AWS Cloud Enterprise Strategy Blog

A conversation on expanding access to cloud skills for finance professionals


By Levon Stepanian, Cloud Financial Management Specialist, and Chris Hennesey, Enterprise Finance Strategist

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and their finance organizations are no longer just financial record keepers; they are key stakeholders during their organization’s cloud-enabled digital transformation. In the “CFO Series: The Sniff Test?” blog post, Mark Schwartz makes the case that a CFO needs to increasingly rely on their business intuition to make quick but informed cloud investment decisions. This is a wise approach given financial models for cloud migrations are just projections, and there exist opportunity costs associated with slow IT investment decision-making. Mark’s thesis describes a number of cloud-specific attributes and why they pass the executive sniff test. These attributes include cloud as a means to reduce cost and risk, as well as cloud as a driver of agility and innovation.

Best Practices for Cloud Financial Management

In this blog post, we’ll complement Mark’s thesis with a conversation that explores how an ex-Technology CFO delivered on his fiduciary responsibility, helping his finance organization succeed on the cloud. We’ll also share information about a recently launched AWS offering that every CFO and finance organization should know about on their cloud journey—regardless of whether they are sniffing around or already using cloud.

Levon Stepanian: I’d like to take a moment and introduce Chris Hennesey, who is an Enterprise Strategist at AWS. In his prior role, Chris was a Technology CFO who led the planning and delivery of a cloud-enabled business transformation at Capital One. He also was a driving force in transforming Capital One’s Finance function. I’ve asked Chris to provide his insights and experiences leading his finance organization in their cloud journey.

Financial Controls

Levon Stepanian: My first question for you Chris is regarding a concern that moving to the cloud reduces control for Finance and Procurement. Was that the case from your experience?

Chris Hennesey: It was quite the opposite. In a recent customer engagement, a CFO said that one of the main concerns in moving to the cloud was this exact point—loss of control. With any change, it required the need to reflect on what else needs to adapt. With a strong desire for deeper transparency and the ability to scale as our business did, the cloud transformation enabled us to become nimbler. We had to make investments in tagging and deepen our partnership with IT to ensure compliance, but this unlocked much deeper insight into consumption and who precisely to engage with from a developer standpoint to effect change.

Visibility into IT finance decision making

Levon Stepanian: How did decision making within your Finance organization evolve as you progressed through Capital One’s cloud transformation. What were some of the things that drove changes in your decision-making calculus?

Chris Hennesey: One of the first steps we had to take prior to advancing our decision making was to all become more knowledgeable in what the cloud is and what impact it would have in how we do business. Typically, as organizations decide to take advantage of cloud technology, they also consider how else they need to transform how they work. Advancing Agile delivery, maturing DevOps practices and strengthening engagement with product management are a few examples. Following that, we broadened our viewpoint of how IT budgets were set, IT investments were made and measured, and how value was delivered. This more holistic approach enabled us to move away from creating and managing business cases for cloud investments in a batched way, becoming more agile with our cloud investment decision making. With timelier visibility into our cloud spend, we were able test new ideas with limited investment, assess the results, and either scale that solution or abandon it and move on. We also didn’t need layers of governance to make decisions; we were able to quickly empower our engineering teams.

Reducing Cost Outside of the IT Department

Levon Stepanian: If we can, I’d like to expand on the cost avoidance theme you just mentioned. Cost reduction is cited as a realistic outcome of moving to the cloud. In what ways did you see cost reduction through your cloud journey?

Chris Hennesey: It came in all forms and at all times. Early on in the journey, we had instant savings in our infrastructure costs—a material decrease in unit cost of both compute and storage. We also saw productivity gains immediately with the ability to provision in minutes versus months. Having the ability to more effectively utilize the technology and procure/remove it instantly is a game changer. As you advance in your transformation, you begin to see step change cost reductions with data center facility savings and the ability to end licensing and maintenance agreements as you modernize.

Cost modeling

Levon Stepanian: You mentioned non-IT operational benefits associated with moving to the cloud. Can you elaborate a little more regarding what value beyond cost savings the cloud provided to your team?

Chris Hennesey: Typically, as customers modernize their application footprint with the cloud, it is a great time to also challenge the way in which your team is leveraging that technology and the processes surrounding it. That was true for my team as well. Moving to the cloud enabled my team to have much deeper transparency into consumption of infrastructure services and total cost of ownership of our application footprint. It also sparked the need to begin to track and understand the non-IT value that was being delivered. We experienced the benefits locally in Finance but we also saw the benefits in all parts of the business.

Levon Stepanian: Looking back at your own experience as a finance leader driving Capital One’s cloud transformation, do you have any parting advice for fellow finance leaders and organizations embarking on or already deep into their cloud journey?

Chris Hennesey: Great question! As I have reflected on my transformation experience, there are four pieces of advice that I would provide to finance leaders. First is to not undervalue the importance of your role in the company’s transformation. Finance is one of the only areas in an organization that can see the big picture—business strategy, stakeholder expectations, and financials. Use your perspective to shape the strategy. Second is to take advantage of this transformation to attract and retain the best talent. Solving complex business problems using both analytical and technical skills is what many Finance practitioners are looking for. Articulate the value proposition for both the individual and the team as well as reinforcing how their work is advancing the organizations mission. Third is to ensure you develop a framework and mechanism to link value creation to investment. Many Finance functions struggle to invest the time upfront to articulate value creation, and it is vital to ensure you consistently do this through your transformation to help hold leaders accountable and keep the organization on track. Lastly is to ensure you and your team continue to learn and adapt. Many Finance professionals value structure and process, which is one of our biggest areas of strength. However, you need to be open to rethinking how to solve problems as new approaches and technologies are introduced. Driving a transformation provides a great opportunity to reimagine how you and your team work—take advantage of it!

AWS Training to Enable the Finance Organization

As Chris makes clear, finance organizations and professionals are key stakeholders and important business partners throughout the cloud journey, influencing efficient use of cloud and innovating within their organization to improve productivity, efficiency, reduce costs, and deliver value faster.

If you’re the kind of finance leader or professional that aspires to be like Chris—one that leans into your fiduciary responsibilities in addition to your intuition—we recommend that you enroll in the recently launched AWS Training curriculum called “AWS Cloud for Finance Professionals.”

AWS Cloud for Finance Professionals

This curriculum helps build a baseline level of AWS knowledge and accelerates a finance professional’s understanding of cloud business value, Cloud Financial Management, and how AWS can help drive innovation within the finance function. The curriculum has something to offer to all finance personas, including CFOs, CAOs, Controllers, FP&A, Procurement, Finance Analysts, and Accounts Payable. Finance professionals who have completed the curriculum have remarked:

“The curriculum covered the reporting and cost allocation and KPI topics very well from a conceptual perspective.

“This is, in my opinion, the heart and soul of FinOps. We are all so new to this that it can seem to be information overload but it is all useful information that will make us a successful team.”

“The curriculum was fantastic . . . the content was all relevant and delivered in a way that is easily digestible.”

“This curriculum is really aimed for finance professionals with limited knowledge of AWS.”

The AWS Cloud for Finance Professionals curriculum is available as both a two-day (virtual) instructor-led offering (link), as well as a free, digital, self-paced offering on AWS Skill Builder (link).

About our Guest

Levon Stepanian is a Principal Business Development Manager at AWS where he builds go-to-market and enablement mechanisms in order to help customers with their Cloud Financial Management (CFM)/Cloud FinOps practices. Prior to joining AWS, Levon held multiple engineering and technical operations leadership positions.  Levon has a BS and Master’s in Computer Science, specializing in high-performance runtime compilers.

Chris Hennesey

Chris Hennesey

Chris Hennesey is an Enterprise Finance Strategist at Amazon Web Services (AWS). As an Enterprise Finance Strategist, he works with enterprise executives around the globe to share financial management experiences and strategies for how the cloud can help them increase speed and agility while devoting more of their resources to their customers. Prior to joining AWS, Chris held multiple senior technology finance roles at Capital One. Chris has a BS in Finance and a Master’s in Business Administration.