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How important is software/ERP knowlege for a CFO?

I was recently laid off from a CFO consulting practice and I've always had a nagging feeling that I wasn't as valuable a consultant for the firm because I didn't have working knowledge of software other than QuickBooks, though I have tinkered around in demo versions of NetSuite. I am asking this question on the heels of someone asking if CFO should be Excel experts ( where the general consensus was that there should be some degree of proficiency, but it isn't particularly critical if a CFO is not an expert.

I always thought that a CFO's true value is in using and manipulating data from such software in order to make strategic planning decisions, which doesn't necessitate have superior technical skills. In short, isn't a CFO a business expert, not a technical expert? If you know what the data output should be or at least how to get to the end result, should a software tutorial and some OJT suffice, or is this only in an ideal world?

I only ask because I was looking forward to working with business owners in implementing operations and finance solutions via using and manipulating financial and operations data while it appears this firm markets its consultants as experts more so in accounting and technology rather than business, finance, and operations.

Is there a true technical knowledge gap or just a mismatch in values altogether?


Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

It has been my feeling that especially in a firm where there is an audit performed, the CFO shouldn't be touching the accounting system except to run reports.

That being said, the CFO should know what they need, in terms of data collection and mining. Someone on your staff should be proficient in creating the reports that provide you with information that isn't part of the standard accounting system reports.

Thus, if you are experienced and never used XYZ accounting, you don't need to know XYZ, you do need to know what you want and what you are willing to pay to get it.

Obviously, the more familiar with a system the better, but we're talking apples and oranges.

On the other hand if you are being brought in to implement a system as the system expert, enough said, but you can also be brought to assist the implementation from the CFO's point of view, and again, no need to be an expert on that particular system, but you do need to be an expert on system implementation and do a great job at GAP analysis and business process mapping among other areas.

Hope this helps Jason...

But then again, I voted for Pat Paulson for President and he lost...again...

Jason M. Jones LPA
Title: Client Service Coordinator
Company: Hemphill Wright & Associates CPAs
(Client Service Coordinator, Hemphill Wright & Associates CPAs) |

Wayne, thanks for the feedback, it confirmed what I already suspected, and given the circumstances, it appears to be a mismatch in values.

*ROTFL* @ the "Pat Paulson for President line.

Mark Sutherland
Title: CFO
Company: Profit By Design CFO & Controller Servic..
(CFO, Profit By Design CFO & Controller Services) |

Hi James, your questions are sort of in that "it all depends" category. From my perspective, most of my work is as an independent CFO working at companies from 5-30M in annual sales. I can tell you that my excel skills probably fall somewhere between advanced and expert, but I've be using it extensively for 25+ years. The things I can do and have done with excel have made me nearly indispensable to most of my clients. I've done complex pricing models that clients can't live without, which is job security for me. My education background was in finance, so I got my Masters in accounting before I started as an independent CFO, which paid off big time, for me anyway. The reasoning was that I KNEW that if my reporting, analysis and decision support was going to be meaningful and valuable, the books had to be right, without exception. And in my gut, I KNEW the books would NOT be right a lot of the time. So I got my accounting degree, and prepared myself to deal with any and all levels of accounting issues that I might encounter. I know a lot of CFO's don't like to get their hands dirty in the accounting, but what's our choice, call their CPA and wait for him/her fix the accounting issues every reporting period, and earn $200+ per hour doing work I can do and earn fees from myself? With regards to different ERP/Accounting programs, I've had the same fears in the past, that perhaps my exposure to various programs was lacking. I don't have a great answer for you on that other than to say, I've never encountered a software program that I couldn't learn in short order well enough to review the integrity of the books, make adjusting entries, and generate the reports that I needed. So just approach that issue with the confidence that I can learn what I need to know. Granted, some clients will want you to be an expert in their platform the minute you walk in the door, but that's just not always going to be feasible.

Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

I'd like to build off what Mark advises you on. As a former finance leader who has helped clients with software selection and implementation projects for over 15 years, I see two tracks of "knowledge/understanding."

One is to learn what you can do with business software (ERP, CRM, HR, Analytics, FP&A etc) in terms of running your business, processing transactions, accounting/reporting, decision making. (Maybe call this information management theory).

Another track is to gain specific knowledge about detailed features of some of the software products that makes your familiar with what they can do for your organization. (Maybe call this practical learning)

The former helps you become a techsavvy CFO, which is becoming more important especially as you figure out how to plan your information management strategically. The latter helps you drive implementations to success and then to leverage the functionality to actually manage the information and make better decisions.

The two are somewhat intertwined. You can learn theory on information management, but combine that with watching specific software demos will bring to life some of the theory. At least that's how I learnt a lot:)

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |


A lot of HR and recruiter types will focus on one's technical knowledge often the brand of ERPs and/or accounting software one is proficient in.

That's their shortcoming.

The last time I looked a debit was still a debit and a credit was still a credit.

I equate this to my time in the professional prep tax field. A time when computer tax programs were new and Turbotax did not exist.

When clients complained that I really didn't do much for what they paid me, I would tell them you don't pay me for what I do, you pay me for what I know.

Jason M. Jones LPA
Title: Client Service Coordinator
Company: Hemphill Wright & Associates CPAs
(Client Service Coordinator, Hemphill Wright & Associates CPAs) |

Thanks to Mark, Len, & Anonymous for their feedback. My takeaway is that while previous technical software knowledge is desirable, if you know what the end result is you seek to accomplish while using the software, it shouldn't be difficult to learn the software on the fly.

Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

Jason- I would be a little more structured than "on the fly" :) - make a point of educating yourself on various business software by visiting their websites, watching online demos, reading their product fact sheets.

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

I once asked a HR Manager what car she drives. When she said she drives a Toyota Camry, I immediately asked if she can drive a fancy BMW. She got the point.

Topic Expert
Bob Stenz
Title: Controller
Company: Silicon Valley start-up
(Controller, Silicon Valley start-up) |

Jason, I find most ERP systems to have a lot in common. So much so that I feel your background with QuickBooks may help you quickly bridge any gap with other ERPs solutions including NetSuite.

Mike Haile
Title: Founder
Company: Haile Consulting Solutions
(Founder, Haile Consulting Solutions) |

Some great answers. One thing that I would add in the "it all depends" category is that it also very much depends on the size of the organization (and therefore the finance team).

Larger organizations have larger finance teams so the CFO shouldn't be touching the finance system at all. Any skills knowledge in the system or excel should be just used to validate the accuracy of the data.

CFO's in smaller organizations have smaller teams and will need to get stuck in to the work so may need some of the technical skills that you refer to Jason.

That said the "anonymous" contributor has a point in terms of technical knowledge when looking for a job. Rightly or wrongly, many recruiters use familiarity with various ERP systems to filter candidates for roles, not because this familiarity will be relevant to the role itself, but as an arbitrary way to reduce the number of candidates for interview.

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