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HUL Group CFO Srinivas Phatak lays down digital strategy to redefine finance functions

It is critical for a data strategy to encapsulate the entire value chain, along with the consumer journey and consumer supply chain, developing new capabilities across the organisation and the finance journey, opines Srinivas Phatak, Group CFO, Hindustan Unilever. In an exclusive interaction with Express Computer, he elaborates the changing role of CFOs and much more

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In this era of digital disruption, an absolute transformation is happening across industries working on personalisation, convenience, curated and tailored experiences. “It is no longer a surprise that the amount of data being created by digital is mind-numbing. A lot of that new data is increasingly outside the enterprise boundaries and that is one of the opportunities that we are increasingly harnessing,” remarks Srinivas Phatak, Group CFO, Hindustan Unilever (HUL).

Hindustan Unilever is one of the leading FMCG companies in India, present for the last 86 years.

Speaking at the recently held ‘Emerging Tech Conclave’ hosted jointly by Express Computer and Government of Bengal in Kolkata, Phatak remarks that there is an explosion of data, and enterprises are at a nascent stage. He further defines Hindustan Unilever as a data-rich organisation, and lays down the group’s data strategy and discusses the key factors that are redefining the finance functions.

The data strategy equation will only fall in place when structured and unstructured data, both are working well for the organisation. Phatak states, in this rapidly changing industry landscape, some of the nimble agile players are making the leapfrog, as they don’t have to go through the continuous improvement. As the younger organisations are making the change, the larger players need to adapt and transform, which is redefining the role of finance and putting the big responsibility in terms of how finance is going to re-organise and re-orient itself.

Drive the right agility
Business leaders have to identify the ways to boost the growth and drive the right agility across the organisation, and lead the value equation in order to contribute to the bottom line and more importantly, collaborate across the functions. The fundamental shift is coming through how enterprises are leveraging emerging technologies to create and protect value.

Role of CFOs
Digital or traditional CFO, for Phatak, don’t really matter. CFOs have to be strategic leaders and co-partners of the business. “A CFO has to be pragmatic and be a disruptor. The finance leaders have to be reluctant and at the same time risk-taking. It’s about connecting and galvanizing. The question here is, how are you becoming the digital champion within the organisation and getting the organisation excited with the digital possibilities. When CFOs identify these queries well, then they can partner with the new age,” explains Phatak.

Define the data strategy
Firstly, it’s about creating the data strategy, exploring the values and experimenting, followed by scaling up the change from organisational and cultural perspective. “Data strategy stems from business strategy. The kind of data that needs to be collected depends on what you are trying to solve,” he says.

He further shares, “The fundamental shift we have witnessed at Hindustan Unilever is that, we earlier used to call ourselves a marketing company, consumer company; then we called ourselves a company about brands; and now we have added one more dimension – we are all about data. That’s when we start to match various parameters and make a difference to the life of the consumers.”

Identify value areas and experiment
Phatak further added, “It is critical for a data strategy to touch across the full value chain, along with the consumer journey and consumer supply chain, develop new capabilities across the organisation and the finance journey. Hence if you have the models and understand the experimentation, then as a CFO and finance function, you have started to make a big difference in the entire ecosystem.”

Finance is no more an information provider, we have created the databases and made them available to the decision makers, with drill-down capabilities and visualizations. Hence, we have converted by democratising the data and now finance is focusing on the business opportunities to fuel the growth and margins. Also, we have started to build sophisticated algorithms for pricing the product, he added.

The key to personlisation is to unlock the efficiencies and drive effectiveness and create an integrated organisation, he conludes.

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