Generative AI developments are moving at a rapid pace. And CFOs are tasked with understanding the latest trends as it relates to the workplace.
“It’s not like finance people who are savvy in technology can do it all themselves,” Zane Rowe, CFO at Workday, tells me. “What I love about technology is that it actually takes more than just anyone with one discipline to implement.” You have to bring a cross-functional group together to think about what type of strategic changes are needed, determine the technology to support it, and create a plan for change management, Rowe says. “I’m very fortunate to have a wealth of people that I know in different areas that keep me challenged and learning,” he says.
Rowe began his role as finance chief at Workday (which is a CFO Daily sponsor) in June. The enterprise cloud company’s total annual revenues for its fiscal year 2023 were $6.22 billion, an increase of 21.0% from fiscal 2022. Rowe succeeded former Workday CFO Barbara Larson, who stepped back to spend more time with her family, according to the company.
Rowe was most recently CFO of VMware, a developer of virtualization software, for seven years. During that time, he served as interim CEO from February to May 2021. Before VMware, Rowe was the CFO at EMC. He was also previously CFO at United Airlines and Continental Airlines and then led North American sales for Apple.
Working as a finance chief in the people-centric airline industry was actually a catalyst for his love of tech. “Back in those days with the airlines it was about growing internationally and connecting people, and technology became such a big part of underpinning that,” he says. “And then I shifted, and had an opportunity to work at Apple, and found my passion for technology and driving change.”
Rowe says Workday’s people, culture, and products attracted him to the CFO role. The company recently announced a series of new AI and machine learning (ML) enhancements for finance and HR solutions, including generative AI capabilities for creating job descriptions and employee growth plans, for example. In using AL and ML technology, “on the financial side, you can be looking at variance analysis, you can take a lot of the mundane tasks out of the everyday work week,” Rowe says.
What CFOs are thinking about GenAI
Generative AI, and its impact on productivity, continues to be a hot topic in the business community. Recent McKinsey research estimates that generative AI could add the equivalent of $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion annually to the global economy.
What’s Rowe hearing from fellow CFOs about investing in this technology? Companies that don’t prepare themselves for technological disruption run the risk of competitors capturing market share and taking business away, Rowe says. “I think many CFOs do recognize this,” he says.
“In the area of AI and the work going on there, a lot of the peer groups that I talk to are very inquisitive and want to learn a lot more about it,” he says. “I think the nature of the job has changed where I haven’t heard many CFOs pull back on that type of spending. In fact, they are encouraging it, to really understand where it adds value.”
According to Deloitte’s CFO Signals survey for Q3 2023, the finance chiefs surveyed said if their company decides to incorporate generative AI, these are the top three goals: to reduce costs (52%), provide better customer experience (50%), and achieve greater margins, efficiencies and productivity (45%), according to the report.
Thinking outside the box
Rowe still believes in being people-centric, so, since joining Workday, he’s been having a lot of conversations. “I’m spending a lot of time with customers to understand what we can do with the product, and spending time with our own product teams looking at cutting-edge ideas,” Rowe says. He’s also building out the finance and accounting teams, he says.
What does he seek in a team member? Someone who can think outside of the box, according to Rowe. “We did a session fairly recently with our accounting team to think about how they can use AI to do processes a little bit more differently and creatively than they did before,” he says. You can find the original article on Fortune.com.