An enabler, not a handbrake

An enabler, not a handbrake

How has the CFO's role changed with the tide of technology? The CFO of a global IT firm has a noteworthy perspective on the relationships between CFOs, CIOs and CEOs.

From Adesh Goel's perspective, there should no longer be any 'turf wars' between different members of the C-suite. The CIO and CFO are the "right and left hand of the CEO" and the executive team should view the CFO as "an enabler of their objectives and not a handbrake". "When there is a high degree of trust between them, and belief in each other's judgement, the organisation can demonstrate decisive leadership and focus on the task of delivering value to shareholders," said Goel, who is CFO for e-mail security technology company, BoxSentry.

"Maintaining open dialogue and having a strong sense of common vision and purpose, greatly assists the senior management team to focus on delivering increased shareholder value through every action and initiative undertaken."

Founded in 2003, BoxSentry calls itself an "email deliverability solutions provider and next-generation reputation company". It is headquartered in Singapore, with an office in London, and development teams in Australia and the UK. The firm was established to deal with email security issues in non-English speaking markets, particularly those using Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai), Arabic and Cyrillic characters. This was to meet the market need created by conventional anti-spam technologies not being effective with non-English language e-mail. They are multi-lingual spamfighters and claim to be able to "accurately protect legitimate email in more than 15 languages".

A contrarian approach

BoxSentry's flagship and patented RealMail solution has taken what the firm describes as a "contrarian approach" to ensure what they call "an exceptionally low rate of false positives", whilst still effectively protecting against e-mail security threats such as spam. Their marketing blurb goes as far as to say they are "redefining the agenda for e-mail security by effectively creating a new category of e-mail security solution, using e-mail sender authentication to protect legitimate e-mail".

Also not afraid of stating his case in straight-forward terms, Goel dismisses concerns about C-suite politics and is disdainful of executive pecking orders.

"For a CFO in an early stage business, it is not necessarily an issue of who reports to whom," he said. "The entire senior management team is accountable to the board, and ultimately to the shareholders. The primary responsibility of the CFO is to deliver value to the shareholders.

"The best model is achieved when the CEO and CIO respect that the CFO has greater visibility over the financial implications of their decisions and accommodate the views of the CFO, if they conflict with the CEO's or CIO's direction."

Prior to joining BoxSentry as CFO, Goel had more than 18 years experience in the accounting and investment banking field. He learned the importance of cash-flow as an insolvency practitioner with Coopers and Lybrand and joined UBS Australia as a mergers and acquisitions executive. Since 1994, he has been involved in numerous technology start-ups as both an entrepreneur and investor.

No going back

His career has bridged IT and accounting and Goel believes the traditional CFO interaction with IT, just to establish an accounting system or negotiate prices with hardware vendors, has irrevocably changed.

"Given that IT now affects every aspect of an organisation, the CFO has the option of using IT resources of the organisation to establish and monitor systems and processes," he said. "This provides a greater degree of transparency and visibility of activity to the CFO, and thus enables more efficient management control over the organisation.

"In many organisations today, the CFOs and CTOs often work closely together to bring new technologies into the organisation. As a result, today's CFO has to be far more technically savvy than in the past and to be fairly competent in looking at both the application and infrastructure side of the business."

This IT-minded CFO believes that, given the pace of business and the competing demands on the time of the CEO, today's CFO has the role of the "sanity checker" and can be considered the "last line of defence" in ensuring the organisation's decisions are fiscally sound.

"Knowledge about IT issues and trends is vital to ensure visibility across the entire organisation and to be able to adopt and implement some of today's clever IT tools which make the CFO's role manageable," he said.

As to major challenges facing CFOs in today's Business-IT integrated world, Goel says making the right decisions in allocating the organisation's scarce resources to the plethora of IT options available is near the top of the list.

"Distinguishing between 'must-have' and 'nice-to-have' solutions is difficult at the best of times," he said. "Given the shortened technology release cycles, CAPEX decisions made in one quarter, may be seen as obsolete in the next.

"Guiding the organisation to prioritise value-added solutions which can be implemented within the allocated budget and ensuring the ROI on the business case is actually achieved in practice, after considering all implementation overhead, is also particularly challenging."

Achieving buy-in

Another pitfall in the work of today's CFO is getting organisational buy-in to implement a solution that has been selected by the senior management team. Goel said the CFO ultimately desires various financial and management reports, but these reports are based on the input from the rest of the organisation.

Then there's the issue of managing shareholders and raising additional rounds of funding from investors in spite of revenue falling short of previously committed targets.

"Maintaining credibility with investors whilst simultaneously protecting the management team is difficult at the best of times, and is even more challenging in IT organisations where things may not have gone exactly to plan," Goel said. "IT plans and projects are notorious for slippage. Being a bridge to communicate the reasons for the slippage and still asking investors to 'keep the faith' is a challenge."

"By involving the CFO in ideas early, with informal briefing as to how the latest technology will benefit the organisation's ROI, the CFO can be more informed when making financial decisions."

Three Key Issues for today's CFOs

(1) Globalisation and cross border transactions mean dealing in multiple currencies, legal jurisdictions and varying sovereign regulations. Knowing the particular business practices in each country is essential.

(2) Constant change and uncertainty is a given for today's CFO. The velocity of today's business requires the CFO to have an ability to juggle numerous initiatives simultaneously and rapidly shift priorities.

(3) Tightening credit markets and shrinking customer wallets are the reality of today's financial markets. Having the foresight to ensure that an organisation can continue stress-free, should economic conditions deteriorate, is vital. Maintaining positive relationships with credit providers will ensure that the CFO protects the organisation in times that are less favourable for business.

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