A CFO once confided in me “us accountants spend all day crunching numbers, but we don’t spend enough time contemplating the tech that will be driving them in the future”.
Technology is enabling and accelerating business more than ever before. It’s driving new business models and radically impacting balance sheets and the bottom line (and not always in a good way!).
- How good is your grasp of the latest technologies and trends that will impact your business?
- Do you know how to leverage the technology, not only to do your own job better but how it could shape the future of your organisation’s products, services and business model?
- Are you shaping, leading or following those conversations?
My former CEO came up to me after I had just presented insights from my team’s research to the board and he said:
“I didn’t know there was so much going on that I didn’t know about – you need to do more of this. A lot more!”
He went on to explain that if you know what you don’t know, you can actively go and seek information about the stuff you know you don’t know about. But if you don’t know that there are things you should know about, you will continue with business as usual, blissfully unaware that something is about to come out of the blue and change the rules of the game.
After almost 50 years of relative stability, the rules of our game had suddenly begun to change – fast! The Financial Services Regulator was under public pressure to impose restrictions on fees that card companies charged – which would severely impact revenue and profitability. The entire organisation was challenged to think of new revenue opportunities, process efficiencies and cost saving measures that could be implemented.
Is There Such Thing as “The” Future of Finance?
At the time this comment was made, I was the Vice President of Technology Research & Development for Visa in Europe where I ran my team with an applied futurist’s mind-set.
Before I continue, I feel compelled to clarify what a futurist actually is and does – you see, marketing departments across the world have recently incorrectly positioned us as people who “predict the future” – we aren’t – those would be fortune tellers, palm readers, clairvoyants and the kind of folk you would find at a carnival or funfair.
Professional Futurists apply systems thinking in an attempt to understand the impacts and implications of the forces at play in the world around us. Futurists will be quick to tell you that there is no such thing as “the” future. There are MULTIPLE possible futures that can be extrapolated from this point in time. We help our clients connect the dots so that they can begin to build towards the future that they would like to see come about.
What, So What, and Now What?
At Visa, my team’s primary role was to identify and track technology trends and share these across the organisation in order to stimulate thoughts and ideas by continually engaging in conversations around three key “provocations”:
- “What” is going on in the world right now? (the technologies and trends)
- “So what” are the implications and opportunities and
- “Now what” should we be doing about it?
We did this by leveraging an ever-increasing ecosystem, starting with analyst reports, published thought leadership and our own observations and research made by attending conferences and events. We expanded this to include academic institutions, suppliers, partners and our B2B customers and we consolidated the information into topics and themes which we published internally on our collaboration platform.
Of course, people consume information in many different ways and we always got our highest engagement from face-to-face presentations and workshops which we undertook at all levels of the organisation. From small group executive and management briefings, through larger department and divisional presentations through to industry events and keynotes, we spread the word, opening people’s eyes and minds, stimulating their thoughts and encouraging them to get involved.
This resulted in a number of “communities of interest” forming – cross functional groups of people that shared a common interest were encouraged to come together to consider challenges, sponsored by stakeholders at various levels of the organisation. We would facilitate “ideation workshops”, “idea jams” and “hackathons”, which gave previously disengaged and uninvolved employees the opportunity to air their thoughts and ideas for everything from internal process improvements to new products and customer experiences.
We went on to develop and implement an entire idea management system to prioritise and manage the ideas that came out of these initiatives which informed future strategy and allowed us to better manage our innovation portfolio and investments.
Throughout this entire process, we involved key stakeholders – the finance department being a crucial component as we collaboratively extrapolated potential cost savings, new revenue opportunities, new business models, go-to-market strategy and the impacts and implications that technology change would have not only on the future of the finance function but on the future of the organisation and the industry in general.
But it all started with making the unknown, known.
Do you know what you don’t know?
How do you know?
About the Author
Best known for his work as an “Innovation Catalyst”, Andrew Vorster is the former VP of Technology R&D at Visa Europe who now spends the bulk of his time tracking changes in TIPS – Technologies, Innovations, Patents and Startups, contemplating the impacts and implications these will have on society, industry and the individuals within. Weaving these into credible and colourful narratives, he inspires audiences and clients to explore multiple possible futures in order to inform strategy and create their own story of the future before they read about it as history made by someone else.
Find out more at AndrewVorster.com
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