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When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010, Oracle’s finance organization had to shift its focus from license revenue reports and projections to the complexities of a worldwide supply chain that produced hardware—and then to a new business model of providing subscription-based cloud services.
That shifting business model required new levels of insight across the company and new skill sets in finance.
“The market and our business were changing rapidly, and we needed to be able to help the business,” says Ivgen Guner, Oracle’s senior vice president of Finance. “Our job in the finance area became critical, as company leaders and the lines of business needed better, faster recommendations and guidance.”
That meant developing finance experts who knew the business, company strategy, and the competitive environment. “It was critical for us to transition from being a data-generating organization to a strategic organization,” Guner says.
At the time, Oracle’s finance area was filled with experienced financial generalists. The introduction of hardware products led to streamlining and automating standard reports, which in turn freed up the finance team to focus more on analysis. It was a step in the right direction, but the cloud era meant old measurement systems went out the door.
“Our job quickly became to understand how a subscription-based business works and to educate the leaders of the lines of business,” Guner says. “We saw that we needed a different mix of skill sets, with people who could go outside of the traditional finance comfort zone.”
Today, Oracle’s finance organization includes three tiers of employees, each with distinct skills and responsibilities:
- Center of excellence: Like a growing number of organizations, Oracle’s finance department has established a team dedicated to focusing on critical finance systems—including creating and maintaining metadata for reporting systems and creating dashboards.
“It’s critical that our metadata matches territories to our management hierarchy,” Guner says. “That’s complicated because our sales pipeline is based on sales territories but our forecasts are based on cost centers.”
- Finance experts who are adept at running productivity models: Often hired at a lower level, these finance employees are groomed through training and rotational assignments so that they’ll learn the business and how Oracle’s finance systems work.
“We’ve worked closely with Oracle’s talent development group to create the Finance Academy, a training program focused on the skill sets and management capabilities that individual employees need to grow and succeed,” Guner says. “We assess each employee every six months and place them in various swim lanes of training to help them become well-rounded.”
Recruiting the right employees and developing the skills that the finance group needs is such a critical priority that two human resources partners—one from the talent development group and one human resources generalist—participate in Guner’s finance staff meetings each week.
“They are part of my team; they help with organizational design, skill set assessment, and a range of staff development issues,” she says.
These employees rotate through various areas of finance, learning about lines of business in depth, which is key to running productivity models. “You have to understand what productivity truly means, and it can’t be done abstractly on a spreadsheet,” Guner says.
- Well-rounded, business-savvy people who understand the business and the strategy: “These are the members of the finance team who partner with the business on a strategic level,” says Guner.
Through assignments within Oracle’s lines of business, these employees gain in-depth understanding of different parts of the business, their interdependencies, and how each area fits within the broader strategy. Some finance employees are located in countries worldwide, where they gain experience partnering with different areas of the business as well as learn more about compliance issues.
“They might have traditional finance or accounting backgrounds, or perhaps backgrounds in operations, engineering, or other disciplines, as it’s important that they’re able to look at things from a variety of angles,” she explains.
Guner works with the talent development team to design a rotation path for individuals. It’s an informal program, and the length of time an employee spends in an area depends on several variables, including the person’s development path.
“Often, the lines of business don’t want to let go of my finance people—which is a really good sign,” Guner says.