Digitally transforming spend management

In an age of digital transformation, the role of CFO has become increasingly reliant on technology. Sunil Kayiti, CTO of Emburse, steps up to our mic to talk about his career trajectory toward IT leadership and insights about how technology intersects with CFO responsibilities.

Season 2 Episode 4

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:00:09] Hi, I'm Grant Johnson, chief marketing officer at Emburse. Welcome to Emburse on the Mic, a podcast series where we dig into the topics that impact our business and lives managing expenses, processing invoices, making payments and discovering ways to eliminate those time-consuming error-prone manual tasks to help make our lives easier. Our website is Emburse dot com. And if you'd like to share your thoughts on this episode, you can reach us at hi at Emburse dot com. That's Our last episode, we talked about navigating the future of business travel. And today we're going to talk about digitizing and optimizing spend management. With me today is Sunil Kayiti, chief technology officer at Emburse. Sunil oversees software engineering, global operations and information security. He ensures that we continue to innovate across our portfolios, products and solutions and support our customers with a robust, scalable and secure global platform. Sunil, welcome. Thank for joining us today.

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:01:19] Thanks, Grant, for the opportunity and also to be able to connect with the audience.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:01:23] Well, let's get started with your background, Sunil. What sparked and fueled your career in technology?

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:01:28] So I'm an engineer by training and have been in the technology industry for over 25 years. So I love the fast-paced environment that technology provides. You know, it's always changing landscape. There's new technology solutions that are coming to the market. There's evolution in the technology space. I honestly thrive on this constant change and like an ability for learning new technologies, new products, and solutions that solve customer problems. And my, you know, fascination with software in general right now, some of us might have heard the term software eats the world. In my opinion, software and its impact on the world has been increasing in recent years. Right? It has permeated all aspects of business. And there are very, very few businesses out there that are not investing in technology. It is a key ingredient of success for many companies. And also, there is a lot of transformations that are happening, like an AI, where companies are spending, you know, both money as well as time and effort in those transformations. You know, I found this announcement a year ago where, you know, an automotive industry, how they're transforming. And now Ford came out and said, look, and they are now a technology company right now. So this automotive industry is also thinking in terms of not like, you know, their traditional bread and butter. But looking at that now, they're becoming technology companies. So it is generally an exciting space to be. And that's what motivates me in this, you know, to be in this space.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:03:14] Yeah, that's great. I love about your background, where you like fast-paced change that helps us help our customers deal with the ever-changing world. You know, we dug deep into C suite thinking in the season, what do you feel are the most critical technology base mindsets that today's executives should understand?

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:03:37] Great question. So the digital mindset like is a growth mindset when we talk about technology and digital investments. You know, most of the time, like in about 10 years ago or 15 years ago, people used to think, hey, you know, technology investment is a cost, right? But now technology has become an enabler. And now we think, hey, adding technology, investing in technology will allow us to grow. So that's the mindset. I think, you know, digital mindset is a growth mindset. And digital mindset also means it's investing in people, process, and technology. It's is really important to build a culture that, you know, that we get like in a really good people. We put people first. We are collaborative across different functions. You know, there's you know, we are adaptable to change and look in a view as both opportunities and challenges, as like an opportunity to grow and learn. You know, having like the right processes and then looking at translating them to successful outcomes, that's important. And finally, looking at the innovation. Right. There's a lot of innovation happening that that technology is bringing. So innovation and how you sustain it in the long term is another critical area that you know, that you know. All of the C Suite executives have to think about how do they innovate? How do they sustain that innovation in the long run? You know, how do we use data? The critical insights that it provides, that'll help make solid decisions as we go forward. Three key things that I think that. The C suite, you know, is thinking about. Right. One is how do I grow using technology to ensure that there's the right people, processes and technologies in place? How do you innovate and sustain that innovation in the long term? And then like this whole notion of data, we have a lot of data available. How do you use that for critical insights that'll help make like in a solid decisions as we go forward? And this is both true for us as a company as well as looking for our customers.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:05:54] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And like a lot of other providers of technology, it's important to understand that we have to help with the people aspect and the process aspect so they can successfully adopt these new technologies and innovate. Can you talk a little bit Sunil about how Emburse complements those perspectives?

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:06:15] Emburse, and that suite of tools that we develop and provide to our customers, I feel it complements looking at this perfectly. I mean, we have a long track record of putting innovation at the forefront of everything we do. We use data internally to make decisions, and we help our customers do the same, too. We are coming out with looking at this new data analytics platform, you know, that should enable our customers to use data to gain insights and also help make them make our customers like, you know, solidify their business cases or business decisions. You know, we're using like some of the latest technologies, like machine learning and artificial intelligence to help augment our customers workflow like an AI, making them more efficient, you know, making them more productive. So we are also, you know, focused in providing technologies that accelerate digital transformation for our customers. And we are very thoughtful in providing in creating features that are enablers in this journey, you know, for our customers, rather than looking at just creating a feature, you know, that might not satisfy that purpose. We also provide Letarte leadership looking at this particular podcast and other podcasts that we do like, and we provide thought leadership to help customers in their journeys, whatever their journey may be. So I feel Emburse and our products like complement, you know, some of these areas.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:07:44] Yeah, I agree with you. Helping our customers successfully adopt the technology is really important. Are there misconceptions, Sunil, that CFOs may have about technology's ability or the limitations that need to be corrected?

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:08:03] The biggest misconception is thinking about technology or transformation as a cost. Right. Instead of it being an enabler towards growth. You know, digital transformation has forced entire industries to change how they operate, and they've altered like in many functions within their organizations. You know, the biggest challenge I've seen, again, is how do you make this transformation, our use of technology to be an enabler, to be nimble and contribute towards like in our you know, that companies are organizations growth, you know, from a CFO perspective. There's a lot of innovation happening. There's a lot of change happening in technology. You know, from a CFOs perspective, it is how do you choose a particular service and how do you adapt that service and drive it towards growth rather than thinking of them as cost? Regardless, that's the misconception that over the years, like in a successful technology product or project, implementations have moved on the CFOs perception from it being a cost to, hey, you know, it enables us to be productive. It enables us to automate things. And then we can, you know, deploy those resources like any other, you know, growth enablers. The thing is, data analytics and insights will be, you know, critical for CFOs and financial managers, you know? Because it will help them assess where spend is happening and how to optimize spend for the maximum benefit.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:09:42] That's a great way to put it. We like to think about our role in advancing digital transformation. It is helping companies optimize their spend. They're going to spend on a variety of things from, you know, expenses to invoice the corporate cards. How can they do that in a more thoughtful, automated, optimized fashion? So, you know, given we facilitate digital trends. Information, how should the C suite executives think about various projects that are also competing for attention or budget, where they say, hey, we can do that too? 

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:10:16] Great question. And I think digital transformation or transformation projects like in a small and large, you know, are different because every project is different. The expectation for return on investment is different. And, you know, it puts different pressures on budgeting, resource allocation, planning, etc. So from my experience in a leading some of the large projects, looking at both internally and also with like other companies that I've worked on, the biggest and most important items to consider are one building a really solid business case ahead of time, even before we start a project or this transformation initiative. I think we need to have a solid business case, which clearly shows, you know, what are the business benefits, how are we improving? You know, the areas that we said, OK, this particular project or transformation project will lead to these outcomes, you know, for both our employees as well as for our customers. A solid business case is very important. We have to identify who are all our stakeholders from a budget perspective, really ahead of time, because getting commitments and their buying is where many of the transformation projects fail. Right. The stakeholders are not engaged. They are misaligned.

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:11:45] You know, many of these projects are going to fail because they're going to be having, you know, talked about with all our stakeholders about the benefits, you know, what the cost is and such. We also need to identify who are the participants that will execute on this project. Alright? We have to pitch for securing these necessary resources ahead of time so that like an when we go in, we know clearly who's working on it, and we've secured all of the resources. And finally, in my mind, is staying agile. Right. You know, we should break down these big, large projects or transformation efforts, initiatives or whatever you call it, into small, you know, phases that where we can show incremental progress. I think it's important to take like, you know, chunks of this project. Otherwise, you know, these projects take a long time, you know, and, you know, we are not able to if we are not able to articulate those benefits, looking at they'll you know, they'll start to fail. Yeah. So I'm a big fan of phasing out large projects and being nimble and overly communicating, looking at the status of the project.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:12:56] Yes, I know you've driven a lot of significant change management processes for our company and our customers. Interesting note, McKinsey found that 60 percent of stalled digital transformations were as a result of issues or areas that the organization could have control in the near mid-term, but somehow that didn't happen. What additional advice do you have for the C suite to understand? What can you do to keep initiatives on track, as well as in addition to phasing them, as you just said,

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:13:27] As we've talked before, the key is to have like the right expectations, you know, set with all of the stakeholders, you know, for a small company. You know, it might not be that big of a deal. But like as you get into, you know, larger organizations which have divisions or a lot of line of business units, then they're going to need to ensure that we identify all the stakeholders and, you know, setting the right expectations, having a clear business case, detailing the benefits costs and the impact that it will provide. You know, it's a first step towards any successful digital transformation. You know, these large projects typically stall when expectations across the organizations are misaligned. You know, my bulleted list of making sure, like in a digital transformation or a large project is successful or if it is starting to kickstart, it is, you know, making sure that we have a good business case upfront. You know, we have a list of stakeholders and create looking at this RACI model. Right. Like in a responsible, accountable, informed parties. Looking at that model, creating that who we should inform, who's accountable and creating that model is really important. You know, if the transformation stalls, that hits road bumps. I think, you know, the key thing to do is dust that business case, communicate the benefits to stakeholders once more, and then see if there can be improvements to be made in communication, in clarity and messaging. How do we like, you know, keep. Indicating that these are the benefits that it'll get, this is the productivity, you know, that we are looking for when we finish this project. You know, the key will be, again, we will be showing incremental progress and being agile. And how do you bring that agile and nimble mindset, you know, back, you know, on the front burner?

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:15:25] Well, that's great advice. Sunil, what lessons could a CFO learn from a CTO or turn it around? Could a CTO learn from a CFO?

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:15:35] I think more in terms of interdependence between a CFO and CTO roles, Grant, rather than, you know, lessons learned from each other. You know, the CTO, CIO and CFO, our responsibilities overlap. You know, the initiatives that we manage, both small and large, are in general interconnected. And it's becoming more and more interconnected, you know? Because as I said before, technology is permeating all aspects of business. Right? We have to work together to achieve the same goals. A couple of these are one, maintaining security and compliance is becoming a lot more important, you know, because there's a lot of, you know, compliance requirements, regulations, data privacy regulations, how we implement these technology solutions, you know, within the companies and these transformation projects, they always have to take into account and put that lens of, you know, is it secure? Is our data a secure or, you know, are we adhering to all of the compliance requirements and regulations? So it becomes even more critical for us to U.A.E afford to collaborate, you know, much more closely. Another aspect is identifying efficiencies across the company. How do you discover these efficiencies and how can we create, you know, compelling value props, you know, to the business so that we're going to we can help, you know, increase our productivity, reducing looking at these manual workloads and automating looking at some of these, you know, key things so that, you know, we can use our free, really scarce resources on, you know, really important projects across the organization, collaborating on ongoing, you know, software as a service initiatives that will help humanize work.

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:17:26] And what I mean by that is if we are as a CFO or a CTO or a CIO, we are bringing in like in certain SaaS initiatives or SaaS products into the organization, they should help drive, you know, that humanization of work rate, like they should help our employees be happier because they are not doing like in a routine, you know, jobs like, you know. They're eliminating this manual drudgery of work and looking to automating like any of these things, you know, so that's important. And finally, CTO and CIO can help in providing accurate and timely data for better insights, you know, to the CFOs office. Right. And so that's like in the CFO office can function much more efficiently. So data analytics, insights, these become kind of critical things that, you know, we as a CTO and the CIO office can tell are going to bring, you know, to other parts, other parts of the organization.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:18:26] Yeah, I love that part of trying to take out the time-consuming, tedious tasks from work so people can focus on things that provide more value to their business and are not weighed down by manual tasks. Looking ahead, what will it take for a CTO to be ready for tomorrow's challenges?

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:18:44] I would like to actually change my title from like, you know, chief technology officer to chief tomorrow officer. Right? It's all about looking ahead in the technology industry, because, as you know, technology changes very rapidly. There's always like, you know, challenges ahead, whether it is security, whether it's regulations that are coming out. So we always have to look ahead. And I think that's a key area that every CTO is always looking at, is like, as I said, security, keeping all our business assets secure, comply and adapting to regulatory changes, data, privacy issues. The second thing is innovation. How do we accelerate innovation, provide value to our customers, improve both our employees' lives, as well as like in our customers' lives. And in general, how do you sustain this innovation? You know, in the long run, talent as a CTO and like a technology talent. Talent is hypercompetitive right now. So acquiring and retaining talent is critical that, you know, for every CTO to strategize about. And finally, data, how do we aggregate data across the organization? How do we ensure that we have the right data platform is in? So that we can look at a gathering site and help business leaders looking to make make the right decisions. So those are some of the key challenges.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:20:15] Yeah, I love that idea of helping companies make better decisions faster. And why don't we change it today to chief tomorrow, officer? That works. That works for me Sunil. In your opinion, what is there a current process or a practice in this world that we work in that's long overdue for an upgrade? And, you know, what are your thoughts about that?

Sunil Kayiti, CTO at Emburse: [00:20:35] So this is a great question, Grant. There are so many things that we can go in so many different directions in this. Right. There's something like a big, big challenges in the world. You know, whether it's climate change or it's those are the big ideas. But I want to narrow that down a little bit. You know, from a technology perspective, I think using cash and paying in cash is definitely overdue for an upgrade. And this change is already happening is going to happen very fast. Already, like in most of us are not carrying cash and we use our cards or Apple Pay or Google pay. But there is still a significant portion of the U.S. and the world population that deals in cash. So I personally think, in my opinion, you know, this is an area of, you know, significant disruption, virtual cards, Apple and Google pay paying by, you know, QR codes. We're already seeing like, you know, a lot of like the millennials are using sending money via even more PayPal. You know, I have my son. I haven't given him cash like, you know, in, you know, in a decade. They all use Venmo or transfer, you know, money via Zewail. And this space is going to change dramatically. If you look back five, six years from now, it's going to be completely different. And I think like Covid has accelerated this significantly in both in India as well as in China and also in the U.S. One example of when I visited India before Covid, I was surprised to see a lot of small vendors on the street already displaying QR codes for customers to pay. So all you go, you know, these are really small vendors. These are mom and pop shops looking that are right on the pavement, like selling like, you know, fresh produce from their farms. And they have a QR code displayed. So this is this transformation is already progressing at a rapid pace. This will continue to happen until cash becomes obsolete.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:22:34] Yeah, we when you mentioned that example, we think about like, so why are companies still printing checks and then they have to go back in the office and pick up checks and can't we have digital payments? So I think we're on that path and we're trying to help facilitate and accelerate it for our customers. Well, it's been a real pleasure talking with you, Sunil, today, and appreciate that you joined us. Thanks, Grant. And for our audience, please stay tuned for our next Emburse on the Mic episode, where we'll take a deeper look at how technology can help organizations achieve their environmental, social, and governance goals, otherwise known as ESG. And if you'd like to learn more about Emburse, please visit or sent a note to That's Thanks for listening.