Interview with Steven L. Ford
Interviewer: Andrew Zezas, SIOR
Following is the transcript of a CFO Studio interview between Andrew Zezas, CEO of New Jersey based Real Estate Strategies Corporation and finance executive, Steven L. Ford, CFO of TradeCard, Inc.
Visit www.CFOstudio.com to read about this interview and to watch the entire video interview.
Cloud Computing is No Longer “In the Clouds!”
Zezas: Hi, this is Andrew Zezas, your host at CFO Studio. I’m joined today by Steven L. Ford, CFO of TradeCard, Inc. TradeCard is a software and service cloud provider. Mr. Ford has more than 20 years experience as a finance executive for software, technology, and service companies. Steve is here today to talk to us about a very interesting topic: Cloud Computing is no Longer “In the Clouds!” Steve, it’s great to have you here on CFO Studio!
Ford: Andy, thank you very much. I’m glad to be here.
Zezas: So, cloud computing is no longer in the clouds! I don’t know about you, but my experience has always been that when someone’s head’s up in the clouds, it’s not really a positive statement. So, tell me about the whole concept of cloud computing. What are we talking about?
Ford: The whole concept of cloud computing, Andy, is about massively scaled resources being delivered over the internet. What’s happening today has been happening over 10 years. However, the marketing of the world “cloud” by Microsoft and others is really where you start to get this idea. Is this just some hype or is this something real? And, if it is real, what is it?
Zezas: So, break it down for me. Cloud computing is a term. It’s about services being delivered via the internet? So, we’re talking about softwares or service being delivered over the internet. In a nutshell, that’s cloud computing.
Ford: That’s cloud computing, and there are other areas that are important to understand. There’s infrastructure as a service that is also considered cloud. There’s platform as a service. Infrastructure would be like renting a server from IBM or multiple servers. Platform would be Google Apps interacting on a document at the same time from multiple locations. Again, all through the internet.
Zezas: Ok, I got it. So, from a CFO perspective, why all the hype? Why is cloud computing important?
Ford: CFOs today, are really in a unique position. They’re managing resources that have to do with information. They have to do with meeting the demands of the business. All of these things have been historically done with installed, on-site software. That’s no longer all that is available to them. So, an analogy would be, if you were going to provide electricity to your home, would you rent a generator or would you call the utility company. CFOs have typically been running a generator for everything. That’s now changing.
Zezas: That’s a great analogy, I got it. So, for CFOs who are not as knowledgeable as some, what steps should they take to acquire knowledge about cloud computing and applicability to their companies?
Ford: I think the most important thing for CFOs to keep in mind today is the fact that there is a lot of information out there. There have been studies published by FEI and TradeCard jointly. The User’s Guide to the Cloud. What does that really mean? You, as a CFO, are the prime target, the prime user, and this has to do with primarily private clouds as opposed to public clouds. Public clouds, such as Yahoo, Google, everyone understands that. But, the private clouds, the services such as financial statements, salesforce information, purchasing information, other things, are available through the cloud today.
Zezas: Ok, you referenced an article that was published by TradeCard and FEI. You’re talking about Financial Executives International. For our viewers, would you repeat the article?
Ford: It’s called The User’s Guide to the Cloud. It’s really targeted to CFOs. One way they can start to learn: what is this service, how do I take advantage of it, where it falls, what are the considerations, what is the ROI, how do I really evaluate it correctly.
Zezas: Excellent! Let’s talk about various applications. I know you touched upon it a little bit. Are we just talking about Salesforce automation, when we are talking about the cloud or are we talking about other applications as well?
Ford: That’s interesting. As it now stands, there isn’t a single application that isn’t available for the cloud. There are some that have been out there for a while. Salesforce.com and Salesforce, CRM, customer relationship management systems, have been around for awhile. Also, financial systems, when it comes to preparing your financial statements, how would you like to do it with thirty, forty, a hundred versions of your software around the world, or one in one location that everyone can hook into through the internet?
Zezas: So, there are no limitations?
Ford: As it now stands, there hasn’t been any limitations. I think there’s a limitation as to the imagination and execution, but there’s no technical limitation yet.
Zezas: So, any type of software that exists today either is, or could, be delivered by the cloud.
Ford: I would say that’s a true statement and what’s interesting also is that there are new applications that are coming up all the time. So, there are areas that are well established that every CFO understands. But, there are new areas that have to do with providing data and analysis, and business information that you could draw from a public cloud, that you could draw from a private cloud. You could become a member in these various clouds. It’s really important that a CFO start to learn and understand how that works and how it works to to their advantage.
Zezas: So, let’s talk about how CFOs should evaluate cloud because CFOs as an industry are a diverse bunch. On one hand, you have CFOs that are incredibly progressive, cutting edge, out in front, leading the charge. And, then you have the other extreme of CFOs who are more traditional and steeped in doing it the way they’ve always done and everything in the middle. So, how can a CFO evaluate the applicability of an application whether it should be cloud or non-cloud in the company’s best interest?
Ford: That’s an excellent question and one that we deal with all the time. We provide our services and as a CFO, I look for services myself. And, I think the most important thing, first of all, is that you need to understand is, what is the application? What are you trying to accomplish? All the basics need to be there. And, then what is the ROI on what you do now understand and know today. Then, you have to take that one additional step that says, where else can I find out about this? And how else can I avail myself? Outside consultants and auditors can help direct you, but it is still up to you because there is a lot of information out there today.
Zezas: I’ve got to believe there is a lot of information, but I also believe that there is a lot of purveyors of information that are not necessarily the folks to be paying attention to, when you’re a CFO.
Ford: Exactly, you have to be discerning and there is a lot of hype associated with cloud right now too. And, you as a CFO really have to know exactly how your data moves today. It’s surprising how many CFOs are not aware of how much of their information is actually going through the internet today. You send an email with an attachment, do you really know all the stops that it makes along the way towards the receiver? It is important to understand your information flows in the company that you’re the CFO of and also what type of software that you currently have. If you really understand where you are today, it makes it easier to apply new knowledge as to how you want to move forward.
Zezas: So, an email is a great example of cloud-based communication. And, your comment about understanding the stops is one not from a technological perspective as much as it is from a data security perspective, and a compliance perspective, and all the other perspectives that a rock solid CFO has to be when managing to protect the company.
Ford: That’s a really critical point Andy, and what’s interesting is that cloud providers today that are well steeped in understanding those security matters and making sure they know the regulatory issues, movement of data across borders, all those things. It may be a surprise to a CFO today when he starts to look at how well thought out and how well prepared, compared to what he’s doing today, which he would view as being safe.
Zezas: So, on some levels, I don’t the CFO has a choice in the age of internet anymore. This isn’t something that they’ll get to. This is something that, at the very least from a risk management perspective, if not a technological progressive perspective, it sounds like every CFO of a company of any size needs to be taking this into account.
Ford: Yes, and what’s really interesting is that the CFO is the one person at the center of all information moving within a company whether it be small, mid-size, or large. Also, that’s the individual who has access to that data and is able to redirect it, repackage it, reformat it, and analyze it. So, it’s really critical that the CFO takes the lead and be able to move the ball forward, in this area. Security is important. Efficiency is important. Being able to provide the needs to the business is important and also become a strategic leader, because the information flows that are underneath the control of the CFO are actually going through the cloud today. And, they don’t always have complete awareness of that.
Zezas: Steve, this is a fascinating topic. We’re about out of time. I think I have time for one more question. Let’s summarize. It sounds like the cloud is not new, although some people will tell you it is. What’s the future of cloud computing?
Ford: I look at the future of cloud computing to be unlimited. I believe it’s very bright and it’s very pervasive and technology will only continue to improve the ability of information to move in a virtual fashion through the internet. In fact, I will predict that it will become quite common, as a cell phone is today.
Zezas: As common as a cell phone is today. Well, we heard it from Steve. Well, Steve, this is fascinating. I hope you’ll come back to see us again.
Ford: I’d love to. This has been great. I really appreciate it.
Zezas: Thanks for being here. This is Andrew Zezas with Steve Ford of TradeCard, saying thank you for watching us at CFO Studio.
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