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Daniah Robertson is CFO of Sodexo.
With technological advances reshaping life as we know it, much is being made of the future of work. Specific to finance, the process and time to generate insights normally in the domain of finance experts is transforming. Finance as a function has an opportunity to reinvent and sustain itself with new frontiers of value creation and business partnership. How can ways of working in finance be transformed and elevated to ensure human input continues to drive incremental value?
Despite the impact of emerging technologies, the need for robust controls, consolidation, analysis, insights, forecasting and auditing—the fundamentals have not changed. What has changed is the need to advance and accelerate augmented intelligence in parallel with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). Finance professionals are challenged to reskill and upskill capabilities across the function so their contributions are value-adding, sustainable and marketable.
Disruption and transformation segue the way to opportunity.
A mindset shift is required to see the opportunities that transformative, disruptive technology like AI and machine learning (ML) are presenting to interpret complex data and create actionable insights rather than the human element fading away. In order to first maximize the capability of new technologies, additional skill sets are required, and if limitations are being removed and boundaries are unconstrained by technology, it is imperative that new insights not even conceivable five, 10 or 20 years ago can be unlocked.
Ultimately, crystallizing positive business impact requires the rare ability to powerfully articulate insights from numbers with enough impact to influence decision-making and move businesses to action. Here lies the opportunity to augment technology with human intelligence.
How can human input augment emerging technology in finance?
One cornerstone of advanced technology is usually efficiency, though often the assumption that things like AI and ML automatically reduce work with better results is misleading. Shifting from skills-based work to knowledge-based work will not be effective unless the technology is being used in tandem with human intelligence, complementing the tools and challenging the old ways of thinking.
Being freed from the labor of consolidating data and baseline analysis raises expectations for commercial acumen and business partnerships. Upskilling capabilities to augment the technologies to achieve both efficiency and effectiveness have a rich seam in the technical skills needed to successfully implement the technology, commercial skills to unpack high dollar insights and soft skills to influence action as a thought leader. In other words, repurposing effort for greater impact.
Embrace the art of the possible.
“The art of the possible” is inherently forward-focused and creative, which may be new to numbers people, who often are not the owners of the direct action connected to outcomes. To add value, finance professionals need to recognize the emerging pain points in their industry, think outside the box and partner with change-makers to maximize impact.
Longevity of the function is grounded in performance intervention: We interrupt performance to change its course and create a different outcome. Instead of fearing disruption and being passive in the face of change, there is an opportunity to become the agents of transformation and, in the process, reimagine their roles in the future of finance.
New year, newer you: Learn new tricks.
Pushing the boundaries and becoming more valuable can present itself in many ways. For example, it’s critical for finance professionals to deepen their commercial acumen to have a greater role in influencing decision-making in a world where advanced technology is a fast path to digest and analyze data, assess risk and provide actionable insights. For those looking for tangible ways to augment their skill set, here are some options to upskill in 2024 and beyond:
Build data science skills.
Leverage information-crunching skills as a natural prelude to stepping into big data. For the more technically inclined, this may mean bringing your financial expertise to building systems for large amounts of data, or perhaps learning a programming language as a tool to create predictive algorithms and models to automate complex tasks. Advanced data analysis and insight skills are a good foundation for understanding how intelligent systems work, and you can learn how they can be best deployed for impact and where there are gaps.
Get acclimated to generative AI.
Develop your agility in everyday tasks before applying it professionally. The ability to look ahead with predictive analytics (e.g., AI) is a critical skill that will help workers market their abilities. Familiarity with AI engineering going forward will likely set the tone for success in the industry and beyond. For finance employees in the do-learn-do cycle, early adoption enables moving beyond solving problems to start thinking about transformation.
Explore data visualization and storytelling.
Make numbers and data more insightful for a wider audience. Data storytelling is an underrated skill with the ability to demystify data and insights, a value-adding skill for current or future finance professionals to complement technology. This emphasizes bridging the gap, making the insights relatable for everyone, especially decision-makers, and drawing the implications of insights born of human or artificial intelligence. Developing the ability to visualize data is so impactful that it is being increasingly taught through tools and coursework.
The journey to whatever is on the other side of a highly digitized, technology-enhanced finance function starts with a single step. Incorporating incremental skills that complement technology and leverage domain expertise creates a road map to transforming your skills in parallel with emerging technology in preparation for the future of finance.
The information provided here is not investment, tax or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.