The Rise of the 'Cloud Financial Officer'

CIOs aren't the only ones whose departments are being affected by the cloud. Some CFOs are also witnessing major changes, including to the bottom line.

CFOs and cloud

NEW YORK—Chief financial officers (CFOs) are generally not the types to keep their heads in the clouds, metaphorically or technologically. Today, during Saugatuck Technology's Cloud Business Summit here, some executives made a strong case for jumping on the cloud computing bandwagon.

During a panel discussion at the event, Vinay Mehra, CFO at WGBH, described how digitization and the cloud have not only helped the company successfully adopt Internet streaming technologies, but also improve its operations and financial fortunes. The Boston-based public broadcaster's call letters are well-known to PBS viewers, and approximately 70 percent of the primetime programming on PBS is produced by WGBH, said Mehra.

Today, viewers aren't necessarily tuning in, at least with their TVs.

Going digital "definitely opened up a lot more opportunities for us on the revenue side," said Mehra. Growth in WGBH's digital business has "overtaken our traditional advertising and the traditional DVD business," he reported.

The cloud's benefits also extend to WGBH's operations. Cameras and other production equipment are now cloud-enabled, yielding massive gains in efficiency, said Mehra. The days of physically handling video tapes are in the past.

Mehra claimed that the "whole production workflow has changed quite dramatically for us. We are managing our content on the cloud, and we're editing it [in] real time on the cloud." The setup "reduced dramatically the amount of time it takes us to edit the content and to make it," he said.

Cloud technologies are helping McGraw Hill Education better navigate a rocky educational market, said CFO Pat Milano. Retention rates are at 50 percent at most public universities and just 20 percent at community colleges, said Milano. Of course, students that bail aren't purchasing course material and textbooks, the company's bread and butter.

McGraw Hill Education is leveraging cloud technologies for its "adaptive learning platform," a solution that is "personalizing learning for the student" and tailoring the data-driven experience in real time, said Milano. "We've been doing this for three years, so we have billions and billions of what we call 'probes' in our adaptive learning systems."

This approach drives engagement and improves learning, which results in more demand for the company's solutions. It also translates into better test scores. "In our own studies, we can see that kids can earn at least one letter grade better in the class if they're engaged with the adaptive learning platform," he said.

Constant Contact, a provider of online email marketing services, uses the cloud to help its customers deal with a deluge of data that would be otherwise incomprehensible to small-business owners and marketers. The cloud is also changing how the company's own finance organization operates, said CFO Harpreet Grewal.

Cloud-enabled big data, predictive analytics and self-service tools are drastically reshaping finance departments and affecting how they are staffed—at least in forward-looking organizations. "The profile of the people that I think we're hiring today isn't the traditional profile I grew up with," he said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...