CFOs braving risks of cloud see results

Finance chiefs willing to use cloud-based financial planning tools are seeing improved business results, according to a Dimensional Research survey.

With so much financial uncertainty in the air, corporations are reticent to take risks on new cloud computing services. At least one survey said that's exactly what companies should be doing to drive growth.

Two years ago, no IT manager in his right mind would tell a business stakeholder their data was in the cloud.

Diane Hagglund, analyst, Dimensional Research

Technology market research firm Dimensional Research surveyed 541 finance executives and business owners at midsize to large companies in the U.S., in October 2011. A small percentage of survey participants (10%) use Software as a Service or cloud-based systems for financial planning and reporting. However, 92% of those respondents reported they had seen improved business results because of their planning activities. This was significantly higher than the 64% improvement reported among those who use older, in-house systems and spreadsheets for planning.

Diane Hagglund, analyst and author of the report, said the most surprising data that emerged from the research was how cloud-enabled financial planning services are allowing CFOs to be more strategic and to have better communication skills. "Financial accounting knowledge will keep you out of jail, but you need strategy and communication skills in this age," Hagglund said. Successful CFOs are using cloud-based tools for immediate access to the latest data on their business and they make decisions based on that data, she said, not data from the past two or three quarters.

Participants were asked to rank the importance of certain skills to a CFO's career success. Strategy and planning skills were ranked as the most important skill among the majority of participants (58%), followed by communication (29%). Only 4% of participants cited the skill of accounting as the most important in determining the career success of a CFO.

One of the deal breakers for using cloud services, especially for financial data bound by regulations, has been the lack of security and data privacy afforded to cloud users. But Hagglund said that's changing.

Two years ago, no IT manager in his right mind would tell a business stakeholder their data was in the cloud, Hagglund said. Now many cloud-based vendors are doing a better job of security than most ordinary companies can do in-house, as the cloud providers are held to such strict service-level agreements. "The trust is getting there," she said.

Host Analytics, a cloud-based corporate performance management vendor, sponsored the survey. Dimensional Research recruited respondents from an independent database of financial professionals. They were not Host customers or affiliated with the vendor, according to Hagglund.

Jo Maitland is the Senior Executive Editor of SearchCloudComputing.com.

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