CFOs plan to leverage AI, drones, robots and blockchain

CFOs are planning to implement advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, drones, robots and blockchain, at a rapid rate, according to a new survey by Grant Thornton.

For the study, GT and CFO Research polled 378 senior finance executives about the ways technology is transforming nearly every division in their organization, especially the finance function. One out of four of the respondents said they use AI, compared to just 7 percent last year. Significant proportions of senior financial execs are currently implementing advanced analytics (38 percent) and machine learning (30 percent).

Within two years, senior financial execs plan to roll out a battery of new technology, such as AI (41 percent), blockchain (40 percent), robotic process automation (41 percent) and drones and robots (30 percent), at their organization. Other technologies planned over the next two years include optical character recognition (45 percent) and broader distributed ledger technology (44 percent).

CFO technology plans chart

Dramatic changes have occurred in technology adoption since last year, in comparison to Grant Thornton’s 2018 CFO Survey. Forty-two percent of CFOs polled this year reported their finance functions regularly make use of advanced and automation technologies in corporate development and strategic planning, compared to 18 percent last year. Forty percent reported their finance function already implements advanced technologies and automation technologies in risk management, compared to 20 percent in 2018. Thirty percent use machine learning, compared to 8 percent in 2018; and 25 percent reported using AI, compared to 7 percent in 2018.

“Financial leaders must embrace and adapt to new technologies to ensure their organizations operate efficiently,” said Srikant Sastry, national managing principal of Advisory Services at Grant Thornton, in a statement. “The speed with which CFOs are investing in IT shows a clear vision of the digital transformation they want to see at their companies. But, advanced technologies like AI, RPA, drones, and robotics require CFOs to focus on specific use cases, workforce preparation, and measurements for these technologies to facilitate and maximize a timely return on investment.”

CFOs are collaborating with the IT department to make sure their digital investments fit with their organization’s innovation strategies. Nearly 91 percent of the poll respondents either agreed or strongly agreed it’s the CFO’s job to ensure their companies fully realize the benefits of technology investments. But at the same time, nearly the same proportion of respondents (92 percent) believe the finance function of the future needs to do a better job of leveraging technology and people.

CFOs see themselves as part of a collaborative team across functions. Of the nearly 400 finance leaders polled, 95 percent said their company’s CFO is a key stakeholder of enterprise transformation planning, while 94 percent reported their CFO actively supports an innovation culture, and 90 percent said the CFO actively shares insights about how to run a lean, efficient function with peers in business units.

As CFOs work on transformative technology, 60 percent indicated the finance function needs to provide advanced analytical support. The most important skill sets senior financial execs wish to develop in the finance function are data analytics (55 percent), business strategy (40 percent), operations management (35 percent), and technology acquisition (33 percent).

The survey demonstrated that finance leaders would like to recruit and retain employees who have traditional financial expertise, while also exhibiting eagerness to learn new technologies and process design.

“Over the next two years, talent and skills will be one of the top three challenges the IT function faces as it seeks enterprise growth, along with system complexity and business integration,” stated Grant Thornton business consulting principal Chris Stephenson. “As the finance function of the future takes shape, it will demand new skill sets. Leaders will need to move full speed ahead to invest in the right technology and people to transform their businesses and, ultimately, guide strategic decision making across their organizations. Working more closely with the IT organization can help the CFO rethink end-to-end finance processes. CFOs and CIOs must closely collaborate on digital transformation to remain competitive.”

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