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Finance teams must embrace automation technology to thrive


By Chris Pope, Global VP of Innovation at ServiceNow

A finance department is the lifeblood of every business as it balances the books to ensure day-to-day operations can run smoothly by paying for operating costs, staff, raw materials and purchase assets. It is also a highly time-sensitive function that must adhere to financial deadlines. Despite this need for efficiency, a lack of automation is holding finance teams back and creating unnecessary delays. Rather than embracing automation, too many finance departments are persisting with slow, out-dated systems.

Archaic systems and disconnected platforms

The reliance on slow, antiquated systems is negatively impacting the finance function. In an efficiency study, Gartner estimated that on average, finance is the third-slowest operating corporate function behind legal function and IT. The study also revealed that 73% of finance functions face pressure to speed up.

One of the main reasons for this predicament is tradition. Accountancy has moved out of “bookkeeping” on paper and pencil ledger books into the world of spreadsheets, but many of the same age-old work processes are still resolutely in place.

We know that finance still uses many essentially manual processes, including emails and spreadsheets to manage each of their financial close periods. But these are disconnected platforms, software applications, and data streams that lack any discernible degree of autonomous intelligence and service automation.

Finance teams must embrace automation technology to thrive 2
Chris Pope

Beyond the financial function

But this whole discussion extends way beyond finance. There is an equally inequitable level of disconnectedness that pervades throughout every business function, across all sectors.

We should remember that finance is the broker for so much of what happens inside any business. It “signs the cheques” and makes things happen so to speak. But really, the IT department has the same brokerage responsibility. If it doesn’t provide the platform and connectivity conduits for information exchange to happen in a fluid fashion, then work doesn’t work the way it should.

Delivering a centralised workspace

So how should organisations bring about change in the face of operational systems that are often weighed down by traditional processes and archaic systems management?

A good starting point is to redesign the core operational building blocks of any business function. An organisation should also think about how it is going to deal with the impact of new information flows as they traverse the business. Shared devices in modern workplaces require a centralised approach whereby everyone at the company is on the same page and has visibility over relevant tasks.

Companies must embrace workflow automation and optimisation software to accelerate their finance close processes and reduce their finance close risks. Adopting such software will deliver a centralised workspace for finance teams to manage all activities related to close. For instance, teams can post journal entries, manage timelines, and perform end-to-end accounting procedures in a centralised location. Using intelligent task orchestration decreases risk and accelerates close by one or two days.

A centralised workflow automation allows finance teams real-time visibility across the department, which is crucial to speeding up the close at the end of an accounting cycle. For instance, automation software will allow finance team leaders to open an app and see in real time who is ahead and who is behind, what is ready to be approved and what needs to be focused on. A click of a button shows a manager which tasks every single person owns and how far they are from completion.

A connected future

If companies persist with outdated technology and disconnected systems, they will simply fall behind. Employees are increasingly demanding automated technology that speeds up daily work processes and removes unnecessary tasks. The impact on businesses is also financial as highly automated companies are six times more likely to see revenue growth by us much as 15%. This is because automation and connectivity provide a platform for productivity. Organisations are losing $140 billion each year in wasted time and resources, duplication of effort, and missed opportunities as a result of disconnected data.

The future of successful businesses lies in workplace connectivity and companies must take note. Financial functions across all industries should leave behind their outdated ecosystems and embrace a new era of connectivity and automation. Only then will they be able to achieve their full potential.