The following article is excerpted from an upcoming FP&A Guide.
Oracle deployed an elite team of FP&A consultants to work hand-in-hand with the operations, while investing heavily in developing finance talent.
“At Oracle, the finance organization is very critical; we’re independent but embedded into the business,” said Ivgen Guner, senior vice president for Global Business Finance. Finance is viewed as a business partner and, at the same time, it has a direct reporting line into the business finance organization, so it remains a truly independent party.
To make it possible for finance to focus on its partnership role, Oracle has done a lot of heavy lifting over the past five years in terms of automation and standardization, including setting up an SSC and data center for finance. Guner then completely reorganized and relabeled the FP&A function into the Global Business Finance function and set up three distinct sub-organizations.
- A center of excellence (CoE) that houses the automation of all report generation.
- A business partner support/FP&A function that houses all the analytics and does the heavy lifting as far as providing the layer above it with the support to deliver value to the business.
- A business partnership function that includes true business advisors who work hand in hand with operations to solve problems, identify opportunities and get deep into the business strategy.
The testimony for the approach’s success, according to Guner, is that that business leaders and the C-suite consistently seek out her team’s advice when they want someone to provide an independent opinion about business strategy questions, such as scenario analysis and long-term projections in a new market segment. At the top level, the business partnership role is held by the crème de la crème of finance talent who help drive top-line growth and make a real difference in the business.
Oracle forecasts weekly or even daily in a very complex environment. “They’re very savvy in understanding each business line,” Guner said. “They need to understand not just how the numbers come together, but the dynamics of each deal, each project, how the business goes to market, and its implications to the top line as well as to the margin. Because they’re an independent function, they can ask the hard questions in a timely manner as they quickly grasp the accuracy of the information.”
Meanwhile, the business-partner-support group performs the forecast analysis; prepares the predictive KPIs, pipeline close trends and cloud KPIs; and provides the analytical insight to their business partner counterparts and to the business. “That’s where the analytical heavy-lifting takes place,” Guner explained. That group can also see the common analyses business partners require and standardize them across the organization.
In turn, these two groups work very closely with the CoE that streamlines the process, enhances strong data governance, automates the reports and creates dashboards. Thus, business and finance can have a real conversation without having to spend time discussing whose data is right. It also means management doesn’t need to wait five days for those critical reports. “They’re available within the system to me every day when I walk into the office,” said Guner.
AN EMPHASIS ON TALENT DEVELOPMENT
“Certainly, it was initially hard to split the full role into three, and tell somebody they’re now responsible for a few, not a wide scope of things,” she acknowledged. But Oracle sees the three finance organizations as stepping stones; it gradually promotes staff from the CoE level into the business support role and, after learning the various businesses, the staff can build the skills they need to graduate into business partners.
To this end, Oracle has also established an in-house training program called the Oracle Finance Academy. “I wanted to have a freshman, sophomore, and so forth training levels so by the time staff graduates, they are ready to become business partners,” Guner said.
The company’s post-graduate program helps managers learn how to present to the C-suite. They start with basic financial analysis and go up from there. “We use a combination of informal rotation and internal training to develop our people,” Guner said. The courses are designed to strengthen both the analytical and soft skills required for business partnering and all have practical applications in the workplace. They range from pure finance, such as “Financial Data Analysis and Decision Making” to “Presenting Your Ideas at the Executive Level,” and the curriculum changes as the company’s business needs evolve. All courses are delivered virtually through the cloud, are modular, and taught by experts and university professors.
In addition, a sophisticated talent review process ensures that the right people are in the right roles and have the right opportunities to grow. An executive committee meets every six months to review talent and push people out of their comfort zone if need be through a job-rotation program that gives people a breadth of experience in different geographies and lines of business. Oracle also hires externally.
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A BUSINESS PARTNER
To work effectively with the business, finance needs to gain their trust. That hinges on the development of soft skills, which are the hardest to train. These interpersonal and behavioral skills include the ability to influence and ask good questions, the tenacity to drive for excellence, and the ability to change and show leadership. “You need to know that there are times you should and shouldn’t speak up and what’s the right way to do it; that’s a communication skill,” she said. Broadly speaking, it requires the following three major skill sets, according to Guner.
- Finance expertise. “Obviously you need a rock-solid foundation in finance and economics, but what I really look for are people with a highly strategic side, people with a focus on looking at future needs rather than looking at historical trends.”
- Business acumen. “It is critical that business partners understand the strategy of the business. What elements of the matrix are most important? How do you advise based on this knowledge?Our business leaders are looking to finance to tell them the two or three most important things to focus on in a sea of data and numbers, and we need to be able to provide that business insight to them.”
- Interpersonal and behavioral skills. “These are the hardest to find in candidates, and also the hardest to develop once they’re hired. An effective business partner is one who can communicate clearly, builds strong partnerships, influences and advocates, and provides change leadership. A lot of their success depends on those interpersonal skills. It is a much harder task if you have not already gained the trust of the C-level. The team you select to pursue any new project has to possess that executive presence and effective direct and precise communication skills. They need to be able to persuade and anticipate issues and questions. Tenacity, drive for excellence, and creativity with the right soft skills are the real factors for success.”
In an effort to help hone these requisite soft skills, she and Donald Anderson, Oracle’s director of organization and talent development, have been traveling the world to meet with the business finance organization’s top talent. They meet regularly with top talent in each region and have them present on something that’s meaningful to the business. Anderson works with the partners to develop their presentation for a couple of months before they visit. “It’s a lot of coaching and it all goes a long way,” said Anderson.
Guner concluded: “You must make the time to invest in the people.”
For more insights, keep an eye out for the FP&A Guide to How FP&A Can Become A Better Business Partner, to be released next month. AFP’s FP&A Guides are available here.