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Monday, 22 March 2010 17:07

Australian CFOs let down by ICT and BI


Fewer than a third of Australia's chief financial officers have the right mix of ICT and business analytics to let them swiftly recommend business responses to market changes prompted by the Henry review of taxation or an Emissions Trading System.

This is one of the local findings from IBM's biennial CFO survey. IBM released the results of its global survey of 1,900 CFOs earlier this month and will tomorrow issue more local findings unearthed from interviews with 88 Australian and New Zealand CFOs.

According to James White, an IBM Financial Management Practice Executive, who was involved in the local interviews, just 25 of the local companies could be considered both efficient and effective. These were organisations which had achieved a degree of financial efficiency in that they had standard chartered accounts available for the CFO to access and review, and also had tools and processes to use that data to deliver 'genuine business insights.'

According to White; 'Whilst Australian CFOs are increasingly being credited with more strategic influence at the enterprise level, more than 50 percent of CFOs indicate that their finance organisations are still not effective in the areas of strategy, information integration, risk and opportunity management.'

He added that 60 per cent of CFOs were planning major changes in order to be able to better respond to change.

White said that a range of local organisations had been interviewed, including two of the four major banks, two insurance companies and a number of water authorities and mid sized utilities. AXA was one of the institutions consulted, and according to its CFO Geoff Roberts, finance departments today need: 'Consistent data standards and information processing across business units, and timely, automated financial and operational metrics' which would pave the way for deeper analysis and faster decision making.

Although 25 ANZ institutions interviewed for the survey were classified as both efficient and effective, two organisations were identified as having good ERP platforms but next to no business insight across the group. One of those was an international conglomerate operating in the fast moving consumer goods sector, with seven different business units.

As White acknowledged; 'this is a little unusual.' However he said that both the organisations were subject to significant regulatory burdens, which had led them to concentrate on developing a standard set of books rather than invest in tools and processes to encourage enterprise scale business analytics.

In Australia White said that 'Most organisations have cracked the rear view,' and were starting to 'get better at the current view.' However there remained a paucity of 'genuine forward and analytic stuff - risk based predictive modeling.'

In part he suggested this was due to the constant need for investment in the ERP systems given the rising tide of red tape that organisations had to navigate.

Australian CFOs he said were in the main pretty confident about the quality of their finance data. 'Where they fell down is in the area of enterprise level business insight.'

Nevertheless this was what would be needed for enterprises to nimbly respond to rapidly changing market conditions and remain competitive both locally and internationally. White said organisations such as Rio Tinto for example would need to combine financial analysis and business intelligence to rapidly tweak its business model should China revalue the Yuan.  Similarly Australian organisations needed to be prepared to conduct scenario modeling in order to determine the effects of, and plan for, the looming Henry review of taxation or any Emissions Trading System the government is able to introduce.

IBM's analysis however suggests that at present only 28 per cent of Australian and New Zealand companies are up to the challenge.

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