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Reshaping the reputation of the finance department

Why CFOs need to act now on digital transformation

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A guide to transforming finance in a hybrid environment

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Transforming finance

Today, four out of five finance professionals have said that their department is not keeping pace with the rest of its organisation’s digital transformation plans, leaving them fraught with productivity, cost and efficiency issues.[1] The finance function has traditionally relied on manual processes, which sees them either struggling to keep up with, or actively resisting, the pace of change. In fact, 66% of finance professionals say they are more paper-reliant than any other business function,[2] whilst 88% fully admit that they struggle to keep up with the business’ digital goals.

The lack of progressive innovation seemingly coming from finance departments might also be responsible for the impression that it exists solely as a cost centre. But with the digital, automation and optimisation opportunities available to modern finance departments, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, despite it being a major undertaking, making an informed and considered approach to digital transformation can lead to much greater efficiency and cashflow within the business. It can also help instate more successful collaboration between teams and departments within the company as a whole.

How to address the shift to digital transformation

Businesses frequently attempt to make the shift to ‘all-digital’ too soon, hoping for an overnight transformation. The reality is that the move is too complicated and disruptive to happen in one stage, so it is necessary to embrace the reality of the hybrid organisation. It is also imperative to ensure that during the conversion various combinations of digital and analogue work processes are still able to work together, ensuring the best possible business cohesion.

An advisable starting strategy is to begin by breaking digital transformation down into function by function, process by process, even document by document, addressing the paper-based, manual, or impaired processes first. This is a particular challenge for finance departments that remain so reliant on manual processes and legacy systems. Implementing a steady pace, however, will make the digital transformation much more manageable. Other preparations to make include laying down solid foundations before introducing digitally enhanced business models, such as implementing the right technology infrastructure and ensuring staff are digitally literate.

Transforming finance into a profit centre

A major source of competitive differentiation for businesses is how efficiently payment processes are carried out,[1] so successful financial digital transformation is crucial.

Finance needs to bring itself to the 21st century. It’s a new world, with new challenges (cash-flow management, fraud, cash visibility and reporting, impact of compliance and regulation to name but a few.) But there are new digital technologies emerging that can help solving those new challenges; finance needs to embrace them. Now.

The journey to digital is essential to transforming both the internal and external perception of finance as a slow, archaic cost centre and into a high performing profit centre delivering genuine business value and helping the business pursue innovation at every turn.

Even small steps on the transformation path can render big results. Automating key processes for example will instantly enable easier recall of complete invoice or receipt lifecycles, as well as improved cashflow and cash management from the wider visibility available through P2P automation and its improved management of indirect spending. Whether on-premise, via SaaS or outsourced through a service provider, once automated, it will become simpler to uphold best practice, as step-by-step and mandatory measures can be put in place.

Once a financial team is ready to become optimised, genuine function-wide profitability can become a reality. Twenty-three percent of businesses have both procurement and finance automation technology in place, but without the integration that will fully enhance its digital transformation.[2] Increasing finance and procurement collaboration in particular has been identified as something that businesses acknowledge technology could assist. For high-volume, routine and repetitive tasks such as invoice processing, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) intelligently captures and validates data and securely interacts with other enterprise applications, thereby accelerating speed and accuracy while shrinking costs. RPA is also cited to help make business critical decisions faster and smarter.[3]

The effective implementation of these advanced and automated technologies represents a genuine opportunity for finance departments in businesses of all shapes and sizes to forge new reputations as centres of profit and efficiency. By successfully shedding the legacy repute of a department designed to absorb admin, finance can reimagine itself for the modern business offering genuine insight, innovation and, most importantly, profitability.

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