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How CFOs can unlock business growth with data and analytics

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The uncertainty experienced as the pandemic took hold led companies to tread carefully, concerned with survival rather than growth. For CFOs, this meant focusing on reducing costs, strengthening cash flow, and securing employee safety. But organizations are once again focusing on growth, seeking to harness post-pandemic pent-up demand, positivity, and returning business confidence.

For organizations to grow, they need new, intelligent ways of working, with democratized access to data and insights across the enterprise. In Genpact's CFOs Empowering Enterprises in the Age of Instinct report – which introduces three macrotrends shaping the future of societies, companies, and finance functions – CFOs' unique position at the heart of the business can enable them to connect data, knowledge, people, and insight from across their ecosystems to make fast, accurate decisions that benefit users and customers.

In doing so, finance's reach goes beyond the function itself. Finance can harness its data and analytics capabilities to create the roadmap for a business's goals, shifting from a cost function to one that creates value, empowering businesses to become instinctive enterprises capable of connecting, predicting, and adapting at speed.

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A refined function

Prior to the pandemic, finance was already blessed with sophisticated data skills and visibility of what was happening across the enterprise. But the unique challenges that have emerged since 2020 have served to refine many functions' capabilities and leave them in a better place post-pandemic to harness growth opportunities.

First, finance teams' forecasting skills were tested. Second, the challenges of the pandemic brought different functions and teams closer together, from finance and treasury to supply chain and commercial teams. And investments in digital capabilities increased as companies sought to harness analytics to deal with a tumultuous business environment.

Operational and financial views finally came together. Company leaders looked to CFOs to deliver the agility needed and chart a path forward. By proving their ability to do so in a time of crisis, finance teams are continuing this strategic role for good. It's why 29% of CEOs hired post-pandemic came directly from the CFO seat, a higher percentage than in the previous 14 months, according to Heidrick & Struggles.

The enterprise data guardian

Underpinning finance's ability to unlock growth and create value is its position as the guardian of enterprise data. In many organizations, finance is the guardian of key metrics or reporting. But for more accurate, forward-looking, strategic decision-making – and not just financial decision-making – CFOs must take on their vital role as data guardians, building insight engines capable of transforming the entire end-to-end value chain.

Promisingly, the pandemic has pushed many finance teams to accelerate their work to integrate data from multiple silos into data lakes, realize radical standardization that streamlines the data-to-insight-to-action loop, and recognize the importance of external data from third parties too. When finance has integrated a business's data and systems into a single enterprise-wide platform, analytics and collaboration become seamless with access to real-time insight creating new ways to unlock value.

Better forecasting and personalized experiences

Improved forecasting is one such unlocked opportunity. An instinctive finance function – with advanced digital technology embedded throughout the organization – brings practical insight and fast, accurate forecasting capabilities to business leaders. This enables them to anticipate customer needs, business opportunities, and threats.

With improved forecasting capabilities thanks to advanced data and analytics, finance teams are already expanding their remit beyond financial forecasting and demand planning to include supply chain forecasting, and even analyzing and predicting customer preferences. Finance teams are also being tasked with anticipating CapEx plans, linking them back to potential returns to unlock growth.

Importantly, these insights are becoming more niche and personalized, answering not just what a forecast means for a business, but for specific teams, sectors, and individuals.

Segmentation and nudging

Finance teams are also using advanced analytics to personalize experiences. By segmenting customers based on their profitability, for example, finance teams can identify how a business should customize how it serves these groups and how much investment should go toward targeting each individual. The same goes for suppliers, with finance functions able to determine which vendors an enterprise should develop stronger relationships with to get better terms.

Personalized experiences can also help close the data-to-insight-to-action loop nudging people toward certain actions and behaviors. Algorithmic trading is a case in point, with real-time data on currency and stock fluctuation integrated and converted into a personalized dashboard for each trader or investor and investment strategy. It makes suggestions for different investment actions through experience and quality insights.

Connecting the enterprise

Though the pandemic has pushed finance teams to become closer to other parts of the business – from operating teams to supply chain functions – visionary CFOs are strengthening these relationships by placing connected planning at the center of their transformation efforts.

Connected planning breaks down information silos to eliminate inefficiencies between financial, corporate, and operational planning. It's a key step toward becoming an instinctive enterprise, wherein an organization becomes a connected operation that has fast access to insights and can make the right decisions, grasping opportunities and side-stepping risks.

Connected planning can deliver real-time scenario analysis. Different parts of an organization can harness this information to create a common plan, enabling the enterprise to fulfill demand more effectively. Connected planning also provides visibility and collaboration across the enterprise, while freeing up time for finance teams to focus on strategic initiatives.

From their position at the heart of the business, CFOs and finance teams are integral to orchestrating a connected planning agenda that drives growth.

Connecting planning for finance and supply chains

A CPG company was using hundreds of spreadsheets and outdated legacy tools to manage its supply chain and financial planning, which led to major discrepancies between forecasts and actual costs.

With a connected planning process and platform, it integrated finance and supply chain planning. Finance could now accurately evaluate its product costs and profitability and anticipate and act on market changes in real time.

The planning process used to take two weeks, now it's done in just two days. And the company can create demand scenarios and adjust production in five minutes when it used to take five days to analyze and react to changes in demand. With greater visibility, executives can make quick, fully informed decisions for growth.

Championing transformation within and without

Data and analytics are integral to a CFO's ability to unlock business growth and respond to demand. As CFOs act more like analytics leaders, we're seeing an accelerating trend across finance-related job descriptions requiring that candidates have skills in data and analysis.

The benefits of prioritizing these skills go beyond the enterprise, with future-facing finance functions able to harness their analytics capabilities to drive transformation outside the business too. A consumer goods company is performing root-cause analysis on any incorrect invoices it receives from suppliers, for example. By sharing this insight with suppliers, the invoices it receives are now accurate and can process touchlessly, helping to get suppliers paid on time and improving relationships across the supply chain.

Looking ahead, enterprises will work with external partners, suppliers, and competitors more closely as they innovate and grow together. New technologies like blockchain, for instance, are allowing companies to share data securely, creating the potential for open-source insight platforms, enabling an entire ecosystem to solve challenges beyond the capabilities of one enterprise.

As businesses tap into growth opportunities, finance functions with access to critical analytics skills and insights are creating tomorrow's successful enterprises.

Learn more about the macrotrends affecting finance teams and their businesses and the role of an instinctive enterprise in our report: CFOs Empowering Enterprises in the Age of Instinct.

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