Keep pace with tech changes

By Jeff Drew

Rapid changes in technology are among the biggest sources of stress for corporate accounting teams, according to a recent survey. Here are seven tips for how CFOs can mitigate risks and maximize rewards.

Understand the scope of the challenge. Technology is the capstone for virtually everything today's CFOs are responsible for overseeing, according to Paul McDonald, senior executive director for staffing firm Robert Half. Financial teams rely on technology to facilitate strong internal control objectives that meet regulatory requirements and compliance mandates.

Hire finance staff with strong technology knowledge. "All of the people need to have IT skills of various levels: from Excel macros to Microsoft Dynamics implementation," McDonald said. The other technologies many financial teams need to know include enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, data-mining tools including Microsoft Access, business intelligence software such as IBM Cognos and Hyperion, and QuickBooks.

Interact with in-house IT staff and/or outside consultants who are trusted technology experts. CFOs must understand what technologies really do—how the technology affects the finance function and the business overall, McDonald said. CFOs also need to learn about other technologies so they know what potential options are. In addition, CFOs should connect strongly with internal IT staff and/or outside subject matter experts to continually evaluate technology-related risks, which can change rapidly. "Don't just be the one who signs the checks," McDonald said.

Subscribe to RSS feeds with specific technologies as keywords. This is particularly effective with industry-specific software, said James C. Bourke, CPA/CITP/CFF, CGMA, a partner in charge of firm technology for WithumSmith+Brown, a 550-employee CPA firm based in New Jersey.

Join and become active in technology user groups. These groups discuss problems and solutions with specific technologies. For example, a CFO might join a group focused on Microsoft Dynamics, Bourke said. CFOs can pose specific questions to the group and often receive answers very quickly from counterparts who already have dealt with the same issues.

Collaborate with CFOs at other companies that use the same technologies. CFOs seeking answers to industry-specific technology problems may find help from other CFOs in their industry, Bourke said. Other CFOs often can provide answers even when vendors cannot. If you are lost on a technology, there's an excellent chance "one of your counterparts already went down that path," Bourke said.

Meet with fellow CFOs to discuss technology issues. These CFOs don't have to be in the same industry or use the same technologies, Bourke said. Instead, the goal with these interactions is to share and gain exposure to different kinds of technologies and strategies. "It helps them get out of their world," he said.

Editor's note: This checklist is adapted from the article "7 Ways CFOs Can Keep Up With Rapid Changes in Technology," May 1, 2015.

By Jeff Drew (jdrew@aicpa.org) a JofA senior editor.

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