In the sci-fi thriller The Matrix, Keanu Reeves delivers a flurry of literal and metaphorical jabs at a technologically driven race that has taken over planet earth. It’s good fun and let’s be honest, not everyone can wear a trench coat with such incredible panache. But is technology the ravenous beast that The Matrix portrays it as, ready to consume those it comes in contact with?
Technology, particularly in the accounting and finance industry, isn’t going anywhere soon and according to Kazeem Jaffer, Corporate Controller at Brookfield Global Integrated Solutions, data should drive decision making. It’s technology, Jaffer says, that allows us to capture the best data and therefore make the most strategically sound decisions.
Technology and Accounting in the GTA
You’ve worked with large organizations and been a part of multiple technology driven projects as a finance lead. Over the years, how have you come to view technology’s relationship to finance or accounting and how does this drive hiring? What technology tools, systems and frameworks are the most important to learn?
It is vital that someone not just focus on technology tools – they also need to understand how to think about technology as an enabler to the business. It is for this reason that I really believe in seeing if candidates are willing to roll up their sleeves, dig in and try to understand how the data flows. This means starting with transaction initiation (where does it touch an operations person) right through to financial statements being prepared. You should understand what data is captured, how it is captured, and how often it is updated.
How has your view of technology in the finance profession changed and where is it going?
Finance continues to be more data-driven, with an increasing focus on process improvement. More and more you’re expected to understand a process and be able to see impacts across multiple lenses – P&L, cash flow, business continuity, risk management, shareholder impacts, capital, etc.
In terms of systems skills, you need the ability to be one step ahead of your executive/ stakeholders’ needs and try to anticipate what they need before they ask for it. FP&A, for example, is less about Excel consolidation and more about ad-hoc analysis, designing hierarchies, and so on.
How does a finance professional invest in their technology/system skills? What do you recommend to stay current?
It’s important to know one of the major ERP’s – like Oracle or SAP. This makes you versatile, so if you have to change organizations or move around companies you’re able to leverage the skills you acquired. You should be obsessed with data structures and be able to understand how information flows so you can design it, optimize it, and be that intermediary between Finance, IT, and stakeholders.
How has your grasp of technology impacted your career and helped you get to where you are now?
A lot of finance folks leave IT to IT. In my opinion, this is a mistake. I have benefited from focusing on people, processes, and tools. If IT is the only department that knows the systems, then your solution is heavily influenced by them. By understanding the systems, you’re able to get a seat at the table to influence the solution and ultimately meet business/finance requirements. I have also used this experience to align IT to my interests as a finance person to meet our department’s objectives.
Well, first of all, maybe never take the red pill. Sometimes, Alice needs to stay in Wonderland. But seriously, what Kazeem Jaffer is saying, is that those who understand technology and the data it produces can make more effective business decisions. Technology can help refine inefficient processes, enable the user to see the connection between different departments and ultimately provide key insights to stakeholders. So maybe there is good to be found in the red pill. We’re not really sure, but we’d definitely like to add a dashing trench coat to our wardrobe.
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