There is a lot of talk these days about how finance organizations can become more strategic by “partnering with the business”. It’s the same everywhere, all over the world. But, it looks different depending on where you sit in the world, and within your organization.
In APJ CFOs and finance organizations are also being asked to become more strategic, and businesses here are growing so fast that this is imperative. One of the challenges is, they do not always have the technology and infrastructure to do all the tactical things finance has to do and also undertake more proactive, strategic initiatives and still do both things well.
One of the first steps toward becoming more strategic is developing a shared services framework. I know one CFO in Singapore who made this investment and as a result has become a real asset to at least one business unit—mine.
Colin Sampson is our CFO at SAP in APJ. He started a shared services framework here 13 years ago, not so he could reduce headcount –which people are always afraid of when they first hear about shared services--but so he could free up his team to do a better job at planning and helping the business grow.
He started realizing the benefits long ago. Now, Colin is to the point that he is able to be an active partner with the sales organization here. One of the things he does for me is, he goes out and meets with our biggest customers in the region and provides a lot of coaching around financial transformation.
He has a wealth of knowledge and first hand experience, gained right here in the region so it’s really relevant to companies here. He’s extremely credible, because he’s done it himself. And, as he does this more and more, meeting with finance people in all kinds of companies all over APJ, he increases his knowledge, insight and strategic value.
13 years sounds like a long time to get to that point, especially with the growth pressure companies here are facing. I know that for Colin and his group, it’s been a long-term investment. It’s a journey, and because he’s made this journey, he’s been able to help move himself and his organization forward. So that’s a way that he partners with the business at SAP.
Every CFO is different and the needs of every company are different. A regional CFO does very different things than a global CFO. Maybe your business needs to be more efficient at planning. Maybe it needs someone that can talk to customers. Maybe it needs someone to act as an executive sponsor for specific deals that are going to need a lot of contract negotiation; typically that’s something a CFO might have background in.
Whatever your particular skill sets are, and whatever the needs of your business, the key to unlocking finance’s full strategic potential is getting some of those tactical items off your plate, and investing in shared services is a great way to do that.