Ep. 120: Jeffrey Dailey - CFO Strategist for Data and Technology
Jeffrey Dailey, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Prometric, joins Count Me In to talk about the impact of data and technology on the role of the CFO. At Prometric, he is responsible for managerial oversight of all of Prometric’s financial, legal, corporate development and risk management practices, ensuring Prometric’s continued financial strength and our commitment to fund customer-focused strategic growth and innovation priorities. In his conversation with Adam, Jeff addresses some of the challenges that data presents, how to adapt to the challenges and develop a technology roadmap for the organization, and connects everything to the role of the CFO. Download and listen now!
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Hey everyone, welcome back for episode 120 of Count Me In. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. Our featured speaker for today is Jeffrey Dailey. Jeff is Prometrics Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, and he joined my co-host Adam to talk about data and technology. During their conversation, Jeff addresses the challenges associated with mass amounts of data, how to make decisions based on data and how the CFO's role has changed because of data and technology. Keep listening as we head over to their conversation now.
So Jeff, data is becoming more and more important each day whether it's your latest smartwatch, a smartphone, your internet, things on your refrigerator, or your washing machine. It's getting thrown at us from every direction and even more so in business and for you at Prometric, how are you facing that challenge with all the data that we have in business and how have you adapted as an organization to meet those challenges?
Thanks Adam. Yeah look, I think the role that I play in Prometric as the CFO is really going to be leading to driving data-driven decision-making. And in order to do that, we really leverage analytic capabilities, not just within the finance function, but across the business. Our business relies heavily on understanding volume and capacity, of our clients and global candidate base for those taking tests in our test centers, as well as new modalities around remote assessment. So we're constantly looking at opportunities to gather and understand data, but also to use that to be quicker and more agile in our decision-making, it really becomes sort of foundational to us driving, data-driven decisions across the organization, it helps enhance forecasting, it helps us understand how we're allocating resources across the operations, as well as our technology investments.
So if you look at your technology roadmap that you're looking into the future, what does that look like for you?
Well, right now we're in a unique disruption coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I say that it's created opportunity in some ways, given all the disruption to our clients and frankly to all of the candidates that we support. One of the areas from a global technologies we've gone from what was traditionally largely a brick and mortar business model, to enhancing our remote assessment capability, to offer assessments and opportunities for candidates to sit from any location has been key when you're going through national and regional restrictions around social distancing and access to traditionally facilities where we have tested candidates. So operationally or product, we have deep investments that we're making across the technology platform to enhance both functionality, as well as expand in those areas of key features. Within our finance organization, we've actually also taken this as an opportunity to really invest in more, I'll call it cloud native systems and financial reporting technologies that are going to enhance our ability to streamline our close that are helping us in terms of forecasting and helping drive, more data-driven insights across the business from the finance organization, so we've not only had product investment, but also investment in our core ERP platform during this time.
So what were some of the drivers for the decision to enhance your ERP solution?
Yeah, so I think first off is we have for several years looked into opportunities to consolidate multiple platforms that we had that had evolved both over time in different regions as well as, you know, take advantage of what I think now is really, truly a much more secure, fundamentally sound and feature rich opportunity, in what you're seeing in the cloud native ERP platforms. We see this as an opportunity to not only attack technology as our focus for the investment, but also process improvement and there are a number of areas that are features that we're rolling out that will be further automating the closed process, automating the financial reporting and forecasting process, and also just really trying to drive process improvement in business intelligence deeper into the finance organization.
How has it been trying to do an implementation while having, probably your workforce working from home?
Great question. I think we have certainly been working remote for the most part, since the onset of COVID-19 about a year ago, but that being said, I think we have a global team and we've always had deep resources in Asia, as well as here in the US. We're using new collaborative tools. Certainly we've done a lot with remote video conference, we've got consultants dialed in they were helping us with that implementation, but I think the key has been having really deep sense around understanding of our current operating model and really having developed sort of the objectives collectively, while we're working remote, but to see where we needed to have opportunity for better access, as well as enhance the security and performance overall of the system that we're investing into.
Circling back to data across the business. Why is it important for the finance function? Cause usually the finance function looks at their data and all the numbers and make sure everything makes sense. Why does it make sense to have the data connect across the organization?
Sure, great question. I think for us it really starts with understanding our client programs and the candidates that we support on their behalf. Our business is relying on volume and managing capacity through a global network and I think as I mentioned, that includes both the brick and mortar global channels supporting our candidates in center testing, to anywhere else from pop-up events that we run short term and then ultimately, expansion of our remote assessment capability. When you're looking at managing that level of capacity and the different modalities that we serve, it really has become critical from an operational decision-making and performance management capability to have a deep understanding and a deep base around analytics for the business. We are, you know, obviously each day kind of managing into the changing capacity restraints for coming out of COVID. We have had analytics that have provided us more insight into candidate behavior in terms of return to test centers, in our case. We've had certainly a large increase in candidates who are opting to take large-scale global national certifications and licensure exams online through our remote assessment tool, and understanding what's driving those decisions for candidates is critical for us to both enhance the product and the modality for them to have access to our content. When I look from a pure finance perspective, it really has been about harnessing data to help us understand more quickly more accurately what the business is performing during what's been a really disruptive time. We have used this as an opportunity to enhance what we do on a week to week basis in terms of our flash reporting. We have invested heavily in terms of pivoting how we do forecasting for the business. We are deeply connected using data from across operations, IT and our technology and product teams to really help us understand and allocate resources appropriately so that we can manage what, at times or headwinds that vary by region coming out of the restrictions that we've been under through COVID. When I think of, you know again, it's really driving us to be a more data-driven organization around decision-making and I've sort of looked at that as the role of frankly myself and my organization of helping harness that data in a way that helps us make not only good decisions, but also has consistent information accessible for folks across the organization so that everybody's able to easily interpret both the financial as well as the operating metrics that we deliver to the business.
Definitely, so you mentioned that you’ve had to adapt to different business models because of COVID, can we talk a little bit more about that?
Sure. You know, first as many companies that experienced we had a significant impact on our business from the outset about a year ago. We took steps to maintain and manage service levels for clients that were still able to have their candidates into our test centers to test. But through that, we experienced quite a bit of backlog in our business because we were anticipating a lot of those candidates coming back in once the restrictions eased in each jurisdiction that we operate. When I look at what also happened during that time period, as I think I mentioned, we also took it as really having to ramp up a key product that's now a key piece of our growth driver around remote assessments. The ability for us to provide not only access for candidates during COVID, but also now going forward when we're coming out and seeing more clients embrace remote assessment as a key modality for their candidate base, has been critical in our strategy around investing into a new technology to serve our existing and new clients as we grow forward. We have really tried to migrate from what has traditionally been a brick and mortar channel to ramp up this remote assessment capability. There's a lot of analysis that's gone behind in terms of which clients we anticipate, you know candidate basis to move over into that modality and overall, I think it's just allowed us to really help manage capacity on both fronts because we're also managing our tests, and our administrators, our remote proctors and frankly our overall labor model around candidate support, and customer help desk. When I look at all the data that's coming out of those different organizations, again I kind of come back to tying it all together around how it feeds into what we're forecasting and also how we're using that to make data-driven decisions around what's best in terms of our resources and capital allocation as we look ahead at the next month, the next quarter and upcoming in the next year.
So as you make those data decisions, can we move a little bit into data visualization? How are you telling a story for the rest of the team to show what's happening?
Well, I think for us it really starts with simplifying the objectives across the organization. As many companies have surely experienced in COVID you've got to make sure that you've got a clear vision and set priorities so that folks remain laser focused during a time that has been so disruptive across the economy in so many different regions, for us in terms of visualizing, we start with how we're performing as a global business, but the visualization and the work that we've done to try to drill that down to a geography as well as a product level view has helped enhance not only the financial review of the business, but also from an operational perspective help really make sure that we've got the right metrics that we're measuring, we understand how we've set markers and leading indicators for each of the business units to monitor and manage, and then to help sort of show progress against those has been a real positive coming out of this frankly because we've had a much more engaged group around our weekly reporting or weekly flash and reviews like that, that are helping us understand what capacity and what scheduling habits are telling us about where we're headed in the next period. You know, I think that level of data and visualizing that for not just again across the finance function, but also across the organization is helping really sync up what operation staff and support are driving. We have a global network of test centers as well as a team of remote proctors that deliver services to our clients. But it's also around candidate support. And when we've had to connect it's been having to understand data supporting candidates coming back in to test post COVID, as those restrictions have been lifted we've had much quicker access to understand where we had to expand capacity and where we had to manage for additional resources to support that backlog. Data has been crucial to helping us clarify, not only the expectation for candidates coming back in, but also helping our clients to define where they have opportunities to expand their own capacity for some of the offerings throughout a calendar year.
So Jeff, as we kind of wrap up this conversation, I've been listening to you talk about your role as CFO and it seems like that the role of the CFO is changing and we've seen papers written about it, we've heard people, other folks talk about it and I just wanted to get your perspective as a CFO, how do you see the role of the CFO changing and as we look forward to the other side of this pandemic, what is that going to look like for you?
Sure Adam thanks. I think if I look historically the key roles around core finance capabilities have traditionally been around financial reporting, accounting, the controllership function and treasury. I think as you look forward, those are obviously still important in terms of stewardship of the business and overall command of operations. I think where I'm finding myself increasingly involved are more strategic discussions around, anywhere from investments that we're going to make in the company, both in terms of internal product development as well as corporate development and M&A opportunities for the business to grow into new markets and ancillary products. But I think it also really kind of, it takes a turn when you're spending much more time with the commercial organization when you're spending more time with the operations team, to really make sure that as finance has a role, not only in reporting, the outcomes of the work of those groups, really helping be part of the decision-making and helping influence the outcome to a better result. That's been particularly important for us coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, given not only this disruption to our business and our clients and candidates, but frankly across the team. We've had to find new ways of working remotely together and it's really been a time where we have really invested together as a leadership team with finance having a true seat at the table if you will, to influence the direction of the company. We have been involved in a number of our key client current portfolio, as well as new pursuits, helping align not only the financial plan that we expect to offer to the business to perform too, but also really helping understand the economics and how we can work better to support our clients during what's been a challenging time for their businesses as well. You know, I think adding to that, really trying to be a catalyst for change, when I think about areas that myself and my team have been involved in it's certainly been focused on business performance improvement. I think of that not just simply as cost initiatives and savings opportunities, but really how do we function better as an enterprise? We talked a little bit earlier around our opportunities that came during the pandemic around new product investment, as well as some of our financial systems and other technology investments we're making. Those are meant to really enhance what we can do as a finance organization to contribute to really overall enterprise performance. It helps us when we're getting better around using data analytics to drive pricing discussions with the commercial organization. It helps us when we're making investment allocation discussions or our investment allocation decisions with our technology and product organization and I think certainly looks at that finance has a seat at the table when we're talking about the evolution of our organization. As I mentioned, taking advantage of some of the disruption, but also really looking at where we can be much more of an innovator and really again, kind of coming back to finance having a seat at the table around being a catalyst for that change. I think this has been an opportunity for us to show the value of not just financial reporting, but also overall business performance. When we've gotten much deeper in terms of sharing with the organization how we're doing against not just plans that we set for the organization at the beginning of the year, but on a period to period basis where we're able to show where the investments are taking place, show where those are having the strongest return and make sure that we're allocating our capital and resources according to the best opportunities for us as a company.
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