ET Bureau: What are the most significant challenges today’s enterprises face and how can they battle the current economic slowdown?
Tom Coward: The pandemic has impacted enterprises one way or the other. They all had to adapt with the blink of an eye. It has been a challenge managing such extreme uncertainty, especially as the world waits for lockdowns to lift, mask mandates to subside and a vaccine to be available for all. One certainty I have as we emerge from this crisis is that all this change has created a huge opportunity for innovation.
I’m excited to see what will be born out of the impact of the pandemic and has been bubbling away. But, being an enterprise set up to execute on an existing business plan, it’s tough to throw that away and change direction without knowing how long we’ll be in and out of social distancing restrictions and what the world will look like when we do.
The way to battle is to ensure that enterprise leaders are ruthlessly prioritizing, meaning they are protecting the resources they have for the highest value work. It is critical to have the ability to shift a specific way of thinking and approach to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing world. It is time to commit to technological evolution and driving innovation to thrive in uncertain times.
ET Bureau: How can technologies such as AI and machine learning help enterprises make informed financial decisions?
Tom Coward: The best way for technology to help make smart decisions is through the democratization of data.
By enabling decision-makers to access and query the information they need in any way they want to, organizational leaders will be able to make more informed decisions faster than ever before. They have a far better understanding of the information than any FP&A/finance person hoarding the data would. Also, being able to query the data themselves, they are more empowered to drive actionable insight to implement change.
The barriers to entry here have never been lower. Gone are the days of having to ask someone in BI to generate a report – now, with Natural Language Querying, report building is as easy as entering a question into Google. Machine Learning is great for recommendations, but its successful application is about supercharging decision-makers’ capabilities in a way that they are themselves able to understand and challenge, not in a black-box approach.
ET Bureau: With the impact of the coronavirus pandemic worldwide, do you think the CFOs should pivot their investments toward boosting their technological infrastructure while simultaneously reducing their expenditure on office workspace?
Tom Coward: COVID-19 has changed the way enterprises think about a traditional office environment. I believe that remote working is the future for the companies able to operate as such. Cytora is now a remote-first company and will continue to be whether the whole world is inoculated or not.
It affords staff the flexibility to work when and how they like, opening up career opportunities to people outside of a commutable distance from your office while still growing relationships with co-workers.
Technological infrastructure needs to facilitate that, so depending on how many legacy systems you have, investment is likely to be necessary. There are many positive outsides of the value of saving on the workspace, such as increased staff engagement and retention, increased competitiveness when hiring (including opening up to a more diverse pool) and forced improved documentation practices.
Furthermore, finance leaders have invaluable input on organizational culture—when decisions are made, how much data is backing that up, all of which significantly impact organizational culture. In the post-COVID world, every finance leader needs to recognize and take advantage of fostering a positive work environment.
ET Bureau: How can enterprises prepare themselves to secure their financial assets to hedge themselves from another pandemic like situation?
Tom Coward: COVID-19 and its impact on the business world was something beyond imagination. It took the world by surprise, but every enterprise should understand that cash flow, managing cash and the overall fiscal health of a business should always be a top priority so that finance leaders can make smart business decisions.
One of my favorite expressions, and something I think every enterprise should live by, is “Cash is King.” It was a phrase used quite often during the global financial crisis and then again during the recession that followed the financial crisis. It was used to describe businesses that could avoid share issues or bankruptcy.
Cash flow keeps finance leaders awake at night, but despite the uncertainty all around us, there are things enterprises can do to managed cash flows better, such as creating a cash flow forecast, staying on top of payments, implementing a robust inventory management solution, tighten outgoings, and ensure access to additional lines of credit.
And the prize will be great for anyone who is able to successfully navigate their way through this. A boom is expected once normality returns, so for many that will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Tom is the CFO at Cytora, a startup that works to transform underwriting for commercial insurance. Prior to Cytora, Tom was Group Financial Controller of Yieldify, where he helped raise $11.5m in Series A funding and assisted in growing the company from 16 to 180 employees in just 2.5 years.