By Matt Weston, Director, Robert Half UK
The speed of service and one-click mentality that digitalisation offers is transforming traditional industries. Various sectors are evolving and adapting to incorporate automation. For example, we are seeing robotic process automation support staff in the service centres of finance functions to take on more value-add roles in customer service. IT teams are also introducing new tools so that business intelligence can be delivered as a service to different lines of the business. However, just as industries are evolving in response to automation, so are roles and responsibilities.
With organisations going through a process of digital transformation, how will one of the underpinning business departments – finance – advance?
Prepare for the future: Re-skill and Up-skill
Technological advancements and the positive influence of automation are already evolving accounting and finance departments, enabling teams to adopt more valuable and fulfilling business roles.
However, despite the positive progression, it has not come without its challenges. Insights from the Finance 2020: closer than you think report highlight that accounting and finance professionals need to retrain and learn new approaches. In addition, our latest report, Digital transformation and the future of hiring has revealed that data analytics (42%), communication (40%), problem-solving (37%), strategic vision (34%), commercial/business acumen (33%) and IT skills (32%) will all become more important for the finance function.
So what can organisations do to prepare?
- Lead by example – The annual FTSE 100 CEO tracker shows that in the last four years the number of CEOs with a technology background has trebled as businesses prepare to compete in an increasingly digital economy. In 2014, only three CEOs had a background in technology while today this number has increased to 11. The spotlight on digitisation and more specifically, the power of technology to move the business forward, means that leaders at the top need to assume responsibility for spearheading the digitisation agenda.
- Foster a culture of change – Increasingly organisations need leaders that can foster a culture of change in response to automation so that employees within the organisation are alert to how technology is impacting their industry and can use it to deliver a competitive advantage. Like all other professionals, finance need to be alert to how technology is changing traditional roles and the wider business. Part of this transition means having an understanding of how digital processes are changing business models and can be applied to drive efficiency and improve productivity.
- Embrace automation – By moving esoteric processes to the edge, automation is changing traditional roles in finance and giving financial professionals an opportunity to expand their existing remit. Eventually, automation will work to compliment innovation and bolster creativity. Freeing up employee time to focus efforts on finance activity that helps meet the operational and commercial objectives of the business. Finance professionals that can use their commercial acumen to support operational decision making will be well placed to push the digital agenda and help steer efficiencies to improve productivity holistically beyond the boundaries of finance. It will allow organisations to use advances in technology, such as data analytics, to gather commercial insight and make decisions based on evidence.
- Invest in soft skills – When it comes to digital transformation, business insights will not just come from financial analysis but a combination of financial analysis and collaborative conversations. Finance professionals will play a greater role in considering what makes their business look different and which tangibles can be used to drive a competitive advantage. Increasingly, organisations will need finance professionals that engage people, ask the right questions and then communicate changes in a compelling way. If companies focus on implementing training programmes tailored to these soft skills, they will be able to plug potential skill gaps and provide employees with the tools needed to succeed and flourish in the long term. Soft skills such as leadership, effective communication, innovation, collaboration and resilience are often transferable and give employees an edge when adapting to change and technological development.
Any smart employer will recognise the opportunity in re-skilling its existing workforce. In total, over half of CFOs (56%) agree that automation in the finance department will drive more efficiencies and productivity, nearly half (47%) believe it will support employees in taking on more value-add work and 43% are convinced it will support better decision-making. Automation is a fundamental step to creating a progressive workforce and bosses aren't taking this lightly.