- Bryan Hipsher of Dun & Bradstreet shared how CFOs can drive tech innovation at finance organizations.
- Hipsher told Insider that prioritizing modern data, analytics technology, and automation is vital.
- Hipsher also noted the importance of creating valuable partnerships with the rest of the C-suite.
- This article is part of the Innovation C-Suite series about business growth and technology shifts.
According to Bryan Hipsher, CFO at commercial data, analytics, and insights leader Dun & Bradstreet, the finance organization isn’t just about putting numbers to paper.
“I’ve always driven my team to be part of the business,” he told Insider. “You can take one of two approaches in finance: You can be the weatherperson reporting on how things go, or you can be a partner helping to drive the outcome.”
In 2020, Hipsher and his team helped pull off one of the pandemic’s biggest tech IPOs, while also replacing its legacy core infrastructure with a modern cloud ERP — all while working together in a remote, virtual environment. Fostering a culture of technology innovation, he emphasizes, has been at the heart of his efforts to make sure the finance function creates value as a strategic partner to the entire C-suite.
“If you’re not partnering with the CEO, but the CIO and other business leaders, then you’re taking a very old-school approach to the CFO role,” he said.
Hipsher outlined three important ways CFOs can ensure the finance organization is a force that drives technology innovation and business growth:
1. Understand data and analytics technologies should be a priority.
A modern finance organization needs to make data and analytics a priority within the function, he explained, which requires a base understanding of all things tech.
“I’m always just on the edge of being scared when it comes to knowledge of infrastructure and development and the software development life cycle (SDLC),” he said. “But if you don’t have that basic ability, it’s challenging to operate in this modern environment.”
That plays into hiring the right financial talent, with the ability to mine data, understand trends, and use technology platforms to do higher-level analysis and analytics. “The talent coming forward continues to evolve to where we have folks that are more and more comfortable from a systems perspective,” he said.
2. The heavy lift away from legacy technology is well worth it.
When Dun & Bradstreet decided to transition from its “ancient” ERP system to a modern SaaS cloud platform, it was a heavy lift that was worth the effort in to move resources toward more valuable and strategic priorities, said Hipsher.
“The less transactional work you have to do, the more automation you create, the more efficient workflows and better decisioning, the more value you can create for the organization,” he explained. “Even though it’s hard work to shift away from legacy investments, it’s so worth it when you come out the other side.”
Dun & Bradstreet’s new ERP system took nine months to implement, he pointed out, but it was clear to employees that the payoff would be big. “Our team had to be on board if they were going to put the effort and commitment into this transition,” he said. “But they understood the benefits of upgrading our financial systems and were really asking for it.”
3. Finance can be the thread that connects technology and product and sales.
Finance has the unique opportunity to see the entire organization across the board, said Hipsher, which can help the CFO drive outcomes beyond the finance function.
“Many of the other departments only see what’s going on in their own function, but because the ultimate outcome for all is the scoreboard and the production of financial results, it is our responsibility to see the entire field,” he explained. “We can be that connecting thread that provides visibility to technology and product and sales.”
For example, Hipsher said he is interested in how the company’s data and analytics products are used by customers on a daily basis. “Some would say that’s a product thing, but at the same time it potentially creates a new expense for me if usage runs up,” he explained. “So I want to know how we’re tracking and that’s where it’s important to make sure back-office platforms are thought through because it impacts what we’re doing from a financial perspective.”
Ultimately, the CFO needs to work to position finance to constantly add value to the larger organization, said Hipsher. That requires moving away from spending 100% of time and resources on transactional work toward automating low-level tasks.
“Dun & Bradstreet’s business is about providing mission-critical data and analytics, as a core strategic asset with a great brand and history,” he said. Thanks to the support of modern finance technology platforms, “there was a real opportunity for me to come into this role before the IPO to transform and ultimately help drive outcomes as the CFO.”