Microsoft and Salesforce Court Skeptical CFOs with New Generative AI Tool Investments

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang recently emphasized a sentiment during an interview with CNBC that optimism around the transformative potential of generative artificial intelligence continues to gain momentum.

Huang discussed the coming up of a new generation of AI chips and highlighted new partnerships extending AI applications beyond the technology sector, with notable collaborations with Johnson & Johnson and GE Healthcare.

He stated, “We’re at the beginning of this AI computing ramp. And we’re at the beginning of the accelerated computing ramp. It’s going to last a few years.”

Businesses spanning various industries are exploring avenues to capitalize on this opportunity. They are leveraging generative AI to enhance workforce productivity, develop novel communication tools for both customers and employees and streamline operational processes.

Despite enthusiasm from other members of the C-suite, many traditionally risk-averse Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) remain cautious. Concerns over return on investment and a preference to maintain cost efficiency contribute to their hesitancy.

Among this group, a mere 7% plan to allocate the increased capital expenditure toward investing in new AI capabilities. This figure is on par with investments in non-AI technology and falls below priorities such as expanding into new markets, establishing new production facilities, or pursuing strategic acquisitions.

A new wave of tools tailored for CFOs and finance teams is being introduced by business software providers, accompanied by tangible success stories demonstrating their effectiveness.

Microsoft and Salesforce Court Skeptical CFOs with New Generative AI Tool Investments
Microsoft promotes generative AI as a crucial skill, urging the intentional daily use of tools like Copilot.

Cory Hrncirik, leading the modern finance initiative within Microsoft’s Office of the CFO, shared promising outcomes from the implementation of these tools. He noted a significant reduction in time spent on reconciliation tasks, with some cases seeing a decrease from hours per week per person to just 10 to 20 minutes.

Moreover, variance analysis, a crucial aspect of financial management, has been greatly expedited. Hrncirik emphasized the impact: “We have thousands of people here spending a lot of time trying to figure out what’s going on, and now they can do that at lightning speed.”

Last month, Microsoft launched Copilot, a chatbot designed specifically for finance professionals. Copilot streamlines tasks such as running variance analyses, reconciling data in Excel, and expediting the collections process in Outlook.

In response to market demand, numerous other business software providers have swiftly introduced similar tools leveraging generative AI technology or have upgraded existing offerings to incorporate it. Some enterprises are even developing proprietary solutions, while others are leveraging platforms like OpenAI to build their own AI-driven tools.

While the use of AI among CFOs is not novel, tools such as predictive AI have long been integral to supporting core functions within companies.

Amy Weaver, CFO of Salesforce, attested to the longstanding utilization of predictive AI within the finance world, stating, “For nearly a decade [it has been used] to help us forecast expenses, flag quotes with abnormal terms for review, and to predict the likelihood of customers to pay on time.”

However, the recent surge in generative AI represents a distinct opportunity. Weaver observed a marked increase in focus on generative AI across industries over the past year, noting, “Every company is thinking about their AI strategy.”

Salesforce’s finance team actively engaged in exploring the potential of financial AI through participation in a “moonshot” contest. This initiative aimed to brainstorm innovative ways to leverage generative AI, resulting in proposals ranging from enhancing processes related to quote analysis, tax credit processing, and flux analysis, among others.

Weaver highlighted the significant growth in usage of existing AI tools within Salesforce, citing a 605% increase over three quarters for a tool providing AI-driven insights and predictions about the company’s sales pipeline.

“I ask my team to think about this question: ‘How can I be more productive or efficient each day by leveraging this technology?’ We all know that time is our most valuable resource, and if you can free up time to focus on more high-value and impactful work by leveraging new technology, that should excite you and motivate you.” Weaver remarked

“Ultimately, the goal has to be to make jobs not just more efficient, but also more satisfying for all of our employees,” she added

Mark McDonald, director analyst at Gartner, focusing on digital technology in finance, suggested that organizations should embrace AI-driven tools that “address the fundamental finance and accounting processes found in every company,” providing immediate value that companies can readily access.

Nonetheless, he noted a challenge with generative AI tools is establishing auditable processes or the ability to inspect processes to ensure data accuracy and conclusions visually.

Microsoft and Salesforce Court Skeptical CFOs with New Generative AI Tool Investments
Gutzeit of FTI Consulting underscores AI as a productivity enhancer, dispelling myths and positioning it as a valuable tool.

Gina Gutzeit, FTI Consulting senior managing director and leader of the firm’s CFO Solutions practice, noted frequent discussions about AI among CFOs. Concerns have arisen regarding the scarcity of compelling use cases, particularly for smaller firms.

Additionally, Gutzeit observed apprehension around implementation, asking, “How do we ensure it functions properly, and once implemented, do we possess the requisite skill set?” She highlighted the ongoing maintenance required for these tools as a source of hesitancy.

McDonald highlighted an emerging issue of resistance to using these tools, particularly in scenarios where companies are “introducing a technology that begins to encroach upon tasks traditionally performed by people, leading to resistance.”

At Salesforce, Weaver emphasized the importance of ensuring a clear understanding of the business objectives these tools serve, highlighting their crucial role in implementation and value realization.

“An AI solution can fail if it isn’t adopted, or if the performance of the model doesn’t meet expectations. Taking the time to define the problem statement and objectives goes a long way to making sure that the investment made in AI is successful,” she said.

“When I speak to CFOs, one thing is clear — every CFO is trying to find the best way to drive productivity in their business.”

Hrncirik emphasized Microsoft’s message that generative AI represents a “new skill that we have to develop.” “We’re telling our people that they need to build a daily intentional habit using Copilot, just like any of the other tools you have at your fingertips,” he said.

“You didn’t learn to use those by accident, you invested some time, you learned how to use them and you tried different things.”

While acknowledging it’s still early in the adoption phase, Hrncirik expressed hope that CFOs will recognize the benefits. “It’s just all these advancements, they just absolutely save our people so much time, they help free up some of the work that people do that’s mundane and they don’t love doing so they can go focus on other stuff.”

“We need to demystify it a little bit by saying this is just another tool in the toolbox for a CFO and the finance department, it’s not the beginning of the end of everything,” Gutzeit said.

Michael Manua
Michael Manua
Michael, a seasoned market news expert with 29 years of experience, offers unparalleled insights into financial markets. At 61, he has a track record of providing accurate, impactful analyses, making him a trusted voice in financial journalism.
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