I’m a CFO. Here’s how to sell me on digital transformation.

An opinion piece by Gina Mastantuono, chief financial officer, ServiceNow

Digital transformation should be top of mind for every C-suite executive these days. Why? Because digitizing manual processes can drive exponential increases in employee engagement, fierce customer loyalty, better scale, and of course, higher profitability.

COVID-19 has only accelerated this trend. Before the pandemic, some companies got a head start on creating new, digital business models—Domino’s move to a technology-first pizza company, for example. Now, with traditional, physical business just barely emerging from shutdowns in many parts of the world, these companies are leaning into their digital businesses to bounce back.

Disney is another great example. They had to close parks and in-person experiences during the pandemic, but grew its Disney+ streaming business to 50 million subscribers as of early April.

Done right, digital transformation can deliver great experiences for employees and customers. Lawless Research conducted a global study of 6,000 workers last year that proves this point. In the research, about 80% of employees in highly digitized companies said automation simplified work processes, enhanced efficiency, and boosted productivity. And 72% of employees from highly automated companies said digital workflows improved customer satisfaction.

Work after COVID

While no one knows exactly what work will look like after the pandemic, I foresee a hybrid future where most companies will need to support customers and engage employees through both centralized and virtual work. Companies that are further along in their digital transformation will be better equipped to manage these evolving experiences.

Digital workflows are the core of any digital transformation model. Let’s be honest, though. Digital transformation isn’t easy, nor is it free. Companies worldwide will spend nearly $7.4 trillion on digital transformation programs between 2020 and 2023, according to IDC. If you’re a CIO, how can you have confidence in your digital strategy, and how can you advocate for the necessary budget?

When IT met finance

That’s where CFOs (like me!) come in. I believe the CFO-CIO relationship is a critical piece of a successful digital transformation journey. For the 50% of CIOs that report to the CFO, the complexity and criticality of these conversations increase significantly. The complexity and criticality of these conversations increase significantly.

So, how can you navigate a conversation with your CFO about digital transformation, regardless of your reporting hierarchy? Follow these five tips, and I think you’ll hit on the main points your CFO cares about.

Focus on business outcomes

CFOs want to know exactly how digitization will boost customer loyalty and employee productivity. The majority of us are data driven. While cost always matters, measurable business outcomes are just as important.

Solve cross-company problems

A CFO wants to see solutions that can help break down departmental siloes and solve problems across the enterprise. If you ask me to fund a digital program that only benefits one business unit, you won’t get more than five minutes of our next Zoom meeting. Trust me, the conversation will go much better if you propose a cross-organization platform that integrates with existing software to improve business outcomes.

Integrate advanced tech

An important component of digital transformation is the ability to apply machine intelligence to make work, work better. CFOs are more likely to fund digital solutions that leverage AI and machine learning because they power more intelligent and forward-looking decisions, which leads to faster and easier solutions. And yes, save money along the way.

These advanced technologies, when integrated into core platforms, accelerate the effectiveness of your digital workflows.

Deliver omni-channel services

Companies were shifting to mobile platforms before the pandemic, because employees and customers were increasingly demanding work experiences that match the ease and simplicity of their favorite consumer apps. In the COVID-19 era, companies especially need mobile service delivery because fewer employees are in physical workplaces. A distributed workforce can still be a productive workforce though, if they have consumer-grade tools to help them get their work done anywhere, anytime.

Mobile in particular offers critical functionality as economies reopen and employers consider a return to physical workplaces. Companies will need to put processes in place that ensure workplace readiness and employee health and safety. Digital workflows can simplify and automate these tasks – which include everything from enforcing physical distancing to contact tracing, office cleaning, and assigning resources like desks, conference rooms, and PPE.

Articulate your path to business value

I tease our CIO that he channels his “inner CFO” when he talks about the difference between “interesting” and “compelling” business conversations. CFOs don’t really want to hear about how upgrading some legacy IT tool will make your team marginally more efficient. We care much more about tangible business outcomes, strong ROI, and fast time to value.

How are you improving productivity? Will there be return we can reallocate? Can we count on these benefits long-term (at least five years ahead)? That’s a compelling conversation right there. So next time you’re in a budget meeting with your CFO, figure out how to focus the dialogue on success outcomes. At the end of the day, that’s how your digital transformation project will get funded. More importantly, it’s how you’ll create value for the business.