This unprecedented time demands deep diving into the significance of re-envisioning, re-inventing and resetting business strategies. The lockdowns and remote working scenarios have made corporates re-look at their digital transformation roadmap to ensure business continuity.
To survive or thrive in the VUCA times (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), businesses must strive towards a value-driven digital transformation journey. To deliberate upon the survival strategy and importance of digital and financial transformation, ETCFO and ETCIO in collaboration with SAP Concur organized the SAP Concur India Summit on September 8, 2020.
At this exclusive summit, Finance, Human Resource and Technology leaders across industries came together and discussed how these business functions should undergo digital transformation to emerge stronger in the ‘new normal’. They also discussed about future preparedness to respond swiftly to unexpected challenges and opportunities - highlighting the importance of redefining and reinventing our existing strategies and processes.
“Digital returns on investment (ROIs) are very important,” said the keynote speaker, Ashish Khanna, President - Renewables, Tata Power. He explained that ROI should not be determined only by the impact on top and bottom line, but the evaluation should be more employee centric. For instance, impact on productivity, employee morale, business transparency, ability to communicate and address rudimentary functions without much hassle.
Covid-19 has put technology leaders in a peculiar situation. They are expected to drive digitalization at an accelerated pace but are also marred with budget constraint challenges. In one of the panels, the main topic of discussion was optimizing costs in these uncertain times.
Are Finance Leaders in sync with Digital Transformation?
In the panel discussion on ‘Driving Financial Transformation in the VUCA World’, the speakers pondered upon how the existing business strategies and models would change forever and are unlikely to return to the ‘old normal’.
A CFO’s role is likely to become even more critical driven by analytics to drive business strategies at the forefront of this transformation. and a mindset change is equally important to accept new ways of operating. The finance function will play a primary role in supporting critical decision making, business model transformation and revenue & expenditure forecasting said one of the speakers.
“The focus should be on analytics, employees with varied skill sets, and complete view into cash flow to drive this change,” said Sridharan Rangarajan, Group CFO, Murugappa Group. Pradip Menon, CFO, Pidilite, believes that the ability and openness to adopt new technologies will drive this change. Kapil Bagadia, CFO, KPMG, however, would like businesses to utilise this time to remove complexities accumulated over the years and thus, lead in a more simplistic manner.
Simplification means eliminating the unnecessary so that the necessary can be done. Today, as many as 79% of employees link their overall finance and administrative experience with their overall satisfaction of working for their firm as per a recent study commissioned by SAP Concur, added Mankiran Chowhan, Managing Director – Indian Subcontinent, SAP Concur. She said that, “People and processes in the finance function will define what the new era looks like. It would be essential to re-skill the finance teams so that they can prioritize their time on more strategic tasks like advanced scenario planning, better visualization and cost optimization.”
In the ongoing COVID-19 scenario, organizations are identifying dependencies, areas of improvement and ways to leverage the current situation to bring in permanent changes. The fireside chat session on ‘Ensuring Cost Control & Compliance while Maintaining Visibility and Employee Experience’ turned the spotlight on companies driving financial transformation with minimal disruption to employee experience.
“In order to bring in digital transformation and integration across the organization, it is essential to have collaboration and teamwork amongst all employees. There is growing importance on the decision of build versus buy. Having a strong solution provider like SAP Concur, that understands the business and finance language, and supports your spend management decision making can make a huge difference towards simplification,” said Krishnan Ramachandran, Senior Vice President - F&A & India CFO, Hinduja Global Solutions Limited.
Talking about the key focus areas of the finance departments while conversation around digital transformation continues to grow, Vishal Maheshwari, Group Chief Financial Officer, Healthium Medtech, said, “This year is about survival, not growth. Hence, every finance leader should focus on three areas – cashflow management, driving a culture of cost consciousness and productivity and digital upskilling of our workforce. Managing these key ingredients can certainly help in driving efficiency across functions and lead to better business outcomes. Having rolled out SAP Concur last October we were able to tackle the challenges that the pandemic presented in a much more efficient manner.”
Aligning IT with Spend Management in the New Normal
Speaking on the role of technology in the current dynamic business landscape, Andy Watson, SVP & GM, APAC, SAP Concur, said, "As technology leaders shape the new normal, it is important to create leaner and efficient operations while attaining better control for the businesses to effectively adapt and ensure business continuity. Digital transformation should not only make the processes easier but also generate savings for better financial performance.”
IT and finance leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to lead the business to success. To do so, Aarthi Iyer, Solution Consultant, SAP Concur talked about three pieces of the puzzle that one needs to get right - Digitize Processes, Integrate Data and Systems and Align IT and Finance. She explained that on a macro level, the total business profitability can't be measured unless a holistic view into all the spends and expenses is available. Earlier, the companies used to look at various expenses in silos like from the travel expense vendors or service procurement vendors, or direct spend vendors. But now, the companies need to have a holistic visibility of the total expenditure. The idea is to bring together every source, category and channel for all the different types of vendor spends so that spend reallocation can be done to the priority areas.
Manoj Deorukhkar, CIO, Sterling and Wilson, said, “IT budgets will obviously be constrained. So, as CIOs, we have to focus on priorities and ROI. We should work with the business leaders to make sure that the entire digital transformation strategy is aligned with the overall business performance. In today’s time, the budgets will be approved only for the projects that show tangible returns.”
A collective view of the panelists was that digital transformation should bring in solutions that use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to refine and simplify cash flow strategies, eliminate menial activities and ensure near real-time decision making.
But the Question is How Would CFOs Manage Spends in the New Era?
Intelligent technology or better strategy, or both? The panel on the ‘Path to Intelligent Spend Management’ covered the discussion amongst three speakers on this matter.
“In early April, we did not know how to respond to the pandemic. We knew that we were in a crisis, we knew how deep it was, but we didn’t know for how long. Eventually, we started focusing on how to make employees comfortable and productive with a forward-looking approach. The technology helped in the transitions to balancing ledgers, reconciling spends, digital invoice and payables,” said Viswanath PS, CFO, Randstad India, a customer of SAP Concur
Kumar Subbiah, Chief Financial Officer, CEAT, said, “While cash is king and liquidity is important, going forward we will look at it differently.” He has never looked at cost-cutting as the only objective, as there are good as well as bad costs. “We have to figure out where not to apply the principles to cut costs. One should have the conviction and courage to incur the right costs, and for that, we have to identify the respective areas,” he added.
Adding to this, Kaleeswaran Arunachalam, CFO, Eicher Motors, said that its equally critical that one should know where to invest. He explained that if someone is investing in digital and taps the social media instead of going through the mainstream route, then that business should be aware of the expected ROI.
On the role of the CFO, Arunachalam said, “Our job is to ensure that we are dynamic and create parameters for the business to grow.” A complete and integrated view of the organisation’s expenses can help the finance leaders in the new era in gaining the necessary visibility and improving the overall financial stability by managing budgets comprehensively, forecasting accurately and deciding on the priority spend areas.
Reimagining Employee Experience
The pandemic has forced organizational and functional leaders to reimagine paths to achieve a speedy recovery in the business. Financial transformation can help the companies to make efficient changes in the processes and resume business to total regularity but employees cannot be left out of this equation. To make this situation better, reimagining employee experience holds a very important role in the process of resurrecting business operations.
Shraddhanjali Rao, Vice President, Human Resources, SAP India, elaborated on how better employee experience leads to better business opportunities and the importance of re-imagining employee experience to succeed in the current dynamic environment. Improving employee experience by rethinking the status quo is an aspect to be deeply contemplated she further added.
In the panel discussion on ‘Reimagining HR to create an agile Employee Experience’, Uma Rao, VP & Head - HR, M&HCV, Ashok Leyland, expressed how employee care has seen new dimensions and employee safety concerns are amongst the prime HR objectives today. Reflecting on employee care, Sudakshina Bhattacharya, CHRO, IL&FS Group, added, “Employee care conversations are now becoming boardroom discussions and there is an immense focus on improving employee experience and safety.”
An engaged and dedicated workforce is crucial for businesses to navigate through the current rough times. A collaborative effort between different departments – finance, HR and IT – along with adoption of digital tools to make tasks simpler and faster can go a long way in improving the overall employee experience.
After the invigorating discussions and knowledge sharing sessions, Sorabh Pant, Comedian & Writer, who also calls himself a ‘Professional Ranter’, presented a stand up for the 2000 plus audience that had enthusiastically connected for the virtual summit. This was indeed the cherry on the cake.
In a nutshell, navigating uncertainty requires a coherent strategy. Cash combined with courage in a time of crisis is priceless - the collaboration of finance, IT and HR leadership would do the same to help businesses minimize the impact of the disruption and become more resilient in today’s uncertain environment.
Also appeared in: https://cio.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/strategy-and-management/redefining-finance-revitalizing-technology-and-reimagining-employee-experience-the-key-to-surviving-the-vuca-times/78746253