While the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination is well underway, a return to the office and pre-pandemic life still feels like a distant dream for many.
The pandemic has shone the light on the need for businesses to keep up to date with advances in technology, with remote working, Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams have all becoming ‘the new normal’. In these uncertain times, we all have a responsibility to be thinking about what is likely to happen, and to prepare for it. In the finance function, that means working now to get the right people and technology - it is time for the finance function to embrace digitalisation!
Digitalisation of the finance function is separated in to two main components; those of providing insight with real time, data-enabled decision support, and those improving processes and reducing risk.
Insight can be provided via Advanced Analytics software, which assists in collecting, cleaning and analysing the raw data contained within the existing finance system, to provide businesses with enhanced meaningful information, used to accelerate decision support and uncover hidden growth opportunities.
An example of a technology that can improve a business process while reducing risk is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This is the technology allowing computer software ‘known as a bot’ to emulate and integrate the actions of a human within digital systems. The bot can perform repetitive tasks quickly, efficiently, 24 hours a day and without error, whilst also costing less than an employee.
Digitalisation of the finance function will be an evolving process as new technologies emerge and create better solutions to manage the challenges of today’s fast-changing business environment. It can transform the finance function, add value to the business, whilst improving efficiency and reducing risk.
For example, embracing digitalisation will result in more offices going ‘paperless’, reducing their carbon footprint and making the business as a whole more sustainable. A paperless system also provides greater security around GDPR regulations. With regards to improving efficiencies, we are seeing new technologies being used to take the raw output financial data and complete month end routines in a matter of hours, rather than days as previously was the case.
Complete digital transformation within a business can be complex, time consuming and expensive. Additionally, the ever-changing technologies and arrival of new solutions make it difficult for businesses to know where to start. Before embarking on this process, it is important for business owners and finance staff to proactively and systematically identify tasks and processes within their finance function that would benefit from digitalisation. Once these areas are identified, investment in the relevant technologies and capabilities can begin.
Communication of this digitalisation process is key, as it will involve staff facing new challenges; including learning how to use new software, new processes, and understanding the potential impacts on their role. There is often a ‘fear factor’ of automation replacing people’s jobs. Our experience is this isn’t the case, the technology acts as a complementary tool allowing people to focus on more ‘value add’ activities in which they excel whilst the software takes on the mundane.