The advent of the Big Four emerging technologies (cloud, social, mobile, and big data) and the increased popularity of business partnering roles are just two forces that are restructuring the role of the modern finance organization and the talent skills required of today's finance leaders. A recent global CFO study commissioned by Oracle and Accenture underscores the pressing need for change, with restructuring the finance skill set now seen as the top priority for CFOs as they seek to imbue the finance function with increased flexibility and adaptability to changing business conditions.
More than 90 percent of CFOs surveyed at Oracle's 2013 CFO Summit also cited the need to revise or update finance best practices to deal more effectively with the creation of new value strategies driven by emerging technologies. The rising popularity of big data and sophisticated data analysis tools, for example, means more data scientists will be needed to make sense of structured and unstructured data. From a finance talent perspective, standardized tools and processes must be put in place to help them analyze that data in a systematic way. Stakeholder management and relationships with other functions will also drive the requirement for a new business-oriented skill set and a broader outlook.
It used to be that CFOs paid lip service to talent being their most important resource, but that's no longer the case. Despite the fact that the world has experienced relatively high unemployment rates for the last seven or eight years, the war for finance talent is fierce—especially at the best companies. In the US alone, a McKinsey & Company report projects a shortfall of between 140,000 and 190,000 "deep analytical" big data professionals by 2018—that is, people with highly technical skills in machine learning, statistics, and/or computer science—who are the actual hands-on big data experts who know how to crunch huge data sets into meaningful information.
But what's often overlooked in this dim projection of the big data labor market is that the impact of big data on employment goes far deeper than the deep analytics and IT fields. Companies need professionals at all levels who are not necessarily schooled in deep analytics but are nonetheless big-data savvy. These professionals don't need degrees in computer science or statistics, but do need the skill to make linkages between data insights and business opportunities.
When it comes to attracting good finance talent, it is now mission critical that CFOs allow their people to succeed because of their infrastructure rather than despite their infrastructure. That means offering finance teams the most innovative tools in areas such as social collaboration, data analytics, and mobile business intelligence—all the tools that are vital to attracting and retaining a tech-savvy generation of future CFOs coming into the workforce. These workers place a premium on the value of social media in their personal and corporate lives, especially as that line becomes increasingly blurred. For example, recent research has shown that when individuals refuse to share personal details on Facebook with their colleagues, it reduces their likability in the office compared with that of people who share. And a forthcoming white paper by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School shows that people who share personal information with their work colleagues and bosses—and seamlessly blend their off-line and online lives—are thought of as better workers.
Clearly, the new generation coming into the finance profession has very different expectations about careers and working practices, so modern CFOs need to ensure that their finance organizations are not only equipped to meet these expectations, but also encourage the innovation that can come from social collaboration. And beyond just providing the latest systems, they need to provide support: mentoring and coaching young finance talent, and helping them develop their careers through cloud-based learning and development tools designed to identify and groom top talent.