Interview with Simon Jackson, director of Futuresense
'Reporting to the CFO' is both Futuresense's tagline and raison d'itre: the result of a fortuitous convergence at the sweet spot between systems specialists and finance professionals. Although this consultancy sells and implements technological solutions, they have a nous for finance born out of training and real-world experience.
"Our team boasts a strong finance skills base," says director, Simon Jackson, a qualified chartered accountant (CA) himself. "We employ CAs and people who have had experience in finance, but also have a keen passion or interest in technology. You need a strong finance background to relate to the CFO and their problems, and then you need a passion for the tech to provide an elegant solution.
"All of our directors come from a finance background, so we understand the role of finance well - rather than coming from a pure IT perspective. We also spend a lot of time on training our staff, so that they are absolute specialists in the products, and cross-skilling them as well so they are equipped to take ownership of what they have to develop."
This is a key differentiator for them, as a business that consults on the full suite of Oracle Hyperion financial software. In fact, they are the largest independent Oracle Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) implementer in SA.
"We work directly with the CFO and finance team to understand the problems that they experience in reporting, be it statutory or management reporting, or long-term forecasting. Typically, we see a lot of legacy systems that hold back a finance team and make it harder for the CFO to answer the questions he needs to. We also see a lot of motivational fatigue in finance teams where there are systematic challenges to bringing together the reports they are required to do periodically. We want to improve that so that they can turn these around more efficiently and less painfully."
The kinds of questions that a CFO must address continue to shift in contemporary business, as do the risks companies now face. "Business must now navigate huge advances, like big data, and challenges, like regulation changes. It is critical that business people, especially the CFOs, stay up to date from a systems perspective, as these are changing the face of the finance function," says Jackson. "The role of the finance team is evolving, expanding and changing."
The Oracle suite is also constantly evolving, explains Jackson. A big change has been a shift to cloud, rather than 'on-premise' deployment. "There are lots of new and exciting cloud products being released into this space. One of our goals for the year is to complete our alignment on these, to become specialists in the cloud offerings, making sure we have all our certifications in place and building up our experience in the cloud products."
Jackson believes this shift to the cloud offers clients many advantages, allowing them direct access to a solution, and removing some of the barriers to entry, such as large infrastructure purchases and lengthy implementation processes previously associated with specialist, on-premise software tools. It also has a democratising effect in some ways, as the subscription pricing model of cloud solutions makes this a viable option for the SME market.
"The subscription model works for a lot of clients as it does shorten timelines and can be cheaper," says Jackson. "As developers, we also see the benefits, like being able to sign in and start developing from day one."
This is one of the reasons Futuresense will be participating in the 2018 Finance Indaba later this year: to showcase their solutions and engage with finance professionals around these shifts in the overlap between the industries. "With Oracle, there is a framework within which you operate, but we target the CFO and really engage the finance team in order to understand the business and break it down into its drivers and its structure, to answer the questions they need to ask or that the shareholders are asking of them."