Three CFOs of leading Australian organisations reflect on their financial transformation efforts over the last 12 months.

December 22, 2023 Rahul Shah

In the face of stiff economic headwinds, the efforts of three Australian CFOs to surface decision-making data and shift their organisation from legacy to cloud applications have positively impacted performance and moved the financial transformation dial in the right direction.

For Jon Blackburn, Executive Director Corporate Services & CFO at Sydney Opera House, the last year has brought some relief for issues the organisation had been struggling with since his tenure began five years ago.

“At that time, every system that provided key data to the business was a legacy system, and the information was siloed within it. As a result, we had great difficulty getting one single source of truth about how our organisation was performing.

“Every time I needed information, a consultant had to be bought in and a report written. And the data we had didn’t correlate across different systems. This was hindering our efficiency and undermining trust in our data. We always felt we were presenting outdated information because we didn’t have real-time access to the data we needed.”

Clodagh Farrell, CFO & COO Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at DXC Technology, agrees with Blackburn that the ability to leverage good data when needed is critical. 

“It gives you the ability to gain insights across the entire business—a feature that is fundamental for making good business decisions and helps identify red flags that may have otherwise gone unnoticed to cause issues in the future.”

To remedy the situation, Blackburn sat down with his chief technology officer and devised a strategy to lead the organisation from legacy on-premise applications to cloud solutions—but importantly, the strategy prioritised doing the financial transformation in manageable chunks.

“I had seen ‘big bang’ projects during my time in banking, and I know they don’t always succeed. The key thing for me was to get access to the data from the legacy system and put it into a data cube that we could report from.”

After going to tender, the Sydney Opera House partnered with DXC to help implement Oracle’s budgeting and forecasting system. Blackburn says one of the project’s critical success factors was that he and his team felt in control.

“We worked well together. I have some people who were good project managers, and DXC brought the technical expertise.”

The project was delivered on budget within a tight timeframe, with Blackburn’s team members doing some heavy lifting.

“That enabled us to learn as we went and helped us transform the Oracle solution into something that suited our needs. We were very clear on the outcomes we needed.”
Blackburn says he now has accurate data at his fingertips.

“I can see data about a particular show or on a venue and see customer data as well as financial results. This is much more up-to-date now than when we were kidding ourselves with monthly reports that were outdated by the time they were published.

Blackburn says he can now communicate data weekly to the CEO that includes much more than just pure financial information.

“The executive wants to know how the organisation performs across all aspects. Customer data in the post-COVID era is particularly critical. In these straitened economic times, we need to know whether people are showing up, what they are visiting and whether they are new or returning customers. When times are tough, data is king, and if you don’t have access as the CFO, you are in a world of pain.”

The situation was slightly different for David Pollock, Chief Financial Officer at AAM Investment Group. His key objective was to aggregate several relatively young businesses into one coherent structure.

“We had siloed information because each business had its own instance of Xero or MYOB. My job was to convince them to focus on our growth objectives by giving up their bespoke solutions because we wouldn’t get there with all these disparate solutions in play.”

Pollock says creating uniformity was essential and the only way good governance and legal frameworks could be brought to bear across the business. 

AAM Investment Group opted to implement Microsoft Dynamics 365 as its core financial accounting system and has now moved almost 80% of its businesses over to the platform.

“We had to work out a data management strategy and then think about how our budgeting and forecasting would integrate information across the organisation, starting with operations. Getting all that information fed into one system so you have a single source of truth was challenging.”

Making the solution cost-effective was another prerequisite, he says, with the board stipulating it had to be done within some tight budget constraints.

Pollock says the journey is still unfolding and that being the project’s cheerleader was a learning experience.

“You have to sell the transformation internally and explain how it will improve people’s day-to-day work life. But when you flip into production, you want things to progress steadily so it’s manageable for people. Also, you don’t want the project to be hijacked by people with their own agendas. You have to stay the course and ensure you get the fundamentals right so it impacts the business positively as a whole, not just specific roles within it.

Managing expectations is critical, says Pollock. “You have spent months telling everyone how great it is going to be, but that takes time, and there will always be a certain amount of stress during the change management period.”

Blackburn and Pollock agree that change management is critical to a project’s long-term success. Getting the system in is one thing, but user acceptance is about changing cultural assumptions and work habits.

Says Blackburn: “People who have been at an organisation for a long time don’t like change. You need a strong project manager to convince them it’s necessary and ensure they can focus entirely on the project. It’s not their night job; it’s their day job, and if they encounter problems, you need to have a steering committee that has their back and can make decisions to move the project forward.”

Pollock agrees and says rebuilding a plane while it’s still flying accurately describes an ERP project. 

“DXC provided us with a fantastic technical design team, and I am glad I devoted myself full-time to being project manager. You need that kind of command and control structure so internal and external teams work together and the lines of communication are kept open.” 

But he says he wishes he had put more time into change management with key users. “That bit is critical. You need to provide the right resources to your business users because they are the ones that bear the brunt of these types of projects.”

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