CFO Talk: Leading Edge Technology Update for CFOs with Dave Sackett Part I

Welcome to CFO Talk. This is first of three sections based on our interview with Dave

Steve

Welcome to CFO Talk. I’m your host, Steve Rosvold, chief learning officer at CFO.University. Joining us today is Dave Sackett, chief financial officer at ULVAC Technologies, a global leader in vacuum technology headquartered in Massachusetts. Dave has a business management degree from Westfield State University and has worked in various accounting and finance roles before becoming the CFO at ULVAC. He is also a contributor at CFO.University. His videos being some of the most popular on our professional development platform. Dave has a strong interest in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and frequently speaks on topics related to artificial intelligence, block chain, robotic process automation and machine learning. Today, Dave will be updating us on these leading edge technologies.

Welcome Dave. It’s great to have you on the show.

Dave

Yeah, thanks Steve. I’m glad you invited me.

Steve

Well, you know, we’ve known each other for some time now, and you’ve done some wonderful videos on CFO.University, which I really appreciate and more importantly, our member scholars really appreciate. So thank you for that involvement. I’d like to jump right in because I’m excited to learn more about you and get an update on these new technologies.

Dave

Sounds good.

Steve

You’ve made technology a key success factor as a business leader. I am wondering if you will share a few tips with your fellow CFOs of how you approach technology.

Dave

Sure. I have found that technology is an easy thing to latch onto and really use as a tool to help your team be more efficient and really give you data that you need in real time. So I have tried to analyze my business, see how it can improve with technology, do the research, make an implementation plan and go. I have been very lucky and fortunate that it’s worked out.

Steve

That’s great. So really, it’s grab the bull by the horns and go forward?

Dave

Right?

Steve

That can be kind of frightening, especially for CFOs who haven’t been in that area before. Can you take us through a small example of where you said, “I’m not quite sure how to get this done, but I know what’s important.” How you took the technology and you know, took the bull by the horns.

Dave

I guess one of my first and probably best achievements was upgrading an old legacy ERP system to a modern one called Visibility.net. It was a big jump for us. It was our biggest capital purchase at the time. We did demos. We really vetted the company. We analyzed our business. We had input from all of our leaders and directors to say, you know, I want this, it should have this, it should have that. We made a team, got a good partner and just went forward with visibility. You know, they could have had the implementation done in three months and just really whipped it together, but I instead stretched it out to a year and had a sandbox so people could still do their day to day jobs and then learn it at their own pace with homework and people checking it so that when we did go live, people were super comfortable with the solution.

Steve

You know, that is a great approach, the patience. Looking back personally at my implementations when I was the CFO, I didn’t have enough patience. The idea of giving people a chance to use this and get comfortable with it should increase acceptance. One of the big issues with any technology implementation is that people don’t accept it. They get it forced on them. They don’t have time to absorb it. I think what the sandbox idea, giving people a lot of opportunity to learn about it, is a fantastic approach. Any other examples you might want to share with the audience, on what you’ve done, what you’ve seen done, helped other people do at other businesses or even what you heard at conferences on what has been a successful approach to implementing technology.

Dave

Sure, some of the things we’ve done is we’ve moved to a cloud based reconciliation service by SkyStem called Arts. That has allowed us to visually see the account reconciliations that are open and who needs to review it. It is super-fast, efficient, gives our auditors access and all the data is at our fingertips.

Steve

Wow! Nancy Wu at SkyStem is also one of our contributors. I am glad to hear the tool is really working well for you. That is a great endorsement for their product. It is wonderful to have two contributors collaborating. They focus on closing process and related software. When you look at how their tool helped you, how would you classify the benefits; as a reduction in cost, improved efficiency, quicker financials, better information?

Dave

Sure. It was timesaving, much faster with a cloud based system and it is remote. We tried to do something like this on our own using box.com or Dropbox. We had to make folders. We had to go in and sign PDFs. We thought we had a good system, but we really didn’t. With SkyStem, you can do everything in clicks. It is super-fast, well organized by accounts to which you upload all your balances. It has really helped out with accuracy and double checking. The supervisor has to sign off. If there is a variance, you have to put in a note. You cannot approve it until everything is tight. From an accuracy point of view, from a speed point of view and an auditor’s point of view, it is a win/win all the way around. The auditors can just log in and look at anything they want to. We leave it wide open. They can look at all the backup, who signed off on it and what’s in the balance with minimal training for them.

Steve

So using technology in this case, you mentioned has all kinds of other benefits because of internal controls. Everyone knows how to do a close, right? But nobody does it the way they want it done. You know what steps should be taken, but inevitably shortcuts are taken, something else comes up and the “perfect” close gets put on hold. Having a tool that takes some of the grunt work out of it or forces us to make sure we’re doing all the important things is really valuable. So, finding the technology that allows us to do that, can be a game changer.

So it’s been two years since you did your famous video, Get Ready for Artificial Intelligence, for us. It has been super popular on our platform. Can you give us an update on where A.I. is now? Machine learning? RPA? What are the hot buttons for CFOs in that space now?

Dave

What we are seeing now is, the big accounting firms are going to audit financials. So they are using it to review past years and this year to try to find anomalies with AI, find patterns that maybe the human auditor can’t find, pluck those out and say, what’s going on with this account? Why did this balance go up? So it is quite a change from the strict flux analysis where you are just looking at balances. This is where AI was trying to find the unusual.

Steve

You mentioned the auditors are doing that. You mean the internal and the external auditors? Are corporations and CFOs incorporating that same type of technology to find those same anomalies?

Dave

They are, yes. There is a company I am familiar with called MindBridge, they do this kind of analysis with AI. I’ve seen them do a demo where you could do predictive analytics in real time. You can actually see the algorithms, they can show you the data and say, “What do you see in these numbers?” And then they say, OK, well, here’s what AI sees and here’s how they go about it. It’s pretty amazing.

Steve

Wow. That is amazing. There is a company out here called Galois that does deep analytics for big companies on the West Coast, including Amazon. It’s really big data mining. Where do you even start on something like that? Having professionals who can help shine a light on that I think is pretty important.

Continue to Part II


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