Effective Finance Business Partnering

Success stories from leading companies in Switzerland

Finance Business Partnering is a challenging topic for CFOs, as the expectations for finance functions to deliver meaningful and actionable insights keep growing. However, the level of maturity of Finance Business Partners (FBPs) varies from company to company, depending on factors such as culture, industry, and technology. As part of this series, we speak with a number of experienced FBPs to understand their mandate, their vision for the future, and their keys to success.

Effective Finance Business Partnering – A success story from OC Oerlikon

Based on a conversation with Paola Bolderman of OC Oerlikon and Luut de Haan of Deloitte Consulting AG, Switzerland (November 2022)

The client situation
We start our series with OC Oerlikon, a global technology group and provider of innovative solutions for industrial applications with its headquarters in Switzerland. A few years ago, OC Oerlikon established a Shared Service Centre for Accounting and Reporting in Poland and China. The company is undergoing a digital transformation and is redefining its roles in finance, touching on technology, organisation, people, skills and competencies, as well as the cost structure of finance. Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) skills have been transferred into Centres of Excellence in various regions to support the local Finance Business Partner (FBP) teams. At the same time, various legacy systems are being integrated into a single SAP R3 as a precursor to S4 HANA migration.

Meet Paola, an FBP leader at OC Oerlikon
Paola Bolderman, Senior Vice President Group Financial Planning & Analysis and Head of Enterprise Risk Management, has taken a key role in the ongoing transformation of Business Partnering at OC Oerlikon. Before she joined the company 2.5 years ago she set up Global Business Services for her former employer, a specialty chemicals company. Over the last two years Paola and her team at OC Oerlikon have worked on emphasising Finance Business partnering, analysis and reporting in the FP&A team. This has meant a shift of focus, investing more time in business partnership, scenario planning and supporting data-driven decisions, and less time on reporting and repetitive tasks.

New skills for specialised roles
Although the role is not new at OC Oerlikon, Financial Business Partnering is now being redefined and better enabled. While there is a global understanding of the profile, FBPs are specialising to reflect different industries, ranging from service-oriented to typical manufacturing businesses, and are supporting specific topics for various business functions, e.g. R&D, SG&A or M&A. In doing so, OC Oerlikon’s FBPs are shifting towards a different skillset. Creating data architectures, data analysis, storytelling and influencing are skills that have become more important, and ideally, they are also embedded in the local teams.

Success factors for the transformation
Key success factors in enabling Financial Business Partnering are a single source of truth, based on defined and robust master data, and a more standardised reporting setup with one set of fixed, top-down KPIs for the group. Recently a new finance platform for planning and consolidation went live with Power BI as a front-end and an integrated KPI framework linked to top-down strategic plans, combining financial KPIs with operational KPIs and using new driver-based planning models, e.g. using sales targets as a function of headcount targets.

For Paola, it proved fundamental to the transformation to keep the transition window very brief. The implementation was performed in only eight months, with light-touch process adjustments.

A window to the future
Finance at OC Oerlikon has already become an enabler for the organization to increase and steer performance. Strategic goals, financial planning and decision support come together, and will do so still more in the future, as teams and individuals start to venture out of their comfort zones. Beyond 2025, according to Paola, it will be important for OC Oerlikon to demonstrate the resilience of it operating model and prove that the organisation is able to respond quickly and adapt to changes in external factors.

When asked where she sees the next frontier for Finance Business Partnering, Paola tells us of her high hopes that new technologies will be adopted more by companies. She is keen to see the next generation of advanced insights and predictive capabilities becoming commonplace, such as real-time data and continuous planning. “Technology has changed so much since the early days of my career. It will be completely different in only five years’ time!”
But the real secret ingredient, in her mind, is the human side of things: “Now that technology has better-enabled FBP, it is a continuous process for our organization to improve the operating model, build trust, credibility and start working as a strong team with the business. Powerful, innovative finance tools in combination with high-quality teams. The pairing of operations skills with finance skills, empowered by new, advanced techniques.”

Success factors
Three key components of successful FBP transformations, based on the OC Oerlikon example are:

  1. Introduce standards and clear direction
    Introduce a standard set of data, KPIs and a set of clear deliverables for the organisation.
  2. Keep the transformation window brief
    When introducing new technologies and adjusting processes, keep it brief and light-touch, allowing continuous improvement down the line.
  3. Build high quality, versatile teams
    Transformation is essentially carried out by quality teams with well-defined roles and skillsets, adopting and embedding new key abilities.

Effective Finance Business Partnering –
A success story from Feldschlösschen (Carlsberg Group)

Based on conversations with Jan Schumann and Luut de Haan of Deloitte Consulting AG, Switzerland (October and November 2022)

Finance Business Partnering is a challenging topic for CFOs as the expectations for finance functions to deliver meaningful and actionable insights keep growing. However, the level of maturity of Finance Business Partners (FBPs) varies from company to company, depending on factors such as culture, industry, and technology. As part of this series we speak with a number of experienced FBPs to understand their mandate, their vision for the future, and their keys to success.

The client situation
We continue our series with one of the world’s largest brewery groups. Carlsberg is a global brewery with a portfolio of about 500 brands and operations in more than 150 markets. One of the group’s powerhouses, is Feldschlösschen with a long tradition in Switzerland.

During a Finance transformation project supported by Deloitte from 2018 to 2021 Carlsberg established a cloud-based Finance data platform and harmonised its business information model for management reporting and analytics, as well as an operating model to support FBPs in their Western Europe region. The result is a highly effective business partnering ecosystem that has developed a bottom-up dynamic of excellence and continuous improvement.

Meet Jan, an FBP at Feldschlösschen
Jan has worked for the past 14 years as a FBP at Feldschlösschen, Carlsberg’s main brewery in Switzerland. He vividly remembers being asked during the job interview what value he would bring as a consultant to the business. The wording hints at the culture of providing external viewpoints and challenging perspectives, which has remained a constant element in his role, despite many other changes. In effectively, doing so, Jan works within a matrix structure, reporting to both businesses, in a dotted line, and finance.

A demanding role to grow into
Business partnering is a very demanding function at Carlsberg. Many of Jan’s colleagues have worked in various operational roles across the company before joining the team of FBPs. It generally takes a significant amount of time to develop from a business analyst into a business partnering role, with experienced colleagues taking two to five years to grow fully into the role. Jan and his peers in Western Europe are deeply embedded in the business decision process as trusted internal consultants – for example, in evaluating strategic partnerships.

Finance platform as a backbone
The backbone of effective Finance Business Partnering at Carlsberg’s Western Europe region, and Feldschlösschen, is a completely digital landscape. It involves a Microsoft Azure Data Lake, Anaplan and Power BI, supported by a Data Engineering team. It is run by a Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Reporting and Controlling embedded in a Shared Service Centre in Poland and by an external Business Process Services provider overseas which tackles more laborious data integration tasks. Since the solution first went live in 2020 the organisation has consistently put into practice a philosophy of centralising versus outsourcing standard activities.

Harmonised and automated processes
Finance processes at Carlsberg’s Western Europe region are partially harmonised across their markets as a “one size fits all” approach does not align with some of the particular needs of their local businesses. Therefore, the same processes, same tools and same framework are used but with individualised master data at a certain granularity and a well-designed framework for local variations – such as hierarchies and allocation keys. The result is that a FBP at Feldschlösschen never creates any Excel-based reports. Analytics requirements are fulfilled by a catalogue of 150 to 200 standard report components, curated by the business services team in the CoE, from which the FBP and other stakeholders can pick and choose to build their reporting packs driven by user stories.

A key process that has been completely automated is the demand management forecast. It is triggered monthly via the “cash up” calculation by the Finance Business Partner. The process has been tried and tested throughout the pandemic and has become even more sophisticated since then. By automatically modelling demand on a monthly basis with multiple scenarios and a more granular analysis of rebate models, Feldschlösschen was able to keep on top of market turbulence and impacts on their business model. The improved model enabled them to detect which of the historically stable and profitable client relations had now become frail, and to shift instantly to more relevant revenue streams such as the online channel.

Co-created business insights
Another example of effective Finance Business Partnering at Feldschlösschen is the collaboration on actionable insights. Following the motto, “The past is information from which to learn but the discussion is forward-looking”, the monthly actual performance is swiftly analysed and commented on by the country managing director and business leads, by means of self-service reporting. The real value-add, however, is created when finance then teams up with the local business to challenge the analysis, connect the dots and co-create a robust understanding of underlying drivers, projections and corrective actions.

Active community of practice
FBPs are so effective in Carlsberg’s Western Europe region because they work as teams, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and hand in hand with the business at every step of insight generation and decision-making.

The partnership improves constantly thanks to very active knowledge-sharing among FBP across the organisation. Frequently, small and agile workgroups are formed across 3-4 countries to develop and share specific innovations and best practices, such as a price-volume mix calculator. Continuous improvement is championed in quarterly events of the FBP community, and the informal network is very active among peers.

Where to next?
The next frontier for effective Finance Business Partnering at Feldschlösschen is to embrace data science and connect external and internal data for analysis and planning using artificial intelligence (AI). When asked about the roadmap for finance innovation at Carlsberg, Jan is quick to respond: “An innovation roadmap? Not necessary at all! Being innovative is part of our company DNA. As Finance Business Partners, we are constantly striving to enhance our capabilities to become even more proficient consultants to the business.”

Success factors
Three key components of effective FBP functions, based on the Feldschlösschen example are:

  1. Coupling the business with internal consultants
    Pair the business with talented financial analysts from cross-functional backgrounds, acting as internal consultants, who are hungry for new insights and ready to challenge the status quo.
  2. Establishing an effective ecosystem
    Leverage standardisation, technology and process automation, as well as focused expertise.
  3. Creating a learning organisation
    Foster knowledge-sharing and best practices from the bottom up.

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