Jen McDonald: Making the Digital Transformation Case at Deloitte Africa

Jen explains some of the benefits of going on a digital transformation journey to transform the finance function.

Jen McDonald was appointed as the CFO of Deloitte Africa in 2017 and has been in the role for just over three years. When she picked up the leadership role in 2017, Deloitte had recently defined its global and Africa 2020 strategy, as well as its Africa Finance strategy. “The vision statement for Finance was ‘to be a world-class finance function’ and the goal I set was to deliver a world-class, relevant service that makes an impact that matters to the organisation’s strategic goals,” Jen says.

At the same time, Deloitte had just finalised its Africa integration, which was the merger or combination of 14 practices across Africa that have historically operated independently, into one firm called Deloitte Africa. The integration set the landscape for a finance transformation, as well as a digital transformation journey that would change the way Deloitte delivered finance to the organisation and the way it operates as a firm across Africa.

In 2017, Deloitte had a completely decentralised finance function. The finance teams were operating completely independently within each country and region. In South Africa alone, the company’s different service lines had their own independent finance teams. “We had to bring everything together in a better way, and that’s where the transformation journey started,” says Jen.

However, starting on this journey wasn’t going to be easy. At the time, not only did Deloitte have independent finance teams across the country, but it also had completely different and disparate IT systems across the continent, from its ERP and CRM software to expense management and payroll systems. “All the different point solutions had been built around supporting a country or regional model.”

For Jen, this meant that the finance and operational transformation for the Africa member firm needed to be underpinned by an ERP and digital transformation. She put her hand up to lead the firm’s ERP and digital transformation project, knowing that the finance transformation would be limited and constrained while Deloitte Africa was operating on so many different platforms and solutions.

Project Moja

The Deloitte Africa digital transformation project was called Moja, which means “one” in Swahili. It was a business-led transformation programme that not only included the implementation of a common IT platform, but also focused on end-to-end business processes and placing the right technology within those business processes. “We wanted to implement a common platform that would set the playing field for the future and help us standardise, integrate, digitalise and automate those end-to-end business processes and move Deloitte Africa forward in operating successfully as an integrated firm across Africa,” Jen says.

The programme was led by a steering committee and sponsored by Deloitte Africa’s COO, Mike Jarvis. Because it was business led, COOs from each of the different business lines and regions were members of the steering committee and an integral part of all decision making throughout the programme and continue to steer the current optimisation programme

The organisation started by upgrading its existing CRM system in South Africa and deploying it to all the countries across Africa that it operated in. Then, Deloitte Africa implemented a suite of SAP cloud solutions which included S/4HANA as its core ERP system, SuccessFactors for HR management, Concur for expense management, B4hana for data management, Analysis for Office for reporting and SAP Analytics Cloud for budgeting and forecasting. It also implemented BlackLine to support its balance sheet reconciliation process for Africa. In addition, the implementation of SAP Analytics Cloud as a BI visualisation and dashboarding tool, is in progress.

Part of this programme was Project Tetris, which was the finance transformation project, as well as a master data strategy project, which helped the company determine how it could manage its master data as a firm from a strategic and operational point of view.

“We had a cloud-first strategy and chose public cloud solutions for most of what we laid down in terms of solutions architecture,” Jen explains. “This meant we had to move to a software-as-a-service model within what SAP calls their ‘Intelligent Enterprise’.”

Jen points out that, what was interesting about Deloitte Africa’s journey, was that they were the first organisation to implement the suite of cloud solutions from SAP. “We made a conscious, strategic decision to walk this two-year journey with SAP, knowing that we would be the first and that some of the solutions we were laying down were immature at the beginning of the journey,” Jen says. Deloitte’s consulting practice was the lead implementation partner that also supported a co-innovation of the solution with SAP through the implementation. “This has strategically placed our Deloitte Africa SAP consulting practice as market leaders in the SAP public cloud space.”

She notes that, “As a CFO, I am privileged to have that level of skill and expertise in my own organisation, because they were really at the coal face with business through the journey.”

At the start of 2020, Deloitte Africa won the SAP Global Innovation Award, which recognised the groundbreaking journey it had taken in co-innovating this public cloud solution in the software-as-a-service space.

Now, Deloitte runs an integrated finance function across Africa with six core functions that form part of the restructuring:

  • An Africa shared service centre for operational finance, focusing on high-volume transactional activities.
  • An Africa business partner structure directly supports the business leadership
  • An Africa reporting team, addressing consolidation requirements, as well as all management and global reporting requirements.
  • An Africa tax team which focuses on tax compliance and risk across all the different jurisdictions.
  • An Africa centre of excellence which houses all Deloitte Africa’s strategic projects in the office of the CFO and COO, and other specialist centres.
  • An Africa regional leadership arm with all the regional CFOs that focuses on regional relevant finance matters.

Reaping the benefits

“Digital transformation, finance transformation and automation is something I’m passionate about because, ultimately, it’s going to make business better, more efficient and bring about other benefits like cost optimisation,” Jen says. “Our own transformation journey has come with some enormous benefits.”

This year was the first time Deloitte Africa reported its year-end results on the new single integrated platform. Jen explains that the visibility she had into the numbers and what was happening across the business and continent was incomparable to previous years. “The level of insights was unparalleled to before in terms of business performance, cash management, liquidity and working capital.”

There are a number of financial processes that have been centralised, automated and harmonised including cost allocation runs, provision for bad debts, and foreign currency valuations. “All our inter-company and month-end closure processes are now managed through a central team which has reduced our period close and reporting by two days across the continent to just six working days. ”

Employee experience has improved with an optimised, paperless, digital expense claim process, freeing employees from paper-based manual tasks, as well as digitized and mobile interfaces for leave and employee management.

Leading through the challenges

As a leader, Jen believes it’s important to celebrate successes, but to also recognise where things could have gone better. “The platform that we’ve implemented is a game-changer for the future, there’s no doubt about that, but an implementation project of this size, scope and geographical spread was definitely not completed without challenges.”

One of the biggest challenges Deloitte Africa faced was change management, particularly in one of the models they implemented of the S/4HANA Cloud. “It required quite a significant amount of time investment for our practitioners to learn and adapt to the new systems.” To mitigate this challenge, the company is currently running an optimisation programme to close the remaining user experience gaps and to complete the analytics and dashboarding portions of the programme.

Digitally gearing up for Covid-19

With the onset of Covid-19, the return on investment on the systems Deloitte Africa had implemented became apparent almost immediately. As a finance function, Jen and her team seamlessly moved into a virtual delivery model.

She explains that, even though Deloitte’s global CFOs have been doing scenario modelling for economic downturns for quite some time before Covid-19 in order to be prepared for situations like this, no one really anticipated the depth and breadth of Covid-19.

“When we went into lockdown, our most critical focus areas were cash management, liquidity and business performance,” Jen says. “We immediately set up a business performance PMO.”

From a professional services point of view, the whole business had to adapt and change to delivering solutions virtually, including its audit division. “It’s been amazing to see some of the virtual tools that our client-facing organisation has developed and laid down to support this change of business,” Jen says.

She points out that there are certain things they’ve done in the last couple of months that they didn’t think were possible and this has included a 100 percent virtual delivery of services for many of our clients, including a full ERP cloud implementation for a client in Botswana.

What it means to be a leader

Speaking on behalf of all CFOs and business leaders, Jen explains that the weight of leadership’s responsibility and the role that it plays in an organisation was really put in the spotlight during this time. “What we do and the way we manage our business and finance has an impact on people and on society. As leaders, we have to make the right decisions and keep doing the right things.”

She says that she often wrestles with herself about what it means to be a leader. “For me, a great leader is bold. They don’t necessarily do things the same way they’ve been done before and they’re not afraid of challenges, or to challenge the status quo.”

Jen also believes that good leaders not only have a vision, but that they are able to take that vision, convert it into strategic goals and inspire those around them to execute on the vision.

What’s next?

In an interview with CFO South Africa in 2017 one of the questions asked was “What’s next?”. In response, Jen said that she didn’t know and that she wanted to make a big impact in the role of CFO first. When the time was right, new opportunities would present themselves and doors would open – which they have.

As of September, Jen has been transitioning into a new role as a director within the Deloitte Consulting practice to drive the market and delivery strategy for large-scale business transformation projects, similar to the one she’s done in her role as CFO. She plans to use the skill and experience she’s gained through the process to lead Deloitte’s clients through their digital, finance and operational transformations.

“While the Moja project has been challenging, what it did do was grow a passion inside of me to help our clients and other CFOs to take the same journey and to transform their own businesses,” Jen says. “Many CFOs are embarking on similar journeys, but what became very clear to me on the journey was that you need a partner you can trust and rely on. Deloitte Consulting does that.”

She explains that she wants to be part of that impact that matters to clients and to help lead organisations into the digital future.

“That’s what’s great about Deloitte,” she says now. “It’s an organisation where you can really reinvent yourself and diversify your skill set.”

Integrating home and work life

As a wife and mother of two girls, Emma (seven) and Charlotte (five), Jen says that she doesn’t believe there’s a perfect recipe for balancing work and life. However, if there’s one thing Covid-19 has shown her, it’s that work and life should be integrated. “The girls have really adapted to us working from home and they understand a little better what we do,” she says.

Jen tries to include the girls in her work. When they run into the study after school, she takes two minutes to say hello. If she’s on a call, she’ll ask if they want to listen in and give them one of her earphones. If she is busy writing something, she’ll read some of it to them, even if they don’t understand.

She said that, initially, having everyone at home was quite challenging. Emma has just started Grade 1 and between her Zoom classes and Jen’s Zoom meetings, it was difficult to juggle their schedules. However, she says that her husband, Bryan – who is a structural engineer – has been a “great support (pun intended)”.

This article first appeared on CFO South Africa.