Ahead of his presentation at the FP&A Innovation Summit in Boston on September 7 & 8, we spoke to Jim Collins, Performance Management Strategy Executive for North America within the Business Analytics Group at IBM.
Jim is a Performance Management Strategy Executive for North America within the Business Analytics Group at IBM. He works closely with the Sales and Solutions delivery teams to ensure that IBM’s Performance Management (PM) solutions are best aligned to address enterprise or industry-specific business issues and challenges, as expressed by the Finance and Management Executives at our clients.
Jim has over 35 years of Financial Management experience including holding the positions of CFO and Controller. He has a wide background in various industries including Telecom, Semiconductors, Consumer Products, Manufacturing, Import/Export, Ethical Pharmaceuticals and Electronics. Jim has been in the seats of our customers and prospects and adds valuable insight to best practices and successful processes to aid in the design and implementation/integration of IBM solutions.
How did you get started in your career?
Right out of college I went to work for the Vick Chemical Company, the cough drop cough syrup consumer products entity, as a Special Projects Assistant in the Finance department. Steadily progressed through various roles including product budget management, cost accounting and mergers and acquisitions. Continued my career in various industries including manufacturing, import/export, semiconductors, telecommunications in various positions including Finance Manager, Controller and CFO. Came to Cognos 10 years ago to serve as a subject matter expert for Finance.
Why is it so important to centralize data?
Not only centralizing data but creating 'one version of the truth' is critical to the effective analysis of business strategy. The age old problem of coming to a one hour meeting only to have the first forty-five minutes be turned upside down trying to determine who has the right set of numbers can be eliminated. Collaboration and consensus can be achieved when everyone is singing from the 'same sheet of music.'
As finance is often the gate keeper to some of the most important data in an organization, how important is it for them to work with data and analytics teams? What advice would you have to help companies where such data is still siloed? How does IBM overcome such issues?
The increased emphasis on analytics and the highly competitive business environment requires Finance to work successfully across the entire C-suite now more than ever. Some examples may include: revenue growth - finance and marketing partnering to optimize pricing and promotion, new product and/or services identification identification, customer profiling; workforce staffing and retention - working with HR to insure the right people for the right function and how to keep them; supply chain - linking supply information with demand data. In order to avoid the pitfalls created by silos, access to data is critical. Linking financial and operational plans is a key for collaboration, consensus and ultimately successful, unified strategy.
How has the finance function changed over the last decade? What skills have finance leaders had to adapt?
In Finance we have progressed from being mainly the record keepers and reporters to becoming the trusted advisors providing insight and direction into the strategy setting and forward path of the business. Leaders are taking advantage of analytics and preparing to apply cognitive computing. They have driven data, process and technology commonality. The most effective Finance organizations have gone one step further with the adoption of enterprise-wide information standards and encouraging the development of skills in analytics. As a result, leading Finance organizations are starting to try to find out what they don’t already know through advanced analytics, increased usage of data sources in their analytics and scaled analytics talent in a center of excellence.
How is automation changing the finance function? What is IBM doing in the space?
Automation alone doesn't create enough differentiation from the competition. Optimization of the data with speed, foresight and agility is where the separation can occur. Access to data and information anytime, anywhere is critical in the rapidly changing business environment. The ability to change direction (agility) in light of new information and business developments enables companies to effectively implement strategies that provide successful business outcomes. At IBM, our Business Analytics portfolio addresses all of these business issues and more with an integrated platform providing Speed, Foresight and Agility to the business users.
What other new technologies do you foresee having an impact on the finance function in the near future? IBM is investing heavily in blockchain, how important do you think it will be to the finance function?
We include a variety of technologies and enhancements when referring to the digital reinvention: intelligent automation, cloud, advanced and predictive analytics, the CFO as the Chief Analytics Officer, rules based accounting processes, the path to cognitive computing and cognitive finance, robotics and blockchain.
The lack of visibility, trust and inefficiencies in finance processes result in customer and supplier finance teams spending valuable time addressing queries, reconciliations and resolving issues and disputes. These activities and the time required significantly impact working capital and operating costs. Blockchain is a shared ledger technology the allows any participant in the business network to see the system of record. Each transaction or asset transfer is digitally signed and encrypted forming a 'block.' Each block is put one after another, forming a unique data structure, or an immutable, irreversible 'chain.'
You can catch Jim’s presentation at the FP&A Innovation Summit in Boston on September 7 & 8