by Don Peebles, Head of Policy & Technical, CIPFA
The word transformation has never been far away from public services over the last ten years, and our world is being increasingly driven by digital change. It can (and perhaps should) be an easy and obvious step to marry the need for transformation with technological developments.
However, in the world of public finance, there has been at least one constant: public finance leaders continue to have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent effectively and efficiently to ensure delivery of vital public services. This should not mean a tension between public finance and technology. However, CFOs must look beyond shinier, faster solutions, and consider the wider impact of any digital developments in their organisations.
The future CFO must understand that technological and digital transformation is more than investment in new technology. It also means the establishment of new processes and systems. Such change must be based on strong leadership, with close collaboration between finance teams, IT professionals and, increasingly, external systems experts from the early vision through to business case development, implementation and feedback. In short, a whole-systems approach must be taken to avoid technology being used as a short-term sticking plaster for systemic problems.
A strategic digital delivery plan that links new solutions to short, medium and long-term planning horizons is key to obtaining buy-in at the most senior levels of an organisation. Again, it’s likely that this will be developed by teams with a variety of expertise from across the business. But the future CFO, with a crow’s-nest view of the organisational landscape, will sit at the heart of this activity.
Finance professionals are central to bringing effective challenge to often enticing software solutions. They are also uniquely placed to recognise where there are benefits to financial management and, consequently, to public service delivery. This means that value for money can be used as a key assessor when considering technological investment in financial management.
As a result, the future CFO will be vital in ensuring that digital solutions offer value for money and accountability for their organisation’s resources and assets. This will require new skills – but these will sit comfortably with the traditional skills already employed by public sector finance professionals.
Digital developments mean an emphasis on collaborative working across teams. They mean consideration of which controls and processes in their team should be re-evaluated in line with technological solutions. They mean revising finance regulations and policies, standing orders on contracts, internal finance reporting, and operational financial support activities. These are skills already firmly in the arsenal of the modern finance professional. So embrace the new world – you’re more ready than you think!
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