CFOs are stuck in the mushy middle of the digital transformation, feeling both optimistic about automation and uncertainty about what to do next.

Cloud solutions provider Sage surveyed in-house decision makers to understand how CFOs, finance directors, accountants, and controllers in the US and Canada are managing the transformation. In “CFO 3.0 – Digital Transformation Beyond Financial Management,” survey respondents report seeing value from automation as well as concerns about a skills gap.

The Sage survey found that 90% of CFOs have automated some processes to drive efficiencies and that the switch was worth it, resulting in increased productivity. Finance leaders see the most benefit in automation for optimizing operations and streamlining the compliance process.

At the same time, 82% said the workforce isn’t ready for more automation.

“A lack of cultural readiness in the office of finance may slow adoption of new technology and hinder achieving optimal results with any digital transformation,” said Marc Linden, Sage executive vice president.

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The risk is that companies will get stuck in a “not enough automation” phase, where some jobs are replaced, but no new jobs are created by the transformation of business processes.

The other risk of moving slowly is lost revenue now and in the future. An Accenture survey found that companies who take a conservative approach to implementing new technologies lost $2 billion in unrealized value in 2018. As the pace of change continues to speed up, companies stand to lose even more revenue as time goes on.

In another contradictory finding, 72% of respondents said that they have not moved operations to the cloud due to security concerns, but only 20% see ROI in investing in cybersecurity solutions. The biggest barriers that finance leaders see in moving operations to the cloud are:

  • Competing business priorities 85%
  • Initial cost of implementation 75%
  • Security of compliance concerns 70%
  • Training costs 65%

Sage found several misconceptions around technology, including 60% of respondents saying that cloud technology is only for millennials. Also 64% said the requirement to learn new skills was one of the biggest reasons to not implement cloud-based services.

Finance decision-makers listed these responsibilities as the most challenging elements of their jobs:

  • Thinking of new ways to help the business with financial matters 76%
  • Integrating financial and operational information 73%
  • Compliance audits 70%
  • Lack of real-time financial data and insights available 66%

The report authors said that technology is undeniably affecting the CFO’s role but financial leaders are still struggling to understand where it can have the greatest impact. CFOs tend to have a cross-sectional view of every department within a company, more so than other C-suite leaders. However, because financial reporting is highly regulated, new technology and data sources need to stand up to more scrutiny than the services other departments use.

Financial leaders are not alone in their uncertainty about digital strategies, but they face the same pressure to evolve or become irrelevant.

Sage commissioned the online survey, which interviewed 500 senior in-house financial decision-makers across the United States. The industries included professional, scientific & technical services (19%), finance, insurance & real estate (25%), healthcare & not for profit (20%), hospitality (15%) and manufacturing (21%). Approximately 85% of respondents were from firms with between 100 and 499 employees, while the remainder were from firms with between 20 and 99 employees.

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