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BW Businessworld

The Year Of Humane And Tech-Savvy CFOs

CFOs come together at the BW CFO Roundtable to highlight the growing health consciousness, both as operating and business necessity and the role of technology in facilitating newer business advantages.

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The fallout of the pandemic has inspired deep organizational and process level changes. The CFO as custodian of financials of the organization has always been at the front of many changes. But they have had to gallop to match the pace of the business changes that the coronavirus has brought in tow- which has pushed many companies against the ropes, tested the efficiency of their contingency plans and spotlighted the need for a disciplined approach towards liquidity management. On this journey, the priority to employee wellbeing shown by many CFOs has unearthed the profound humanness in the role that was often missed before.

Increasing Health Consciousness 

Speaking at a CFO Roundtable with BW Businessworld, Sudhir Menon, CFO, Torrent Pharma expressed how health and safety has taken precedence in the decision making process. Ensuring smooth transition to Work-From-Home and monitoring health status and virus exposure of employees has become critical.

“The first and the foremost was ensuring the health and safety of all our people. Wherever possible, we adopted a new work-from-home model and were continuously monitoring the health status of employees including their risk exposure to the virus. Social distancing norms were also implemented across the workplaces and manufacturing facilities,” he added.

He explained that more attention was given to employees immediate needs and no compromises were made as far as employee compensation was concerned. Efforts like providing additional insurance cover for covid for each and every employee; rolling out incentives for people working at the manufacturing facilities etc. as people are very important to ensure business continuity.

Praveen Maheshwari, Director and CFO at Hindalco Industries points out, “Previously, health didn’t figure as a top priority in many of our agendas, but the pandemic has proven that the company’s health is dependent on the employees’ health. We have started asking each other about our families. The softer aspects which actually deal with not only the physical health, but also the mental and psychological health have become important.”

Health Consciousness As A Business Necessity

The heightened concern for health and wellbeing was also a business necessity for some sectors. Hospitality in particular among others. Voicing the changes in sector, Ashish Kumar, VP Corporate Finance and Treasury of InterGlobe Enterprises opines that the concern for healthcare pivoted their marketing strategies. 

“We used to say hotels are a place where one should come to wine and dine but the whole marketing campaign shifted to ‘we are all safe and secure’. So, there was greater emphasis on contactless operations- the whole check-in check-out process, the food in the room, the takeaway and the delivery business.” Kumar remarks. 

He continues that, “SOPs also changed around sanitisation, manpower rationalisation due to limited availability of people during lockdown, guest quarantine became a business model, and we developed virtual trainings with all the employees to make sure that they are duly supported in terms of their training procedures and dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty around the virus.”

While the move to digital was easier for the corporate office, it presented other challenges. Cybersecurity emerged as one of the primary concerns with the amount of payments and disbursements that was spread across the country and internationally to remain protected against virus threats and phishing emails.    

Additionally, Kumar notes how new operating procedures fell into place to manage the crisis during the second wave. These were in terms of support measures for employee health, emergency medical teams, doctor consultations, emergency supplies, vaccination coverage, coordinating beds and supplies for both-employees and guests among other responsibilities.

Technological Helping Hand

One of the significant observations during the pandemic includes technology embracement. CFOs and companies at large have welcomed technological assistance with gusto.

Ramit Gupta Partner, Managed Services, IBM, India & South Asia, adds that the acceptance towards change has undergone significant improvement during the pandemic and will continue post-pandemic. Finance professionals are now more open to experiment new ways of working.

He explains, “When I interact with a lot of clients, they acknowledge that any change is a function of technology plus operations. And the operations could be business of finance or manufacturing or any other. But it's plugged in seamlessly with lot of technology and they are now bound together.”

His observations also include how conversations are now steered towards intelligent workflows to transition from a cognitive to a virtual enterprise. He believes that finance teams and financial professionals have always been more inclusive of technology and the pandemic is yet another opportunity to scrutinize how best technology can fit in.

While technological options for daily operations emerged as an alternative to physical working, it has come into its own and has highlighted potential advantages.

Nitin Parekh, CFO of Cadila Healthcare notes how technology has redefined marketing aimed at doctors by medical representatives. CFO of Cadila Healthcare notes how technology has redefined marketing aimed at doctors by medical representatives. He explains, “In terms of technology for marketing in India, we gave tablets to about 6,500 medical reps in the country. Rather than carrying printed literature and talking about various products, features, benefits and specific elements, now there is audio and video material. This also saves time for the doctors and it becomes a very standardized message rather than the printed material, where people are explaining the product in their own language.”

He goes on to add that feedback from doctors is recorded and send to the central data base, centralising the process and noting the suggestions that will go towards future product development. “I think this is a very powerful way of marketing. While this digital journey can take 2-3 years’ time, I think the direction is undisputed and clear,” he surmises. 

Industry Benefits 

The benefits however are not limited to amenable ambits like marketing but even manufacturing. Significant advancements in ‘Operating Technology’ has increased equipment reliability. Predictive analysis along with preventive maintenance are interesting developments. Talking in depth about technology in the manufacturing side, Praveen Maheshwari explains that predictive analysis can signal the failure of machines in advance. With cheap and easily available sensors in the market, the quality of the product from a particular operations can be predicted to understand how it will be impacted in advance, saving time, money and keeping quality. Block-chain technology too, can help analyse major cost parameters and keep an eye on pricing of materials.

“Similarly other examples are AR and VR, which is coming in very handy. Now all the trainings are getting conducted through the AR and VR models. I don't have to go into a mine physically to see what happens there. I can actually simulate an environment sitting anywhere. And I can also train 20 people together just by having the right simulators and just by using the technology,” Maheshwari elucidates. 

Video analytics also helps in supervision of safety protocols and can be used to avoid safety mishaps on sites.  He remains hopeful that the next step of advancement is not just predictive analysis but also intelligent machines that prompt the corrective action without any manual intervention.

Leading the FCMG giant Dabur, CFO Ankush Jain explains how automation and analytics offer greater degree of centralization in terms of financial monitoring and lead financial transformation. Technology provides greater flexibility apart from aiding in the speed of execution. 

“We can virtually see the sales at every brand, area and at zonal sales level on a daily basis. We can see trends and easily catch primary secondary analysis and mismatches. With the real time information which is available to us in the finance system, where we can highlight exceptions on a weekly basis. It makes the process proactive rather than seeing (the data) at the end of month or at the end of the quarter,” Jain explains.

He also adds that sales dashboards offer greater ease in management, covering everyone including each sales officer and what they have achieved.  Further automation helps to centralise all transactional processes and releases bandwidth for analytics, business support and partnering. He adds how these analysis can then be paired with incentives to spark motivation. “Incentives which were earlier done on a quarterly basis, are now being done on a more frequent basis to give them (sales executives) that instantaneous reward. And this all has been enabled by digital transmission only,” he concludes.

Thus, as we globally anticipate a recovery and CFOs continue to juggle internal and external crises, it is evident that their strategy is now of immediate safety, liquidity management and stabilization and protracted preparations to ride the recovery curve in real time.