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Episode 30: How can CFOs leverage digital transformation to cruise through recession

Jasmine Ahmed Jasmine Ahmed

SVP, Global Head of Finance Transformation

News Corp

Madhurima Gupta Madhurima Gupta

Associate Director- Product Marketing

HighRadius

Available on

Synopsis:

In this episode, join Jasmine Ahmed, SVP, Global Head of Finance Transformation, News Corp as she discusses recession and the approach to technology and automation that finance leaders should take during such economically unstable periods.

Transcript:

Madhurima Gupta:
Hi, welcome to the mid-market CFO circle podcast powered by Highradius. I’m your host Madhurima Gupta. We hear you Mid-Market CFOs and we’ve got your back. Every Thursday we bring you CFO circle podcast with your peers, and we discuss the challenges that you face at CFO’s office and how you leverage emerging technology to solve them. And for that reason today we have with us, Jasmine Ahmed. Hey, Jasmine, how are you doing?

Jasmine Ahmed:
Hi, how are you?

Madhurima Gupta:
I’m good. Thank you. Where are you dialing in from?

Jasmine Ahmed:
From New York city, believe it or not.

Madhurima Gupta:
That’s amazing. Now for the purpose of the podcast today Jasmine, we wanted to understand you know, why should CFOs invest in digital transformation even during recession. Right? And the reason is that a majority of corporate chiefs today believe that we are already in recession, or we are headed towards one depending on different researchers, which indicates a shrinking economy that will eventually impact tech budgets and focus. When reassessing spending businesses need to continue to leverage digital transformation to make their businesses recession proof in my opinion. But what I wanted to do today is to understand from you what your opinion is on this. So we’d like to hear you know, more about your background first and your journey as a finance leader. And if you can tell us a little bit more about your current role and details, that’ll be great.

Jasmine Ahmed:
Yeah, sure. No, thank you. I’d be more than happy to share. So I’ve been in finance for a number of years and I think the way I describe to people of my background or my trajectory, what my story is, is that I’ve been doing organically accidentally, you know, I grew up in finance, but then I somehow specialized in finance transformation. And for me finance transformation, this is before the entire automation, automation RPA evolution. This is long before that cuz for me for a finance transformation and I’ve been in multiple organizations, both very complex, large global organizations to medium size global organizations across a variety of different industries from your pharma to utilities, to media content, et cetera. It’s been quite a bit of diversity and landscape, but I think because of the number of years I’ve been in this space I am finance, I’m not tech, everyone knows that, but my transformation journey actually started looking at capabilities, operating model delivery models. the role of finance, how do we, as in finance, organize ourselves to drive optimal value back into the business. And I think from my very early days just how I think I’ve been wired is taking on roles and then working out not just doing the role, but what is my legacy on the role and how am I going to when I leave this role, leave it to be stronger and more resilient. And that is what transformation to me is about. And that, and then with the tech evolution technology became a core part of that. And now I actually say it’s not even just tech it’s data. So that’s a, that’s a little bit of a high level synopsis of what my background is. And most recently the, the past two years I’ve been with news Corp heading up finance transformation, which has been you know, it’s, looking it’s for the first time at news Corp where we have stepped back and we looked at okay, from a finance standpoint, you know, we see a lot of disruption in technology. We see a lot of disruption in multiple dimensions. So can we take a pause and look back at ourselves and say, okay, as finance, what is the best way for us to add value back into the business? What is our optimal operating model for us? What our data strategy, our tech strategy, capability, delivery model, what that entire damage should look like for us given this disruption and that’s effectively what I have been heading up at news Corp to help them assess and re and redefine on which path to take, what is the north star for news Corp. And what’s the best way of gradually driving progress towards it.

Madhurima Gupta:
Thank you so much for sharing your background and what you’re doing currently. Jasmine tech leaders are today, you know, invested in transformational programs and that has been going on for decades, right. And has been coinciding with economic boom, but now with the economy in shambles do you think it’s the time that CFOs should be cutting down expenses and preparing for whatever worst is possible or still pursue transformative initiatives?

Jasmine Ahmed:
You know, with growing up as a transformation leader in particular in finance, I look at every disruption as actually an opportunity and I actually think CFOs can use leverage the fears of a recession are the onset of a recession as an opportunity to drive changes in the way we make our technology investments to increase our ROI or our return on investments. So I see it as a huge opportunity and what I would do in what I would suggest is in this environment, the opportunity that we have is no longer investing in every single technology, but being very intentional of which technology capabilities should I be investing in that complement both my short term and long term objectives, but furthermore, driving a bit more rigor around, not just implement core technology implementation efforts, but having more rigor in our business case around, you know, how can we use this technology to simplify our technology landscape and clean up some of the debt that we may have accumulated? How do we focus on driving adoption of the technology and the functionalities, and also the data hygiene. Thirdly, how are we ensuring that we’re getting the right data as part of this new technology and the outputs that we need. And I think those three levers are a huge opportunity to drive accountability and greater focus, to ultimately get not only better, hard benefits from your business case, but also your intangible benefits. And it’s almost like, you know, in a recession, we can’t invest in everything. We will still invest, but now those other levers and metrics are just as important, and there’s no time to ignore that anymore.

Madhurima Gupta:
What about the newer technologies and the learning curves toward it? For example, as with one of the recent researchers that we were referring to 30% of CFO respondents said that they’re learning about new technology, for instance, autonomous finance in their personal time. How would you suggest financial professionals should embrace these technologies and where do you suggest they start?

Jasmine Ahmed:
A few things, right. So I wouldn’t say it’s sequential and you do step one versus step two. Look, you know, the technology space is evolving faster than we can even keep up with. So I think it’s really important for all finance professionals, not just CFOs, but even as a leader, encouraging their team members and almost maybe, you know, having almost like, you know, how we, in, in transformation, we do stakeholder Maes and we’re like, okay, well, how do we as a collective team work with our stakeholders, that similar concept with even the CFO and their teams are quite important to say, okay, how do we stay on top of the technology, do not shy away from it. And I would thoroughly encourage leaders, both CFOs and to encourage their teams, to attend tech conferences and tech workshops, and to listen to the technology and understand how that’s evolving, what their success stories are, what their learnings are. Typically. When I go to a technology workshop, I find that in the room, there’s very few of us who are actually from finance. Most of us are sitting there. Most of the folks in the room are from tech and I think that dynamic should change. Some of the other things that I think are equally important for CFOs to take proactive steps on is not only educating themselves on the tech, but also reimagining going, okay, what does that mean for the role of finance and what does the role of finance and what should that look like five, 10 years down the road and what are the capabilities that we need? And what’s the talent that I need to start investing in so that I have the right, we are organized in the most optimal way with the most optimal capabilities and the, and the bench strength that we need to embrace the technology to benefit us.

Madhurima Gupta:
So the other question that I have is that, let’s say, once they are set on a transformation journey, they’ve taken an initiative and you rightly pointed out that technology today is advancing so quickly. First there was you know, RPA then came you know, using AI then came hyper-automation. There is autonomous finance. There’s so many things that are happening on a regular basis. How, I mean, how would a CFO know that at a particular time, if whichever initiatives they’re taking, they are up to the mark or not.

Jasmine Ahmed:
So I think it’s less about, are they completely, I, I don’t think we should fuss ourselves over. Well, everyone’s talking about hyper automation today. So I have to do hyper automation. I think that’s actually the shortcoming, cause it’s very easy for non-technical folks to get wowed by the shiny new toy and they run after that shiny new toy and they implement it. And then lo and behold, the benefits aren’t there, the user experience isn’t the best I would actually say that. Okay. Yes. You need to understand how that ecosystem is evolving and what the direction of travel is, but you also need to step back and look at your own organization to truly see and assess, look at yourself in the mirror and say, okay, what do I have? What is the maturity of my foundation? What works, what doesn’t work, where do we want to be? And how do we get there? And then in that, how is where you start saying, okay, well actually in this phase of our journey this type of technology or these technology capabilities would be far more complimentary for us because it would reduce our technical debt. It would help us do things faster, cheaper, but also give us better data insight while implementing and integrating that into your Sy, into your ecosystem, making the necessary changes in your data, in your people, in your capabilities to help integrate and then you can always build from it, right? You don’t have to go into deep machine learning on day one, it’s an evolution and a progress towards it.

Madhurima Gupta:
And while you figured out where you need to get to, depending on what your processes look like today, and the state that you like to see them in now, given that there are a lot of organizations that might already be tightening their budgets for the recessionary pressures that are there how should CFO office leaders dig deeper and, you know, manage their budgets better?

Jasmine Ahmed:
So I think like I go back and I built from my earlier comments. I think it’s quite important that we use this opportunity during this period to step back and say, okay, when I’m building the business case, or when we build a business case for this technology investment, is it just new technology and that I’m adding on to what I already have and really challenge what other technologies can I take out of this ecosystem? If I put this new one in, that in itself will naturally give you some hard benefits, right. And holding people to account to it. That’s one piece, the next piece is taking the time to say, okay, what other KPIs are we going to expect improvements in? Is it working capital improvements? Is it better data improvements? Is it, you know, what, what is it and is it better user experience or is it that this is going to enable me to unlock and empower my team to do more value-added activities. And it’s incorporating those elements and the relevant KPIs into the business case and measuring baseline in and measuring that so that we can drive the right accountability on the complete value drivers of making that investment, but also making sure that as part of the implementation plan, there’s a lot of focus in some of those other activities and not just putting the tech in. So that is what I would recommend. And I think that will naturally also the conversation also forces people to address especially during a recession, is it means that you will have to make difficult choices. It’s not going to be doing five technology deployments simultaneously. It may be just two, but doing it well, it’s doing less, but doing it well. And it’s forcing those conversations to take place up front with the transparencies and on the back end, also measuring the effectiveness of those outcomes.

Madhurima Gupta:
Absolutely. And you know, you rightly pointed out about how finance teams should be enabled with technology. And though we did touch upon this a bit, but a lot of times there’s a perception that businesses hold where in adoption of automation is associated with the reduction of cost and downsizing of teams as well. First of all, do you agree with this comment and if you do, or if you do not, what do you think should the right perspective be towards you know, enabling a team with automation?

Jasmine Ahmed:
So I’m a big believer that, and this is, you know, right now we’re talking about automation and tech. 10 years ago we were talking about offshoring as well, right, as being a cost to improve margins. I’m a big believer that right up front, if that is why we’re doing transformation, we’re going to be disappointed no matter what your strategy is. And I think it’s also very shortsighted, in my opinion,I would actually advocate that we need to pivot away from leveraging transformation to be a cost cutting activity, to focusing on, look, you know, we’re in a state where always in a state of disruption, transformation is about how do we take our team, our function, our organization, progressively forward to be more resilient economically And I think if that pivot from cost-cutting to that, the mindset changes and how you make decisions changes, what you invest in, how you execute that entire approach changes. And I think the, that the, taboo that the word transformation brings to people, which is really, in my opinion, innovation it’s innovation for the internal workings of a company. It gives it much more of a positive light as opposed to a negative connotation to it.

Madhurima Gupta:
Absolutely. I mean, I really like the concept that, you know, instead of calling it a transformation project, it is actually an innovation project that people should be looking at. How do you think artificial intelligence helps CFO’s office manage recession appear like recession better?

Jasmine Ahmed:
So I think artificial, like I go back to it’s artificial. It’s like all of these capabilities. I think that the, I think as CFOs as a CFO community, the art of possibility that we have with what the technology offers, what the art of possibility is actually very real. The technology is already here. We just haven’t been able to get ourselves there effectively yet. It’s about taking both financial and non-financial data from both internal and external sources to bring it together in a more dynamic fashion, to be able to make better business decisions with less risk faster, quicker. That’s what the art of possibility is. It’s not about reducing manual activities. I think that is very shortsighted. It only gives you one piece, but I think if we just almost step away from that and say, well, actually, what are we really here to do? We’re here to drive better financially strategic sound decisions, right? That’s what we’re here to enable the business to do we’re to do that. We really need to leverage the technology to bring this together.

Madhurima Gupta:
Though we did, you know, talk about this slightly in the beginning of our conversation. And you did mention that the CFOs should look at recession as an opportunity and, you know, take measures that are, you know, offensive and not defensive with their technological investment. Is there a rule of thumb that you’d like to suggest a community,

Jasmine Ahmed:
A rule of thumb? So I would, you know, going back to where we started, you know, this is an opportunity. And I think where I would do some rule of thumb is one, I would use this opportunity to focus on investing in our people and how we look at our talent, our capabilities, and how we reorganize ourselves. I think you know, I’m a big believer. It’s very economical. If you just spend small dollars and reinvest them in your people, your people actually can be your biggest driving force to integrate technology capabilities into your business and into your function to uplift it and push it forward. So I would say it’s really important that we as leaders drive this philosophy more and actually put it into practice as a way of life. So that secondly, I would say, we need to challenge ourselves. When we look at finance, let’s not look at individual technology on its own in isolation. Let’s look at the entire technology landscape for finance in combination with data and UN and get, get a view on where, what do we want our technology landscape to look like in finance from beginning to end and using that as the guideline to then start saying, okay, do I make this tech investment, or do I not make this tech investment? Is this going to complement our target state technology? And then the third thing, going back to the data that I would focus on is taking a very outcome driven mindset to align on what are the data attributes we want to make these business decisions? What do we need to make these decisions and who are the owners of those data with the source of the data, how does that data then flow through our ecosystem? And how does that work with technology and what technology do we need to make it happen? And I think if you start doing those three things parallel to one another, I really don’t think the recession should hold us back. If anything, I think the recession is a catalyst as to why we should do these, you know, focus on these three activities with more rigor.

Madhurima Gupta:
Thank you so much for sharing your rule of thumb with us today. Jasmine, I really appreciate your time. And for our listeners out there, I hope that you found this extremely insightful conversation with Jasmine. Interesting. So please stay tuned for more such conversations and for today, thank you so much, Jasmine, for being on the show. We hope to have you back again sometime soon.

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