CorporateFinanceJanuary 24, 2022

Driving innovation from a financial professional’s seat

In a recent interview with VRC Voices magazine, Erkan Bayar, CFO, Wolters Kluwer Digital eXperience Group, encourages fellow financial professionals to be proactive while experimenting with technology to earn a seat at the table and drive results.

By definition, controllers are those responsible for all accounting-related activities within a company; tasks that might include preparing budgets, overseeing financial reporting, and performing essential duties like payroll. Data, especially in an organization like Wolters Kluwer, is the lifeblood streaming through our systems, which a controller is required to master in order to collect, analyze, and consolidate, while working with executive management to keep the ship on course. What are some keys to success in such a high-stakes role, and how can those in such a position make a strategic impact on innovation? Read the English summary of the original Dutch interview to find out Erkan’s perspective.

Investment in innovation

Bayar highlights that a key element of our strategy since 2003 has been the continued reinvestment of 8-10% of revenues in new or enhanced product innovations. He clarifies how this relates to the Digital eXperience Group (DXG): “as the central technology organization of Wolters Kluwer, we help our divisions and business units offer their solutions to our customers. Wolters Kluwer itself has approximately 19,200 people, which includes our group of a few thousand roll-up-your sleeve technologists and professionals, and a flexible layer of software developers. While we have a lot of funding at our disposal, prioritization is still important.” He makes the point that many stakeholders, including our Board of Directors, divisions, and customers themselves, all have a view on how technology can generate value, but that you can’t always predict success. “As CFO, I need to understand our technology, and keep a finger on the pulse.”

Agile experimentation with the correct data

In the interview, Bayar discusses how the finance function supports product innovation, thanks to its key position as overseer of the company’s (financial) results. “Success is about trying and experimenting. You can’t always predict to three decimal places whether a solution will be successful, but you can run various pilots to see what is flourishing and what isn’t, like an investment company.” In this way, a strong partnership between finance and our tech group has produced valuable learnings. “We learn from failures, as unfortunate as it sounds, by looking for opportunities for reuse- within another product, with another customer, or at a different time.”

Central to this is correct data, argues Bayar. Looking to the future, he points to different skillsets that weren’t required before within his function, including tech savvy to understand systems, along with consulting skills to help make an impact on the business. “With predictive analytics, it is possible to discover hidden patterns that the financial professional can use in reporting. Accurate forecasts and analyses are a good basis for smart decisions and potential to increase financial possibilities for the organization.”

Next level solutions

Coming back to his function’s purpose, Bayar points out how technology is increasingly helping to facilitate timely insights for management thanks to innovations in automation, artificial intelligence, and process mining. Foundational to this is data standardization and project management rigor. “We recently migrated the entire finance organization within Wolters Kluwer to the CCH Tagetik platform (our own expert solution, which recently earned a 2022 BIG Innovation Award from the Business Intelligence Group). It will enable automatic finance reports run by AI, to hopefully identify deviations for us. That is management by exception.” He describes how working with facts and asking tough questions enable our teams to identify if and when certain innovation trajectories stand out, and if more funding is needed to maximize customer value. In the end, he points out the importance of agility. “Finance itself must be flexible, able to respond to developments, and not get the business stuck in administrative procedures. The business must be focused on bringing innovation to the customer. If we have standardized and automated processes, we can spend more time on advice, making the controller’s job more fun.”

For the full interview (in Dutch), visit the December edition of VRC voices.

See Erkan’s profile on LinkedIn.

The Association of Register Controllers (VRC) is the Dutch institute for financial management, represented by over 5,000 professionals in all layers of financial management.

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