I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ventana Research’s CEO and Chief Research Officer, Mark Smith about the trends, challenges and opportunities facing today’s finance professionals.  Mark provides some great insights into the changing role of finance professionals, the future of finance, the solutions helping finance professionals and much more.

We were also pleased to hold a joint webinar this week, “The Benefits of Modernizing FP&A – Analysis Replaces Gut Feel” with Ventana Research SVP and Research Director, Robert Kugel and Tidemark VP of Finance, Colby Moosman. If you missed it live, please take a moment to listen to webinar replay here.

Below is the full transcript of my discussion with Mark on the trends, challenges and opportunities facing today’s finance professionals.

Caroline: How has the role of finance professionals evolved in recent years?

Mark: Finance professionals now can be better connected to the state of overall business operations and results. Technology enables them to access and analyze more information to manage financials and understand the costs and related revenue areas of business processes in cycles more frequent than quarterly or monthly.  In these ways, finance can make greater contributions than in the past to help the organization reach its maximum potential. Many finance professionals are more astute in the use of information and able to apply analytics to respond to changes and determine improvements in a more agile manner. Finance no longer must wait until the quarter ends to engage in management discussions but can intervene and bring wise counsel whenever changes to business operations impact results.

Caroline: How do you anticipate it will continue to change in the coming year?

Mark: We expect this trend to continue and accelerate. Not only is the finance department able to access information more rapidly but it also can collaborate with business management digitally, for example in the context of revenue and costs streams within time cycles, to immediately address issues and opportunities. Finance is not restricted to accounting for results after the fact but can provide information enabling management to look forward. Finance also will be able to better apply data from markets and competitors to its decisions and direction. Using analytics to easily define and adjust plans enables Finance to manage to plans and actual performance, not just measure the results of the business. In short Finance will take a more active role in achieving the goals of the organization.

Caroline: What solutions have you seen that are helping finance professionals make their jobs easier and help them become more relevant within their company?

Mark: Enterprise software is available that can help Finance improve operations in various areas, from business planning to direct visibility into both metrics and the drivers that impact results. Finance professionals can apply forward-looking predictive analytics to information about the business’s customers, products and employees to learn more about its revenue drivers and costs. They can provide information to collaborate with business managers to find ways to operate more effectively. Mobile technology such as smartphones and tablets has expanded the reach of Finance, like other departments, to engage with management through ready access to information regardless of anyone’s location.

Caroline: What do enterprises gain when finance professionals are able to add more value to their organizations?

Mark: More astute, better informed finance organizations can add a dimension to understanding of the business by collaborating on areas of improvement and investment. Immediate action on incremental investments can enable smart responses to opportunities and better allocation of resources in time cycles (weekly and monthly) appropriate for today’s fast-changing global competition. Finance can be a better partner to other departments – Sales, Operations, Customer, Marketing, Human Resources and IT – when it becomes an information center for standard business and financial metrics to manage performance.

Caroline: What is the key value that a technology-enabled finance department brings to the enterprise?

Mark: Finance can make the organization more agile and guide the business in areas where it is expert. It can help optimize business processes and utilization of assets. Supporting the performance management principles of optimizing and aligning performance is easier when there is a technology-enabled finance function.

Caroline: How do these technologies enable the finance department to drive revenue?

Mark: The use of technology that helps Finance plan more collaboratively and provide expert advice on investments, whether to optimize sales or support products and services. Having better insight to predict customer demand and sales potential enables the organization to focus more on results and less on expenses.

Caroline: If you’re a finance professional, what one thing should you be doing to improve your company’s performance?

Mark: Using solutions such as analytics and planning, you should take the initiative to examine business processes that are not efficient and productive, and offer relevant advice on how to improve them. Look for ways to connect business areas to support the planning and performance processes. Mobilize teams of management across lines of business to set priorities and make information more directly available for decisions about improvement and use mobile technology to help facilitate access to information at any time.