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A NEW DAWN: HOW COVID-19 AND DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION HAVE CHANGED CFO’S WORKING PRACTICES

By Neil Kinson, Chief of Staff, Redwood Software explains how COVID-19 has forced finance transformation back to the top of the CFO agenda.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe disruption—and finance is no exception. Chief Finance Officers (CFOs) have suddenly found their companies in firefighting mode and are at the heart of implementing change, quickly orchestrating their contingency business plans and listening to the needs of their organisations.

If this wasn’t challenging enough, CFOs are having to manage the usual backend financial processes without physically having their colleagues alongside them – as well as the physical volumes of paper files they would usually keep in an office.

Finance teams are now suddenly faced with the addition of new tasks to support other departments and help secure their businesses on top of already significant workloads. These teams, for example, may be faced with a surge in volume on the supply and demand side of the business, caused by refunds for cancellations of goods and services. CFOs may also be under pressure to furlough staff and manage the size of their finance teams. Furthermore, a recent study by Deloitte found almost two-thirds (62%) of CFOs do not expect demand for their own products and solutions to recover to pre-pandemic levels until after Q2 2021.

The new normal also includes revised cashflow forecasts, financial planning, reforecasting and applications for Government-backed loan and job retention schemes that just a few months ago did not even exist. At this challenging time, businesses are turning to finance for answers to questions that will help them shed light on a host of unknowns.

 

Neil Kinson

The pressure on CFOs is therefore clear to see.

Resilience, however, is starting to become a buzzword for 2020 and if CFOs and their finance teams can adjust their working practices appropriately, matching the businesses challenges their organisations face, many may come out of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than when they first entered it.

Adapting to new processes and ways of working is critical to CFOs weathering this storm, in particular the ability for them to manage teams and interactions between team members to ensure that things do not fall between the cracks. The last thing a CFO needs is for any of the numerous finance process handovers and handoffs to end up in a black hole due to lack of visibility about what is happening.

At the same time, shifting business goalposts will almost inevitably result in the need for new business processes. But having to make rapid changes is both challenging and risky; even if processes are documented, human nature dictates that workarounds are common. Having systems in place that offer end-to-end visibility of financial processes, including audit trails, has never been more important.

For CFOs there is a need for short-term tactical solutions to the challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the crisis also shines a light on the more fundamental longer-term changes that will need to take place which, up until now, many organisations have been putting off or stalling.

Finance transformation is helping organisations mitigate some of these unforeseen challenges. The automation of finance processes removes dependency on people to perform the high-volume, repetitive activities that form the mainstay of many finance team roles. Systems can scale to handle increases in capacity across specific activities. Meanwhile, higher value finance tasks can be executed remotely with workflows streamlining activities, regardless of where they take place.

An audit trail of activity gives all-important visibility and peace of mind. But perhaps more importantly, automating transactional elements frees up today’s finance team members to plan for tomorrow, whatever form that will take. In these uncertain times, that has never been more important.

The year of 2020 has undoubtedly thrown up more challenges for CFOs than ever seen before. However, adversity is the mother of invention and by automating their financial processes CFOs have the opportunity to emerge from this pandemic more resilient than ever.

 

Business

BOUNCING BACK IN 2021: DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IS NO LONGER A CHOICE AS DEPENDENCE ON 5G, IOT AND DATA INCREASES IN SOCIETY AND BUSINESS

Ivan Ericsson, Head of Quality Management, Expleo Group Limited

 

The global pandemic has put enormous strain on businesses and brought into sharp focus the importance of being agile, adaptable and able to increase the pace of innovation and change at short notice – catapulting technology right to the top of the agenda for many organisations.

As the economy works to get back on its feet, technology is only going to play a bigger role in our lives. At Expleo, as experts in digital transformation and the reliable implementation of technological innovations, we’ve outlined the biggest tech-driven trends that we expect to see in 2021 and beyond.

 

1)     “Digital transformation” no longer a choice

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught businesses anything, it’s that they need to be poised to respond to abrupt market disruption at any moment, making digital transformation mandatory overnight.

With no room for delay, hugely complex corporations – that have historically been slow to adopt technology – have had to accelerate their reliance on technology just to keep afloat in recent months. Digital change, at speed, has become the norm.

Even last year, the idea of an unscheduled video conference call might put people on edge – now most of us wouldn’t think twice about calling a colleague over Teams or Zoom even for a 2-minute conversation. At the same time, social infrastructure has moved with the needs of its users, with telecoms giants strengthening and opening up networks so we can keep communicating despite social distancing.

There are now very few excuses left for operating in a non-digital way. All businesses need to be intelligent businesses that can change direction nimbly, with speed, confidence and composure. As we see more businesses putting this into practice, it’ll likely result in an increased number embracing and normalising some of the behaviours of tech-savvy giants like Apple and Amazon, who have no doubt thrived during this period.

Their success can largely be attributed to normalising an agile approach. By ensuring all applications have testing facilities built in – a “quality shadow” if you will – it allows for continuous improvements, and the ability to change direction quickly and confidently, when needed. This is particularly valuable today as the world becomes more fast-paced and increasingly unpredictable.

 

2)     Big data/AI/predictive analytics 

We’re moving into a space where big data can be extracted from the most seemingly innocuous places. In a hyper-connected world, a move as simple as a dog walk could offer huge swathes of data to the right companies. Many businesses already realise the benefits of capturing and utilising big data, but not all have taken advantage of it. The businesses that move quickest are most likely to reap the rewards in a more impactful way than their ‘data shy’ competitors. Where data used to be a side effect of business operation, it is now the driving force.

As businesses begin to rely more heavily on data to make critical decisions, independent assurance becomes increasingly important to get those decisions right. Forward-thinking, data-driven organisations must therefore assure that the data is correct in the first place, to avoid giving businesses false confidence and risk them moving in the wrong direction – something that is rarely affordable in today’s competitive and fast-paced environment. If businesses are not 100% confident in assuring the quality and accuracy of their own data, they should look to a third party for support.

A key data trend we expect to see moving further into 2021 is the increased use of predictive analytics. At the moment, businesses will often use data analytics to give us insights into our past activities, or to tell us where we are right now. However, the real value lies in knowing where we are going and how we are going to get there. Data analytics will help to identify the optional levels that can be pulled to drive change and realise business benefit.

Secondly, as intuitive technology advances and becomes more accessible, we expect over the next 12 months to see companies of all sizes begin to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) to drive intelligent analytics. In this context, AI refers to various technologies that allow machines to learn, sifting through ‘messy’ big data in order to find and unlock valuable predictive insights into future events. This allows businesses to better adapt their strategy to likely future outcomes and get a head start in the market.

However, with this ever-increasing emphasis on data and data protection, ethical AI will have a more prominent role to play in 2021 and beyond. Protected, usable Data is a by-product of good data security and privacy measures; however, the public remain wary of how their data is being used, particularly after the fallout from Cambridge Analytica’s use of data to influence an election[1]. Businesses, therefore, must give their customers confidence that their data is secure and protected.

 

3)     Moral relevance/corporate altruism

Research shows that young people are increasingly researching and considering the ethics of brands they’re purchasing from. And it won’t be long before this attitude starts seeping into every other aspect of their lives, with more and more people wanting to work for what they consider to be “purpose-driven” businesses.

Talent is the lifeblood of any company, so for big corporations, many of whom were born to create profit, this could put them in a tricky position. They might already be influencing society in a positive way – but this is unlikely to have ever been their main goal.

Moving forward, however, all organisations will have to start thinking about the “Triple Bottom Line”. That means considering the environmental and social impact of your business, alongside your commercial imperative.

We’ll soon see a mindset switch across businesses, from ‘competing’ to ‘advancing’. Instead of wanting to be the “best,” the question will be, how can I better serve the world around me?

In line with this, businesses will have to start thinking more about how to use tech for good, as we’ve seen with the likes of Microsoft Teams connecting tens of millions of people every day, during this very dark time[2].

2021 is likely to bring even more inroads when it comes to using technology to improve society, whether it’s developing bespoke problem-solving technologies or using IT to ‘eco-proof’ existing sectors, the goal for businesses is to rise to this challenge and build a better future for people and the planet through the use of technology. But all organisations will continue to need to be able to justify technology use and prove that they’re using it ethically, and in a secure manner.

 

4)     5G new networks – just about all big trends are driven by/reliant upon faster networks – particularly relevant for a more distributed workforce 

Greater access and utilisation of 5G networks across the country will underpin and accelerate all of the key trends discussed. Everything we do on our smart devices we can expect to do at higher speed, greater capacity and with lower lag times.

As our digital footprints extend beyond simple web browsing and into our daily lives through smart technology, we are creating huge amounts of data every minute. This vast flow of data is increasingly dependent on new high bandwidth networks to facilitate it. Therefore, the merging of technology and engineering will become critical in ensuring big data is carried successfully to drive analytics and drive business.

The fact we have managed to successfully work from home during COVID is a glowing recommendation for the quality of the networks as they exist today, and they will only get better.

The telecoms industry is already working overtime to ensure that people all over the country get reliable access to the internet – and the fact that there is still inequality in this area proves just how challenging this is. But, in line with this trend toward hyper automation, which will make data extraction and analysis a part of everyday life for businesses, the consolidation of tech and engineering will be ever more important.

Forward-thinking companies will look to incorporate 5G networks into their business strategy. This could be from an internal perspective to enhance the abilities of their remote workforce. Alternatively, this could relate to their own products or offerings – developing an internet of things (IoT) strategy, improve user experience, or bring products to market faster by analysing big data and adapting quicker. Either way, with increasingly improved networks, businesses are expected to take advantage of the huge increase in accessible and usable data.

 

Concluding comments:

For businesses to truly reap the benefits of these new technologies, they must be developed and adopted in the right way.

Quality assurance, trust and security are three key requirements that the technology of the future depends on to succeed. Having these requirements at the heart of any digital transformation will ensure that systems perform reliably, having been tested and assured.

By prioritising a seamless customer experience combined with an ability to create, test, and scale digital solutions and operationalise at pace, businesses will be in the best possible position to take advantage of the potential being unlocked by these new technologies.

 

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THE FUTURE OF SAVVY TECH PURCHASES IS KNOWING WHEN TO BUY

There’s no mistaking the impact technology has had in our lives. Once a novelty, technology has now infiltrated every aspect of modern society, and technological advances continue to bring new dimensions to modern living. Yet for all the good that technology brings us – and despite the costs associated with production falling year-on-year – purchasing electronics is often a significant investment.

According to new research by Carphone Warehouse, the average price of electronics in the last year is just shy of £500 at £497.70. Consumers looking to make savvy savings on big tech purchases must both understand what the industry average is for the product category they’re interested in, and learn when prices will be lowest so they can make the purchase at the right time. The electronics retailer outlined the following tips for consumers looking to take stock of technology prices.

 

  1. Know what the average price is, so you can spot the biggest savings

The first step to being able to haggle a better price is knowing what benchmarks to look out for. While you can choose to go under or over the average price – high-end models are often priced significantly higher than average, after all – it can still be useful to know what to compare prices against. The average smartphone currently retails at £527.60, laptops at £680, TVs at £712.31 and digital cameras at £782.60.

As mentioned, there are significant differences between the price of budget and top-end items. For example, while you could get a budget phone such as the Nokia 1.3 for just £65, an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max could set you back £1,249. Similarly, while a low-end camera like the Nikon Coolpix B500 costs around £205, the camera behemoth that is the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV clocks in at a whopping £1,700.

 

  1. Before you buy, consider any upcoming sales

Once you’ve figured out what you want and the price you’re willing to pay, it can be tempting to make your purchase immediately – for fear of missing out, if nothing else. However, using the sales to your advantage could result in some nifty savings, while keeping abreast of the consumer retail industry could also help you buy at just the right time. Below is a short rundown of some key dates to keep in mind:

January: The start of the year usually sees retailers clearing their Christmas stock, with smartphones, cameras and TVs offered at sale prices. January is also when the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is held; an event in which new cameras are often announced. If you spot a gem in the CES crowd, wait a couple of months and you could see last-gen models fall in price.

February: As well as Valentine’s Day sales, February sees the Mobile World Congress (MWC) and the announcement of new Sony releases. This month is also a great time to buy the Google Pixel and other smartphones – again due to their release cycle – as well as nab yourself a bargain camera, TV or laptop.

March-April: Look out for a ton of new releases in the spring months, with Huawei, Samsung and Sony releasing their new smartphones, and LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic announcing their new TV ranges.

July, August, September: The summer months bring back-to-school sales that typically see student essentials at lower prices. You may be able to enjoy a wide range of deals on TVs, laptops, computers and more during this time. Keep in mind that July is also when Intel and AMD announce their new releases. Responsible for many of the processors that make up the backbone of much of our electronic products, Intel and AMD inspire many brands to lower their prices in anticipation of incorporating their new, advanced processors into their product lines.

November-December: Black Friday and Cyber Monday are undoubtedly the biggest sale events in the consumer electronics space, with deals, discounts and flash sales offered across the entire gamut of the tech world. It’s the optimum time to invest in premium brands, including Apple, Samsung and Google.

 

  1. Embrace the pre-order period for additional bonuses

If you’re an early adopter and only the latest innovations will do, you may not be keen on last-gen products. But keeping up to date with the latest gadgets needn’t mean your bank balance has to take a hefty hit. While costs will naturally be higher for new releases, ordering during the pre-order period could mean you’re able to take advantage of bundle deals or other freebie items provided by the retailer to entice uptake. Sign up to notifications on the products you’re interested in, so you’re forewarned and ready for the pre-order period.

 

  1. Learn some insider tips to beat retailers at the price game

As a final point, when it comes to saving on tech-related purchases, it can be handy to understand retailer behaviour. For example, if you’re looking to upgrade your TV at a cutthroat price, aim for the 55” models. As it’s the most popular size, retailers tend to drop prices on these first in their holiday sales.

If you’re buying tablets, waiting until a new model has been released is usually the best time to get the best prices; last-gen iPads are often discounted a couple of months after a new release. Similarly, if Android tablets are your preference, all you have to do is wait a few months for the newest release to start seeing price drops. And if Kindles are your go-to tablet, it’s probably no surprise that Amazon is the best place for bargains, and particularly so on Amazon Prime Day.

There’s vast potential in technology – and consumer electronics are seeing more and more innovations every year. But, as long as retailer behaviour stays fairly consistent, the information above can help you comfortably get the most for your money.

 

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