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Digital transformation, customer experience, and the CFO’s role in innovation

by Chaye Cabal-Revilla | Aug 13, 2018
When considering their role in digital transformation, most CFOs focus on streamlining financial processes and operations. That’s a good start. But to become a truly intelligent enterprise, finance leaders must extend digital transformation all the way from back-office operations through the customer experience.

Why should we think of the customer experience as part of digital transformation? In the digital economy, customers have more choices than ever. They demand ease of use, and they want to receive services in a snap. Digital transformation is the best way to meet their expectations.

Dynamic businesses need financial execs with vision

Our company, PLDT, is the leading telecommunications firm in the Philippines. We offer wireline, wireless, information and communication technology, and digital services to the 106 million people of our country. Like most business leaders, however, we are constantly challenged by industry competitors as well as newcomers – including companies like Google, Facebook, and startups offering Internet of Things connectivity.

It doesn’t matter that we own the country’s largest market share. With so many available options, customers can take their business elsewhere at any time. To keep our customers happy, we (including us finance leaders) need to identify customer pain points and develop simple solutions – the kind of fixes that we would like as consumers ourselves.

That’s why our digital transformation initiative has been so far-reaching. After recognizing the need to continuously improve business processes, we began streamlining and standardizing our finance practices. Then we deployed new technologies and optimized processes across the organization. Over several years, that effort helped change the role of our finance organization from bookkeeper to enterprise controllers, business partners and advisers, and value creators.

But that wasn’t the end. To make it easier for customers to engage with us, we are working to automate and upgrade our service-provisioning processes. We’ve deployed a new customer relationship management solution that offers insight into consumer interactions with our company. And we’re replacing homegrown inventory management software with a leading commercial solution that helps us more efficiently manage devices for our wireline and wireless businesses.

Solving customer problems builds loyalty

None of this transformation effort is easy, but it is absolutely necessary for our continued success. PLDT is not and will never be a static organization. We continue to look at or develop new companies and venture into emerging business areas. Currently, we manage more than 120 legal entities throughout the enterprise.

This can be a challenge from a systems and technology architecture perspective. To create a sustainable technology infrastructure that can support our dynamic business, we partner heavily with our main solution providers. We’re constantly looking for new innovative ways to plan, build, and operate our business – all to benefit our employees and customers.

In this spirit, I recently spearheaded a new “Super ID” project at PLDT. Employees complained that they needed to carry and keep track of too many cards and identifying documents. They had ID badges to enter facilities, cards for health insurance and digital banking, loyalty/reward cards, and corporate credit cards for travel expenses, just to name a few.

To help address this problem, we came up with a 15-in-one PLDT Super ID card. Now employees can use one card to handle work-related functions, and they can shop online, send money, sell our prepaid services, and pay bills. For now, the card is available to employees only, but we plan to offer it as a service to our enterprise clients.

Finance must act as an innovation catalyst

Some old-school finance professionals may think that this focus on innovation exceeds the boundaries of the CFO’s responsibility. I strongly disagree.

I recently attended the Executive Program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in California. I learned so much from the classes, the case studies, and other C-level executives from a variety of industries. Their experiences demonstrate that developing innovative solutions to address customer challenges is the key to success. Another important contributor to success is the ability to encourage and build teams and people who have the passion to innovate continuously.

CFOs must take the lead in modeling that spirit of innovation and willingness to adopt new ideas. In the digital economy, every part of the organization is connected to finance. When the business runs efficiently, service customers are happy. Satisfied customers mean maximum revenues. And a better bottom line, which translates to higher shareholder value, is our ultimate goal.

Even so, a good CFO should not only look at the numbers. Only when financial leaders address issues in the end-to-end business can we create value and serve as an effective business partner to the rest of the organization. When that happens, you get a better enterprise – one that is more innovative, dynamic, and customer-centric. And isn’t that what’s needed to thrive in the digital economy?

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