Less Accounting, More Process Knowledge, More Data Driven: The Future of Finance
Interview with Marlene Pham, Director of Finance Shared Services, Schlumberger
Marlene is the Global Head of Finance Shared Services and manages three centers in Asia, North America and Russia, with a headcount of more than 1,000 staff. She is also setting up the Data & Analytics Center that supports all Shared Services functions, such as Finance, Procurement, and Human Resources across the organization. As a recognized leader, Marlene is involved in company-wide transformation projects and focused on driving and managing related change.
There is a spreading awareness across global Finance teams that times are changing – meaning, the reality of Finance’s role and expectations surrounding it are shifting slowly but surely towards a newly defined model. Everywhere you look, Finance teams are enmeshed in "transformation" projects, short- or long-term, that are generally defined by standardization, aligning services more closely to customers’ requirements, and delivering more value through improved business insight.
It's less of a trend than a movement. In the face of widespread innovations in technology, automation, and an improved recognition of the value of business intelligence, it's a challenge for today’s Finance teams to withstand the onslaught of the change that surrounds them.
This shift is summarized by Marlene Pham, Director of Finance Shared Services at Schlumberger, as: "Less accounting, more process focus, and more commitment to data quality".
That requires a change in culture. Traditionally, Marlene says, the culture of Finance has been one of a “hero” – a fixer of accounting errors and mistakes. She is trying to change this culture within her organization by moving away from the passive correcting of errors towards a scenario “where we understand what needs to change in the process to make it flow better and do it right the first time,” as she explains.
"We want to get a foot in the door before a transaction closes and engage the various stakeholders in a conversation about the process. So often, stakeholders are not aware of the work that goes into driving improvements. Making them part of the conversation is a win for all of us. This process change addresses the need to tackle a problem at its root cause, instead of just fixing its outputs. This ultimately results in the delivery of higher data quality.”
Marlene is describing something that is happening across any number of mature Finance operations today, namely, an increased awareness of Finance’s capabilities, and the desire to partner with stakeholders to deliver more value. While recognition of this shift is a necessary first step, only those organizations with visionary and supportive leadership boards are actually getting results.
The implementation of a single enterprise resource plan (ERP) and the need to enhance traditional business processes, have created the need to expedite changes within an organization. "We are pushing for change as we prepare for SAP roll-out but that does not happen quickly," explains Marlene. "Given the sense of urgency surrounding our work, we are now pushing ahead in other ways, too."
The opportunities Marlene sees include standard automations around data extractions and data flows. The critical part, she explains, is that the solution needs to be clean and standard. "I find, too often, our conversations get bogged down in discussing the tools themselves. A lot can be done in the background around how we work even without these tools. Automating a bad process is not the result we are after!"
Much of the evolution in capability is being driven by modern automation solutions like RPA. While these solutions play a key role in redefining Finance, the focus should not always be about highly complex implementations though. Rather, it should be about understanding the nature and workflow across the process, which promotes a different way of thinking. "Even SharePoint workflows are being deployed very effectively across our teams,” explains Marlene.
Given all these changes, the profile of a Finance shared services organization staff member is also shifting. Ideally, says Marlene, she looks for her team members to have a mix of strong IT background as well as operational understanding in order to deliver the kind of Finance services that would elevate value.
"I want to get to a place where, in a few years’ time, we can guarantee that all of our numbers are correct the first time. Today, there is still too much rework that creeps in. Of course much of this depends also on the quality of our master data,” she says.
Additionally, Marlene hopes to be able to provide on-demand tailored financial analysis beyond the basic reports that are currently being issued. "We know that our stakeholders want to be able to slice and dice the data. Being able to do this would be a big step in the right direction.
Overall, we want to foster agility within our operations,” she explains. “That is the true nature of Finance in the decade ahead.”
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