The majority of CFOs are increasing investment in their companies’ efforts to spur change through new technology, according to a new survey.

The survey of more than 300 CFOs and financial leaders by Grant Thornton and CFO Research found that 69 percent plan to increase their investment in technologies that speed business change. In addition, four out of 10 of the financial leaders polled plan an increase of more than 10 percent in the next 12 months.

Competition is the main factor behind the spending, with 41 percent of the survey respondents saying their companies’ digital-transformation investments are intended to help them overtake their competition through differentiation.

“While investment strategies for digital transformation have traditionally been influenced by an organization’s desire to improve operational performance and reduce costs, respondents have shown that future investment strategies will shift to more strategic opportunities – chief among these being improving the customer experience,” said Srikant Sastry, national managing principal of advisory services at Grant Thornton, in a statement. “The simple truth is that more than three quarters of the executives surveyed feel that digital transformation is critical for their company.”

Still, the more than 300 CFOs and financial leaders who participated in the survey worry about how to gauge success. A little over 40 percent said they do not have good financial metrics that show the ROI in IT efforts. Only 12 percent agree that they have an effective system of measuring financial performance associated with technology implementations.

Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of respondents say their finance team is currently adopting advanced analytics, while another 24 percent expect to do so within 12 months, with an additional 25 percent expecting to do it within two years.

Artificial intelligence too shows promise among CFOs: 20 percent expect to adopt it within five years. Other enticing innovations include distributed ledger technology, machine learning, robotic process automation, and optical character recognition.

The main processes they plan to automate over the next five years are financial planning and analysis (54 percent), budgeting and forecasting (53 percent), corporate development and strategic planning (49 percent), and financial reporting and control (49 percent).

Top processes to be automated by CFOs

Survey respondents are concerned about their companies’ readiness, including how their companies will find enough staff once automation technologies become more widespread. A 52 percent majority of the survey respondents indicated they would prefer to retrain existing staff, as opposed to a 20 percent minority who would prefer to recruit new staff, or the 17 percent who would like to outsource to a third party.

The survey also found self-doubt among the CFOs and finance leaders polled, with nearly 90 percent admitting they need much stronger skills in data analytics than they currently have.

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