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Why a New Era in Data Heralds a New Kind of CFO

The welcome evolution from gatekeeper to insight-powered visionary

May 31, 2024

Chief Marketing Officer Jenny Victor at the Insights 2024 user conference

Digital transition has put companies under enormous pressure to find their places in an age of seemingly limitless information. They’re scrambling to figure out how to rapidly gather, parse, and act on new volumes and varieties of data. And if they lag behind, they risk getting lappedor worse, put out of business.

We’ve seen this dynamic cascade throughout organizations, a powerful transformation that requires businesses to rethink their approach to everything from sales to go-to-market strategies. And it doesn’t stop at simply coming up with new messaging; it’s ultimately the task of top management to embrace technology in a big-picture, strategic way that enhances their business’s chances for success.

That constellation of changing responsibility also extends to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a C-suite role that traditionally has only been concerned with the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting.

Joe Ayers is on the forefront of this changing landscape at Epicor, where he serves as CFO. I had an opportunity to get his take on how he sees his role evolving during a discussion at our Insights 2024 user conference. (See takeaways in the video below)


The Post-Modern CFO

A few years ago, Constellation Research founder Ray Wang pointed to the emergence of what he described as “the post-modern CFO.” He noted that the role was rapidly becoming  a more broadly strategic function. To succeed in this recasting of a traditional role, Ray maintained, the CFO would need to know how to leverage data analytics, cloud computing, and automation in order to provide deeper insights across the enterprise.

Joe subscribes to Ray’s model, noting that it has informed the way he and other Epicor senior leaders are working to strengthen agility and leverage data-driven insights as they guide company strategy throughout the business. 

“We find ourselves operating in the era of post-modern finance. This is the more dynamic phase where we finally unlock the beauty of all the data we have gathered,” Joe said. “Finance has access to more data than any other function in a company. This evolution presents an opportunity for finance to unlock a business’s full potential.”

He noted that this shift, which became apparent five or six years ago, has accelerated in the last couple of years with the spread of artificial intelligence (AI).

“For the better part of the last century, it was about accounting and closing the books,” according to Ray. “[CFOs] were really good at what happened in the past.” That began to change with the emergence of more strategic thinking about finance and a move to unlock insights from the massive data sets that only the finance organization can access. In fact, Joe added, finance teams have access to more data than any other department in the company.

CFOs should make the most of this valuable opportunity, looking outside their traditional domain to share their insights with other departments.

“My mission statement for finance is that we exist to equip the business to make the best decision possible with data,” Joe said. “Notice that missing from that statement was the word ‘finance.’ This is a larger responsibility where we also are required to serve as strategists and enablers to power the business.” 

As CFOs become more data-driven and can harness more advanced analytics, they can offer valuable insights into financial performance, risks, and opportunities while enabling informed strategic decisions elsewhere within the organization. Joe has put these methods into practice during his tenure at Epicor.

“Our workforce really has a massive advantage given this easy access to clean and readily available data,” he said. “It follows that our ability to make sense of that data and consequently become more productive will allow us to become better professionals.”

Note that although we’re talking about the CFO in this case, this elevation of data from a nice-to-have to a major player is part of a broader shift. As more businesses leverage data, every function within the organization—from the board room to the shop floor—will be looking to glean intelligence from insights in order to become more strategic in their decision making.

Advances in technology are helping to power this trend. As data becomes more democratized with the addition of new technologies, such as the newly-released Grow portfolio from Epicor, Joe added that “everyone can embrace this philosophy…to recognize patterns and take action. Certainly, the finance org at Epicor is embracing this and I’m excited to see others do it as well.”

At Epicor, he explained how the finance department uses Kinetic as well as CRM technology to make the move from being descriptive to becoming prescriptive—its role is not just to retrieve data, but to take meaningful action based on that information.

The days when employees working in finance got labeled as bean counters and gatekeepers are as outdated as lined ledger pads. “Those days are done,” Joe said. “The finance team’s call to action is to be strategic and help distill the story. CFOs need to be as agile as possible.” 

Hear more from R "Ray" Wang and Joe Ayers: