Can today’s CFO leverage available innovation to push the business forward with velocity and scale? Oftentimes this question is outwardly asked but rarely answered and embraced in wholesale fashion as it was at the Executive Roundtable Breakfast organized by Auxis and co-sponsored by UiPath, Focal Point Data Risk, The CFO Leadership Council, and The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce last month in Miami.
Understanding that CFO’s and finance executives are under intense pressure to be more strategic, forward-looking, and business-focused, the purpose of this roundtable was to drill down into real success stories and practical insights that finance execs and CFO’s could take back to their companies and utilize today to jump start their finance modernization journey.
Not only did this unique event bring together a diverse group of finance panelists in terms of industry and size such as World Fuel Services, Melia Hotels International, Online Vacation Center, Focal Point Data Risk, and of course, Auxis, but it also welcomed over 30 CFO’s and finance executives from companies such as Royal Caribbean, PepsiCo LATAM, TechData, Norwegian Cruise Line, Spectrum Brands, Capital Bank, Clear Channel and TMF Group, to name a few.
Moderated by Auxis CEO, Raul Vega
The lively and thoughtful exchanges among the panelists quickly shed light on the shared realization that both the panelists and attendees had very similar challenges in their journey towards modernization. Whether it was collectively talking about the pressure to add more value or continually striving to be more innovative, all of those in attendance agreed that working on shifting the focus of their teams to higher value activities through process automation, shared services, outsourcing or analytics, was a key strategic priority of their finance organization.
What brought the attendees together in the first place was the opportunity to hear first-hand, the experiences that the panelists had had with truly “modernizing” their finance operations.
For example, Cortney Dominguez from World Fuel Services, discussed that because of the high level of satisfaction they had experienced not only with their automation initiatives but also with the caliber of the talent found in Costa Rica, they decided to expand their Shared Service Center in San Jose beyond accounting operations and into areas such as Legal, HR, Internal Audits, and IT Development. She also mentioned that for WFS, it became more than just a successful RPA project in which they had 12 robots and 37 processes implemented with UiPath in their Center of Excellence in Costa Rica and Miami. It was now about also working on OCR initiatives, and AI for certain processes such as customer credit analysis, and pricing analysis to find opportunities to improve their margins. In short, the quest to modernize their finance organization was paying off in spades. And what were the indirect results of all these modernization initiatives? WFS is now hiring a lot of graduates with expertise in data science and mathematical algorithms to lead these initiatives.
As Sergio Faggiani of Melia Hotels International learned, the need to modernize and modernize quickly came from a familiar yet disruptive name in the hospitality industry, Airbnb. This “new” competitor, forced Melia Hotels to completely rethink their traditional business model and become more agile in order to stay relevant and to not only compete, but also to win.
Because of the Airbnb threat, Melia Hotels decided to look at all aspects of the business in which they might be able to streamline or automate manual processes. They started their RPA journey by automating a very critical process to the business, which was the preparation and distribution of the Daily Hotel Performance Report (to read the full case study click here). Because of the success and experience with partnering with Auxis & UiPath for this particular RPA implementation, Melia Hotels is now working on automating more traditional processes in its finance back office such as AP invoice processing.Since then, Mr. Faggiani mentioned that significant steps have now been taken in completely transforming their finance organization from being singularly focused on preparing manual reports and processing transactions, to now playing a more strategic role in the growth of the business, having more real-time visibility into the performance of the hotel’s operations, and having the time to focus on analyzing data to make better informed decisions. In addition, this digital transformation has also caused Melia Hotels to completely rethink the skills and experience of new team members being hired for the finance department. Thus, modernizing their finance operations means that they’re now looking for engineering and analytical skills versus traditional accounting/CPA backgrounds.
John Stunson of Online Vacation Center, knew that to increase effectiveness, his organization had to view the finance and accounting function as a strategic enabler for achieving business goals, rather than just as a back-office recording and reporting function. As a smaller, mid-market organization (~100M in annual revenue) some might think “modernizing” would be a tall task or not that much of a priority. However, Mr. Stunson was able to bring structured processes and best practices to his finance operations while leveraging automation to improve efficiencies all while increasing the motivation and engagement of his team.
Mr. Stunson’s finance organization has also developed a close partnership with the Sales Operations team to help them improve their own processes and speed to market in terms of pushing new promotions and product offerings faster to their customers. In addition, Mr. Stunson had a great perspective on how to get over the cultural hurdle with employees when it comes to automation, and the incorporation of process automation & efficiency targets as part of the incentive/bonus plan of the finance team was suggested as an effective tool for getting employees on board with RPA.
For Larry Burke of Focal Point Data Risk, ransomware and cybersecurity are now on the CFO’s plate whether they wanted it or not. He believes there's no question that cybersecurity impacts a company's bottom line. The financial burdens of these attacks coupled to the increasing migration of applications to the cloud are leading CFOs to step up and take a seat at the table when it comes to assessing and minimizing cyber threats.
All too often though, the companies’ focus after being victimized by a ransomware attack is on the ransom paid, which is generally the most trivial outcome of the incident. From the perspective of a CFO, what goes unaccounted for in any meaningful way is the lost productivity, lost profits, harm to business reputation, cost of reconstructing data, and other damages that flow from these attacks. As the number of data breaches increases, CFOs need to be proactive and continuously partner with IT experts. The new reality is that it’s increasingly important for a CFO to be tech savvy.
Lastly, Auxis’ own Diego Pena, Eduardo Diquez and UiPath’s Matt Braunstein, took a deeper dive for all of those in attendance on one of the hottest and most discussed technologies all morning from a panelist perspective: Robotics Process Automation (RPA). The journey for both Auxis and UiPath has been nothing short of meteoric. From its early beginnings, the UiPath and Auxis partnership has mirrored the trajectory of RPA itself. In the span of less than four years, Auxis has designed, architected and implemented more than 150 RPA processes across multiple clients and functions and UiPath has become the fastest-growing enterprise software company in history with a current valuation of $7 Billion dollars.
According to Mr. Diquez, one of the biggest misconceptions about RPA is that it’s a one-size-fits-all solution, when in reality it can be a variety of tools that do widely different things under the guise of RPA. Thus, after level setting what RPA was and was not for the audience, Mr. Diquez then covered what it takes and what are the steps involved in creating a successful Proof of Concept and then real-world examples of client implementations that Auxis and UiPath have done. These consisted of both traditional and non-traditional implementations covering a wide variety of industries.
The takeaway? For the CFO of a modern finance organization, if you’re not investing in RPA for core finance functions, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities, and, ultimately, as AI becomes more available, mainstream, and useful, enterprises that haven’t built the requisite automation skills and knowledge will be that much farther behind the curve.
In closing, there’s was no doubt that the breakfast event was a resounding success. From the attendees’ perspective, they would all readily admit that there is a similarity in the challenges they face and the solutions that are available regardless of the very disparate industries that they all come from. It also became very evident that the pressure to add value, be more innovative and lower costs is and was a central theme for all that were in attendance. To create a successful 21st-century finance organization, CFOs must become more strategic in their use of technology, and become the catalysts for change.
Auxis will be organizing more similar events tailored to senior finance executive both in South Florida and in New York, where they recently opened a new satellite office to support its Northeast clients. If you are interested in getting an invitation to upcoming sessions, please reach out to Fabiana.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Controller LATAM, ClearChannel
“Thank you for the invitation. It was a wonderful event full of insightful and useful information. We will definitely keep your company in mind as we transition into the transformative changes that are needed to stay competitive in our industry.”
CIO, MCNA Dental Plans
“Roundtable was very informative. Please keep me informed of new developments and meetings.”
VP Financial Operations, World Fuel Services
“Enjoyed sharing lessons learned from the WFS automation adventures at the CFO Breakfast today. Special thanks to Auxis for the invitation to sit on the roundtable panel and our partner in this journey, UiPath!”
CFO, Online Vacation Center
“Probably one of the best CFO roundtables I’ve been to, and I’ve been to a lot. Very attentive, engaged audience. Qualified crowd, too. Great idea to have the RPA discussion after. Thanks for having me.”
Finance Head Americas, Melia International Hotels
“It was a pleasure to participate in the panel. To be honest, I was really surprised to see the similarities and how I could relate so much with my colleagues’ experiences through the automation process. I’m glad to help any other time needed.”