By Simon Bull, Sales Operations & Business Development Manager, Aqilla
Today’s modern working environment is characterised by pressure to ‘digitally transform’, using technology in areas where manual work and processes have formerly been the favoured option. Despite growing momentum across the board though, progress across the finance function has been somewhat slower than other core areas of business. According to a recent survey, 47% of finance teams are in the ‘early stages’ of their digital transformation projects, even though 93% of finance leaders believe it will be vital for future business success. This is largely because the finance function is a highly regulated one; teams must exercise caution to ensure introducing change does not also introduce risk.
One common scenario is the approach that finance departments take to storing data, particularly any sensitive information, on their own premises and their own hardware. While retaining valuable assets such as this close to hand offers a strong sense of security and control, it illustrates the limitations finance teams face in changing traditional approaches and, as a result, the relatively slow pace of technology-focused innovation overall.
But, the case to embrace tech-led change is becoming irresistible, with businesses everywhere highlighting a huge range of digital transformation benefits, from cost savings and technology performance to IT security and compliance. In the current environment, many finance teams have also experienced first-hand the impact of digital transformation, with remote working bringing new technologies and digital services into focus.
This does raise a question however in terms of where are we heading? As digital transformation gains momentum across the finance function, where should teams be looking for opportunities to update manual processes or to replace legacy technologies? And where might the trends at the heart of this movement – such as cloud computing – have the biggest impact on the day-to-day experience of finance professionals?
The role of cloud computing raises a key point. For finance teams, digital transformation also requires a change of mindset, perhaps best illustrated by a motivation to move away from outdated in-house technology infrastructure and software products, towards flexible and more financially efficient cloud-based services. In doing so, it becomes possible to focus on opportunities and priorities. Here are a few:
One of the most important is the cost of technology. The cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approach that can offer users the convenience of a monthly pay-as-you-go payment model for a range of key technologies, such as accounting software. This is in contrast to traditional IT procurement models where businesses have to invest significant sums in one-off software purchases. What’s more, because SaaS users typically only need access to a laptop and internet connectivity to use cloud-based applications, it also saves money on the server hardware that has previously sat in the corner of the office, and in fact, it may no longer be needed at all. In selecting cloud-based finance software services, organisations should always compare pricing from several providers to make sure they are getting the most competitive deal.
Today’s cloud-based finance software solutions are available with a growing range of options, starting with simple, entry-level functionality to the opposite end of the scale to products offering powerful performance designed to fit the needs of even the biggest and most complex finance departments. Important features and functions to look out for should include: extensive analysis, proper periodic management and business calendars, multi-currency, multilingual and multi-company operation, full VAT handling International coding, tax and language flexibility, automatic reconciliation / bank integration, built-in key performance measurement, advanced search, selection and drill-down, document and image scanning.
Many cloud providers now have security at the top of their list of capabilities, but checking their accreditations, policies and security track record should always form part of any selection process. This should include areas such as data protection, backup services and their ability to deal with common security issues, such as ransomware.
When looking at cloud service providers, finance teams should also focus on the quality of service on offer. At its best, cloud-based customer support and service can deliver an outstanding experience where the provider really feels like an extension of the in-house IT Team. The best way to check on the service capabilities of any cloud provider is to ask for references from existing customers, check online reviews and evaluate their Service Level Agreement (SLA) to understand the small print of any terms and their impact on service levels.
Compliance is front of mind across the finance function and is an area where the specialisation offered by many cloud software solutions can be of huge benefit. Even for the most niche requirements, there is often a software provider out there who has a solution designed to meet very specific needs, and in embracing these technologies, the efficiency and accuracy benefits can be truly transformational.
The challenges seen across the economy over the past year have significantly accelerated the pace of technology-led change, finance teams included. But, cloud-based finance software services can help teams to widen their approach to innovation, embrace the flexibility offered by remote working on a permanent basis and deliver a range of operational and customer-focused benefits for the long term.