With emerging technology, data analytics and automation rapidly changing the face of finance, the next decade looks set to be dominated by technological evolution. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON) into the future of finance, a staggering 89% of finance leaders believe they’ll be spending substantially more time managing technology in the years ahead.
But, is all this technology helping?
Inefficiency still plagues business (in part due to the sheer volume of new workplace tools and apps), and with finance leaders destined to pay even more attention to technology, should they be more concerned about its impact on financial success? And how can leaders flip the tables to leverage technology to solve challenges, accelerate performance and drive industry innovation rather than stifle it?
For answers to these questions (and a bit more besides), Celonis attended the recent Future of Finance & CFO Summit, hosted by SSON, in London. The team connected with today’s leaders and tomorrow’s pioneers, and asked how they are preparing for the future and balancing the trade-off between new tools, productivity, transformation and business objectives.
There is a growing need for finance teams to not only be well-skilled at traditional finance operations, but they must understand technology too. They must be digitally savvy as the profession slides ever deeper into the digital realm. Transformation is rooted in efficiencies, cost-savings and ultimately productivity gains, meaning finance teams find themselves in a near catch-22 scenario.
On one hand new digital tools and technology (when deployed correctly) are a fantastic boon for business, offering automation capabilities, cost reductions and unlocking new margin. On the other they are a potential burden where all new users must be up-skilled and continually educated on how to use the new solution. This draws finance teams away from what they do best.
“There’s plenty written and said about new digital technology impacting finance and it can be quite distracting. Yes technology is important; it’s important to understand it and embrace it, but we mustn’t forget about the mindset required to make the most of it. We have to engage our people and educate them on the systems we are deploying in order to be successful. Ultimately technology should be helping us get nearer strategic objectives so as long as it fits with that journey and supports it, then that’s how we should move forward.”
Andrew Codd, Founder & Leader Producer, The Strength in The Numbers Show
With so much technological innovation promising to make our jobs easier, overlooking the potential value of new tools isn’t an option. Plus, increasing competition is pushing businesses to look for new efficiencies and to find hidden competitive advantage in the way they operate.
The secret comes in building out a clear iterative strategy, harnessing the power of marginal gains and learning as you go. Finance leaders shouldn’t be looking for one single transformation but instead adopting an incremental approach as finance teams look to make continuous improvements to all processes one day at a time.
“When I think about finance leaders of the future and the skills we need to have, it’s clear that every leader needs to be part-technologist, part-accountant. Day-to-day accountancy is now largely covered by the financial system, but retaining an understanding of finance ethics is absolutely key. The pace at which the finance function operates means we need the right tools and strategies in place to remain fluid – working toward a long-term corporate goal via a roadmap of smaller, tactical changes through which we can adapt and move forward in that strategic direction.”
Eleanor Hampson, Director of Financial Transparency, The British Council
Faced with a near constant wave of disruption, finance leaders and finance teams find themselves in relatively uncharted waters. Increasingly on the front line and tasked with finding efficiencies in finance processes, navigating through the tide of innovation and making the right choices is a tricky business.
According to our interviewees however, the future of the profession remains bright. And, by taking a considered approach to both technology and people, finance leaders have a real opportunity to make a real difference in their organisations.
“The key thing for finance teams is making the numbers mean something. There’s no point in me telling someone the number is 10 this week and it was 12 last week. It means nothing. With automation making things faster, accountants can check things quicker and better, which allows analysts to come into the picture and really add value. That is the changing world of finance going forward - a blended world of technology and people working together.”
Lizi Hills, Strategic Finance Director, Burger King
To find out how you can better prepare for a more digital future in finance operations, download our Process Excellence for Frictionless Finance E-Book.