

“The CFO doesn’t really have to be a technologist, but they have to understand how the power of technology can help them do their job,” says Nicole Anasenes, CFO of enterprise software solutions specialist Infor. “The pressures on the CFO are not terribly different than they’ve always been, but the interconnectedness of the world and the rate of change adds to it. They need to react to change quickly with speed and flexibility.”

Anasenes was a panelist at the Bloomberg CFO Summit this week on the topic: “Dealing with New Technology and Building a Business Case for It.”

big data analytics, big data, CFO

In today’s business world, Anasenes says, the CFO is focused on reducing costs, speed (especially improved time to value) and flexibility — all achieved in a secure way. Technology, particularly cloud computing and analytics, is the key to improving in all three areas.

Anasenes was joined on the panel by Mike Olson, COO of Hadoop specialist Cloudera. To remain effective in today’s technology-driven world, Olson says the CFO must seek to strengthen relationships throughout the enterprise.

“The CIO or a line of business leader is a key ally in thinking about these new capabilities,” he says.

However, he notes that it’s important to consider that the CIO and line of business leaders often come from different perspectives. In general, the CIO will tend to view the world through a lens of cost containment, he says. In the analytics space, they tend to first be attracted to the potential for cheap and deep storage that drives costs down. But once the infrastructure allows the enterprise to put all of its data in one place (as in the enterprise data hub model Cloudera uses), new analytic workloads emerge — like fraud detection.

Line of business leaders, on the other hand, focus more on revenue-generating projects in the analytics space. For instance, they might want to pursue behavioral analytics that give them a 360-degree view of each customer.

“That’s going to give you much better targeting or engagement as a result,” Olson says.

Data Should Be an Asset on the Balance Sheet

As more and more businesses tap the power of their data, Olson predicts that data itself will become an asset on the balance sheet that CFOs will have to reckon with.

“Data ought to be a balance sheet asset,” he says. “I really believe that’s true. Data will drive new businesses. How do you value it accurately? I don’t think we know the answer to that question yet. But I do believe we have some examples of that valuation. Data about customers creates opportunities for the business. That data about customers ought to be a central focus of the CIO’s organization and the line of business leaders. What do we know about our customers? How can we expand our information about our customers? How can we monetize that data? That monetization really amounts to a valuation of that data.”

For her part, Anasenes says she’s not ready to add data as an item on the balance sheet. But she agrees that companies are becoming inherently differentiated based on their ability to leverage their data. Those organizations better able to glean automated, real-time insights from their data will have a serious competitive advantage over their rivals.

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Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.