Investing in tech to stay ahead: how Britain’s top CFOs plan to prioritise IT spending

The arrival of a new financial year signals new priorities, planning, and budgeting. The current climate also means new challenges for many businesses, with plenty of change predicted ahead. This means that businesses are taking swift steps to invest and adapt to help them navigate the journey. 

At American Express, we recently surveyed 100 of the UK’s senior finance executives for our 2017 Global Business and Spending Outlook, to understand how some of the brightest leaders in UK business are future-proofing their organisations for the next 12 months. 

The results make for heartening reading. Rather than cutting costs and tightening purse strings, the vast majority of Britain’s top CFOs - 99 per cent - say their company’s spending and investment will increase worldwide this year. And the good news for the IT community is that technology is at the top of their shopping list. Remaining competitive with other companies is the most important goal for finance execs - and they are directing their investment at technology to arm their organisations with the tools and people they need to stay ahead of the competition.

A boost for technology 

Hardware and infrastructure is the area receiving the biggest increase in spending company-wide. Around half (51 per cent) of those surveyed report that they will spend more on this than in the previous year and 19 per cent say that it’s their company’s single most important IT-spending priority. Around a quarter of CFOs also plan to increase spending on enterprise-level IT systems (23 per cent), such as financial or performance management systems. 

However, investing in new hardware will only get businesses so far. Employees remain a company’s most valuable asset, and so businesses are investing in the right people, with the right skill set, to sit behind this technology. The majority (89 per cent) of the country’s top CFOs expect the number of employees in their businesses to increase over the next year, and many of these will be technology professionals. Almost a quarter (23 per cent) say that staff in IT-related areas will be the company’s single highest priority for hiring and retention in the year ahead. And two in five say that difficulty with hiring and retaining IT staff is impeding the company’s ability to meet its performance goals. 

Finance execs are also conscious of the importance of a positive working environment when it comes to both attracting talent and keeping it. As a result, they are prioritising flexible working and building better workplaces. Almost a quarter are upping spending on mobile technology, with remote working a key motivator for doing so. Crucially for tech, they are also committed to improving training – helping to up-skill both new and existing employees. 

The customer comes first

In an era of increasingly fierce competition, the empowered consumer is rightly demanding more from the companies they engage with. Pressure for companies to compete on quality service has never been higher, and we’re seeing a greater focus on the needs of the consumer. 

Today, the customer is no longer simply the responsibility of customer service agents on the front-line – they are now a company-wide responsibility. With 21 per cent of our CFO respondents saying keeping up with customer experience technology is their company’s biggest challenge to providing high-quality customer service, it will be up to tech teams to stay on top of this, and implement the tools needed to help their companies succeed. 

When asked what customer service improvements would most benefit their company, finance chiefs also indicated that they are looking towards technology. One particular area of focus is on improving accessibility – and crucially – speed of response, by issuing mobile devices to a greater number of employees. And with more and more companies looking to improve their omnichannel capabilities, implementing successful CRM systems will help them join the dots on their customers’ digital journey. 

The importance of data 

But if CRM systems are to be successful, they need the right data to sit behind them. Data doesn’t just have a role to play in consumer communications – sophisticated data analytics is increasingly playing a greater role in many crucial decision making processes across departments. 

In fact, respondents are confident that data will overtake management intuition and experience as a basis for decision making within the next five years. It’s no surprise, then, that CFOs’ spending reflects this step change. 78 per cent say they will spend increasing levels of time, attention and money on improving their data analytics capabilities over the next year – and a fifth also report that big data skills are most likely to help advance finance professionals into the C-suite. 

On the other side of the coin, CFOs are also investing in further protection against data breaches, and remain cautious around potential security risks. While tech teams are likely to see an increased focus on data capabilities to help boost business, it’s important they continue developing protection measures alongside this, in order to safeguard it.

Whilst we do not know what the next 12 months will bring, it is clear that a focus on technology will be absolutely central to businesses looking to thrive over the next year. IT professionals now have a huge opportunity to play a key strategic role in the business – but also look towards new career opportunities, as the hiring of technology experts becomes a priority for businesses across the country. Through our work with thousands of UK businesses we know how important it is for organisations to have the right tools to operate more effectively – on both a technical and strategic level. Now is the time for finance and technology to work together to drive business forward. 

Jose Carvalho, Senior Vice President, Global Commercial Payments Europe, American Express
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