Finance teams are helping to drive strategy for the entire enterprise these days, but to do it well, they need to leverage advanced digital and data analysis.
That’s the approach of Bryan Hipsher, CFO of data powerhouse Dun & Bradstreet, based in Jacksonville, Florida. Hipsher spoke with StrategicCFO360 about how Dun & Bradstreet uses data internally as well as on behalf of clients, how they’re taking a “supply chain approach” to data and why “collaboration is the new innovation.”
There are some unusual aspects to Dun & Bradstreet’s finance department. How do they enable you to help your clients?
As a data company, we have the great fortune of tapping into our own data cloud, which includes credit, financial health and business activity information on over 460 million organizations globally, to inform our financial strategy and client conversations.
For example, our procurement team leverages our data for third-party risk management. We validate new suppliers, prior to agreeing to working with them. By using our own data, we’re able to see signals that illuminate the financial health of a company, while also identifying connections and other business relationships that they may have to other global entities or parties. This analysis helps us determine whether they are a company we want to do business with. We can also leverage our data to analyze payment behaviors and terms so that we can make better decisions based on our financial forecasting insights.
How does your department play a role in the success of other areas of the business?
A recent study from Dun & Bradstreet highlighted that 76% of CFOs said the role of the finance team would expand from core accountancy-based functions to include advanced digital and data analysis. In addition, nearly 80% of CFOs are now directly or indirectly responsible for enterprise risk management, including internal and external risk.
The role of the CFO and finance department has evolved over the last few years as we’re now seen as strategic partners within an organization, rather than a team whose sole job is to manage spreadsheets and be the voice of quarterly earnings calls.
Today, our finance team works closely with every function in our company. We take a data-driven approach and apply it to a variety of initiatives, from helping drive innovation with our technology team, to working with our human resources and sales teams to shape our workforce plans and improve the way we communicate to prospects to turn leads into long-term customers. Our team is now motivated by the hands-on work we do to inform teams’ plans and deliver greater value across the organization.
How does data play a key role in your department?
Data is the foundation that informs our strategy, planning and decision making. Leveraging our own data-driven business model, we take a supply chain approach to managing the extraordinary amounts of data that enters our enterprise. We ingest raw data, cleanse, digitize and analyze it to gain insights for better business decisioning.
In addition, since Dun & Bradstreet offers data-driven finance and risk solutions, our finance team has now become the laboratory for testing new data and analytics innovations. It’s become a win-win for our teams as we’re testing new analytics before they’re shared with our clients, and in turn, it’s helped us become a more modern organization.
What are the short-and long-term trends in financial departments? What interesting trends are you seeing long-term that could impact your department?
From an industry standpoint, we’re seeing the rise of ESG as a stakeholder and shareholder priority. As more companies are integrating data-driven ESG targets and goals into their business strategies, procurement and compliance professionals are under pressure to implement ESG criteria into their third-party assessment policies and due diligence processes to meet regulatory requirements, stakeholder and contractual commitments and to minimize risk. Over time, ESG performance indicators will move to a “must have” driver to improve a company’s reputation, business relationships and performance.
From a workforce standpoint, collaboration is the new innovation. When I first started working in the industry, finance departments were often relegated to their silos to focus on the financial performance of a company. Today, we’re breaking down silos and encouraging collaborative innovation to unlock opportunities for our own employees, our customers and stakeholders.
For example, our finance team is currently working with a global technology company to reimagine how we can more efficiently turn sales leads into revenue. Earlier this year, we started work with Google Cloud to bring our data together with their technology to innovate new solutions in the insurance, supply chain, risk and small business spaces.
How has your role changed in a virtual world and how do you see the future of work?
While the pandemic was seen as a headwind for many companies, we used it as an opportunity to bring our global finance team together, resulting in a more collaborative and efficient team that has never taken their foot off the gas pedal. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were one of the first companies to virtually conduct an IPO, and at the same time, we also completed our company’s first ERP system modernization in well over 20 years.
The past two years have enabled us to become a more agile organization. We’re now accustomed to working in a hybrid model, both collaborating in-person in our offices, and connecting remotely around the world. As we return into our offices, it’s been exciting to bring team members together for the first time, which has sparked a new level of energy. While we cannot predict what will happen in the future, we can see how the changing dynamics of our work environment are helping us become more flexible, and more collaborative as teams.