After the Dotcom bubble burst and sent markets diving, the business world may have been a bit apprehensive about reintegrating technology into their firms.
Arguably, technology has created a gap in the business world. Companies such as Apple, Facebook and Uber, which adapt and depend on technology, are very successful, while industries such as traditional media and even the good old supermarkets are struggling to adapt to the new changes and find a lasting business model.
Within these companies, as technology further develops, the recently perhaps rather dry role of the chief financial officer is rapidly changing. Mark Evans, the CFO of telecom giant O2 tells IBTimes UK.
"Like it or not, every business, regardless of sector, and everyone within your business, must grasp technology and be more courageous than ever before," Evans said. "That includes the CFO and the entire finance team."
O2's own research showed that more than half (56%) of employees think that using business technology helps them serve customers better and faster. "If companies sit still and stagnate in today's digital world, they will fall and they will fail," Evans stated.
Although some might argue that digitalisation makes business less personal, it also provides access to data and ways to reach out to customers. However, that does not mean that CFOs should ignore the more numeral technological advantages at their disposal.
"My single biggest piece of advice is to be close to your numbers but be even closer to customers," Evans said. Data can help management become more aware of who their customers are and what they need.
A TechValidate study shows that asking too many questions and poorly constructed surveys and emails are among the biggest customer pet peeves. Weak analysis of data can be fatal, which is why CFOs become more important, arguably.
Although financial chiefs are historically not the most flexible and agile, Evans said that this is now required of them, and their job moves away from sheer balance sheets.
"I believe that CFOs and the broader finance function have a central role to play in helping to capitalise on the potential of digital technology," he said. "And I don't just mean by appreciating its ability to drive cost efficiencies or streamline operations. I mean in truly understanding and championing how connectivity can add significant value within your business model."
Evans said that O2 itself has taken the full advantage from digitalisation. He mentioned Refresh, the system that separates the cost of the mobile handset from the airtime, which was a response to the wishes of customers.
He said an example of using the human as well as the practical side of technology was the company's investment in 700 O2 Gurus, the company's reply to the Apple Genius, or, as Evans put it, their "friendly experts in all things tech".
"Clearly, for any business, anticipating changing customer needs and responding to them is critical," he said. "But in today's digital world, businesses must have an understanding of how the customer wants to use their technology, what their appetite for services is and what markets may come about as a result of new technology."
Rather than "changing", it is probably fairer to say that the role of finance chief is developing, if not expanding. The numbers will always be important to CFOs because it is important for shareholders. However, to exploit digital options for the long term, the balance sheet might slide away from the centre of the role.
"Digital CFOs of the future must consider holistically how technology can shape and enhance their business, regardless of size, scale or sector," Evans said.