I am so excited for the AFP Conference this year in Chicago. I love the city, the lake front, the food, everything. And the average high temperature is still 50 degrees in November. However, there are a few things I am looking forward to about the conference even more than the city.
This will be my fifth AFP Conference. Previously I attended as a practitioner—head of FP&A for a private equity backed company or CFO advisory consultant. This time, I am on AFP’s staff, where I have more of an inside view into what awaits all of us this fall in Chicago.
The FP&A track is balanced into three general categories to help attendees excel in their careers. Below are a few sessions that I am especially looking forward to:
Finance and Strategy
How do you forecast when there are so many unknowns?
The first category of sessions are clustered around finance and strategy and includes sessions on forecasting best practices and investment decision-making. “Forecasting During Rapid Growth” is a particularly appealing session because it really asks, how do you forecast when there are so many unknowns—about rapid growth, entering new markets, and customer reaction to a product/service introduction. Separately, “It's Not Just Finance: Product Investment Decisions in Corporate Transition” is a case study that dives into a spinoff-merger transaction and examines the operational metrics that inform the financial strategy behind the deal.
Technology and Data Aptitude
The second category of sessions can help to raise your technology and data aptitude and provides practical “how-to” experience to help you manage the wave of capabilities available. There are specific sessions on data analytics tools and driving data intelligence into the supply chain.
This category will build on AFP’s FinNext conference that took place in March, which noted two contradictory industry trends in finance transformation. Some companies are diving deeper into spreadsheet capabilities and bolt-on robust analytical tools, while at the other end of the spectrum, teams are implementing entirely cloud-based planning tools. We will have sessions illuminating both of those extremes this year. One of those sessions will be “Evolving the FP&A Function Through Cloud Based Planning Software”, which will follow the journey of evaluation, selection and implementation of a cloud-based budgeting and planning tool. [Shameless plug here: AFP’s May 24th Webinar, Making Excel Work for You, will also preview these options].
Personal and Team Effectiveness
These sessions include traditional topics such as becoming a great business partner and integrating Treasury and FP&A.
A third category of sessions can help maximize your personal and team effectiveness. In addition, there are two sessions that address the human side of the previously mentioned tech wave. One session, “Driving Technology Innovation in FP&A through Staff Development” goes over how organizations can stay ahead of the technology waves by hiring and coaching innovation among the finance team, and incorporate technology without breaking the bank. Separately, in the session “It’s Not Just Finance: Product Investment Decisions in Corporate Transition” we will hear about how to introduce and sustain change and tackle resistance to that change to ensure you get the most from your IT investments.
This category also just locked in a session called “Red Team Thinking.” The idea originates with the observation that individuals are often not comfortable criticizing ideas that come from their bosses, or that have gained institutional momentum. A “Red Team” is a group specifically authorized to challenge the strategy, investments, explicit plans and implicit assumptions that drive organizational activity. It can be an effective tool to combat inherent biases, blindspots, and group think. The speakers for this are Bryce Hoffman, a best-selling author and thought leader, and Col. Steve Rotkoff, a senior intelligence officer; both speakers are graduates of the US Army’s “Red Team University,” also known as the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies.
The conference sessions are broad enough that they offer insights to the hot topics that we are facing in addition to the classic FP&A challenges. You can check out all the sessions that await you on the FP&A Track
here. My advice is to know what is critical for you and your company and build your own track to ensure that you achieve the highest return on your time.