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DRIVING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN 2020

by Andrew Foster, VP Consulting EMEA, AppZen

 

As organisations adapt to dramatic changes in working practices, the need for digital transformation has increased dramatically. Many organisations have been forced to move quickly to virtualise and digitise, as 2020 has seen huge changes in how (and which) businesses operate in an increasingly uncertain economic landscape.

The current crisis presents many challenges but it also presents unique opportunities for business transformation. As Nobel prize winning economist Paul Romer once stated, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

 

Desire to adapt to new ways of working

As companies respond to new challenges, the way teams approach problems and the way they work together to provide business value can change for the better. Formerly disparate teams are now coming together to work on collaborative solutions to resolve current problems.

Today’s business climate presents an opportune time for finance teams to use digitisation to reduce the amount of time and effort they expend on manual processes, so that they can increase their focus on managing core business issues and making more strategic decisions.

In a time of such dramatic, forced change, many of the usual constraints to business evolution have been removed. Concerns about breaking out of comfort zones or making changes too quickly are gone as companies look to solve the clear and immediate challenges they are facing. Similarly, structural inhibitors – like teams working in silos, general inertia and inflexible processes – are being replaced with a renewed energy and a common desire to adapt quickly to new ways of working.

This year is proving to be a catalyst for important organisational changes. As savings become more crucial to company survival, the misalignment of resources across the financial function can no longer be ignored. Most businesses can benefit from digital transformation to help finance teams modernise and become more efficient, effective and resilient.

Finance is a business function that can be dramatically improved through automation and the use of intelligent software in decision making. It’s arguable that the finance function of the future is being born out of the current necessity.

 

Focus on fundamental shifts

As they adapt to new ways of working, finance teams should focus their transformation efforts in areas where they can make fundamental, long-term changes. This means accelerating existing digitisation programmes and picking up on existing industry trends that go beyond short-term firefighting efforts merely designed to get through the current challenges.

Within the financial function there is an increased need for agile forecasting and reporting processes that rely on live data, rather than extracts, spreadsheets and manual reports. Finance teams were already making this shift, but this year has seen a more urgent need for real-time metrics that reflect the evolution of a rapidly changing business environment. This shift in approach is likely to be permanent with no reversion after the crisis is over.

Another important trend has seen many offices shift to remote working, and finance teams have been driven away from the standard practice of gathering paper-based documents and receipts. The ability to apply AI to paper trail-based processes has simplified a once tedious operation, making room for lasting change.

 

Why finance processes are ideal for transformation

Many finance processes have three characteristics in common that AI is well suited to transform: they are based on paper trails, require contextual information and operate at high volume.

In finance departments there is traditionally a paper-based, unstructured information flow. Many companies are still dealing with largely manual processes that are very time consuming and error prone. AI can understand unstructured finance documents, like receipts, POs and contracts. Unlike general purpose OCR systems that make basic mistakes, like confusing a ‘$’ and an ‘S’ or a ‘£’ and a ‘6,’ finance focused AI is much more accurate.

There is also the need for contextual information from outside and inside the organisation. AI can enrich the paper trail with a lot more context. It can look at the entire history of expenses for duplicates, for example. It can compare prices, suppliers and individuals against publicly available information, like Google searches and proprietary company information.

Large volumes of paperwork make comprehensive manual work cost-prohibitive and prone to error. Unlike a team of people, AI never rests, and can scale infinitely. It can apply the same level of rigour to every document, meaning a much more thorough and accurate analysis is undertaken in a fraction of the time.

 

Fix the misalignment of resources and value

The misalignment of resources and value across financial functions makes transformation absolutely critical for success. Most of finance’s resources and time are traditionally spent performing transacting, record keeping, reporting, and compliance duties. While these activities are crucial to the business function, they do not drive enormous added value. By allocating so many resources to these activities, finance teams don’t have the bandwidth to spend on financial planning or strategic activities that would increase the value they provide to their organisations and contribute significantly to success.

By implementing AI driven systems, finance teams are rebalanced. They can focus more of their time on strategic finance initiatives rather than on manual and tedious tasks. As digital transformation programmes are accelerated, finance teams can look at making a more permanent change and realigning their focus to areas of the business where they can add the most value.

 

Business

THE ROLE OF THE CFO IN ILLUSTRATING THE SUCCESS OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Tim Scammell, Finance, Treasury and Risk Solutions at SAP

 

It’s no secret that there are changes occurring within the modern corporation. While roles were evolving as a result of the move to digitisation and automation prior to Covid-19, the pandemic has further accelerated this movement as executives face new challenges. The most obvious is of course, the volatile economy we’re facing which has been the primary focus of the CFO within businesses. According to a recent survey, three-quarters of CFOs expect the pandemic to have either a ‘significant’ or ‘severe’ negative effect on their business in the next 12 months. But the same Deloitte report highlights that for CFOs, business transformation is a top priority, with a strong focus on digitisation and automation.

As such, we’re seeing the role of the CFO change most drastically. While the traditional demands of product evolution and revenue generation remain unchanged, they are also now playing a pivotal role in the wide-ranging ramifications of digitisation in terms of evaluating new dimensions like customer experience, channel management, IoT, blockchain and the associated compliance and legal exposures that lurk within the digital economy. CFOs are therefore vital in pushing digital transformation forward for several reasons and business executives would be wise to harness their skills in the journey.

 

Translating compliance and regulatory concerns

The digital journey is undoubtedly an exciting one, and for many industries, it’s a much-needed overhaul to ensure relevancy and success. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of implementing new programmes, products and services without thinking about the more mundane aspects. Primarily, the associated necessities that come with any new business operation, like regulation and compliance for example. However, the CFO is uniquely poised to tackle this dichotomy due to their ability to drive digital transformation forward but also deal with the more ‘analogue’ world aspects. The CFO is still dealing with the demands of regulatory reporting, tax, and compliance, which demand significant manual intervention and judgment.

As such, the CFO has the ability to break down the tension between the digital and analogue. The broader C-Suite is often focused on shaping the future and is grappling with the changing landscape of a hyper-competitive digital economy whilst pursuing the resulting revenue opportunities. Aspects like compliance normally don’t fit into this fast-paced thinking. As such, businesses should be harnessing the ability of the CFO to translate the actions of the C-Suite implementing digital transformation initiatives into a different language, one that satisfies stakeholders and legislative requirements. This translation demands the talents of an excellent communicator who understands the digital journey the company is undertaking and can articulate the consequences of these decisions using the analogue languages of compliance and regulatory reporting.

 

Pulling on past experiences

Not only can this best of breed, digital-savvy CFO make this translation due to their understanding of the digital and analogue worlds of compliance, but their extensive experience in building governance models should be maximised by the business too. CFOs are well versed in feeding the necessary information to decision-makers, particularly when it comes to unpredictability. The successful transition to a digital company is accelerated by observing how operational risk reacts to the unpredictable nature of the digital market. As such, organisations should bring the CFO into the digital transformation journey early in the planning stages as they are able to use their experiences to best plan for potential operational risks. What’s more, they can then  plan for the resulting avalanche of data that these digital business models generate and navigate a way of ingesting and processing this information.

 

Highlighting success

But this dynamic can only be achieved when the CFO is able to integrate data from across the organisation to produce the numbers they require for decision making. Such a platform will only exist when businesses make a dedicated effort to bring the CFO into digital transformation plans early so that they can explicitly coordinate actions and create a harmonised view of all aspects of performance, in the digital market.

Through this harmonisation of information, contemporary CFOs are critical to the great digital transformation as the insights obtained from big data and associated technological challenges are all manifested in the numerical results collected by the finance team. Financial results that track the impact the digital revolution has on the company’s competitive landscape and revenue projections. Financial results that enable a confident executive team to drive decisions that result in positive outcomes.

Clearly, the digital-savvy CFO is under a tremendous load. They occupy a wholly unglamorous position in the executive team and one where the consequences of failure could quickly derail the digital transformation of the company. Yet, if the CFO is given the means to draw together the right information, from a large number of sources, they can aggregate this quickly, and with the correct analysis, will be able to covert this governance to a strong position in the digital economy.

 

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Banking

DATA: THE MUCH-NEEDED PROCUREMENT ADRENALINE SHOT, HELPING BANKS REMAIN COMPETITIVE IN THE RACE FOR INNOVATION

By Toby Munyard, Vice President, Efficio Consulting

 

Like a flip-switch, the pandemic saw many industries pushed over the innovation tipping point, accelerating digital transformation efforts at a pace never seen before. After all, consumer behaviour has changed dramatically – a lack of face-to-face contact with businesses has meant that organisations are having to turn to digital methods in order to keep customers engaged. Meanwhile, the sudden shift to remote working has put immense pressure on organisations to digitise internal processes.

For the world of banking, the need to continuously drive innovation has been a key pressure point for many years. And now, that pressure is building. Challenger banks, such as Monzo, Revolut and Starling, continue to cause huge waves within the financial services industry, due to their digital-first approaches. These, often start-up brands, have the advantage of operating nearly solely online, with none of the legacy systems in place to hold them back from innovation. However, even these brands haven’t been immune to the vast impacts of COVID. Consumers are getting increasingly tech-savvy, and operating on a digital-first model is no longer enough in its entirety. In today’s increasingly competitive environment, banks must modernise their entire technology functions to support both the front and back ends of their businesses.

That said, in such a competitive environment with rising cost pressures, innovation of this kind can feel out of reach for banks. After all, banks are often a low-growth environment, and optimising the cost of operations can typically take at least five years or more. Another key sticking point for banks when pursuing innovation is the added complexity and costs surrounding regulation. Unfortunately, regulation is part and parcel for any financial service. And new innovations and product offerings will only increase the need for compliance.

So, with myriad challenges facing the industry, how can banks compete in the race to innovation?

 

Optimising costs

To be able to invest in a digital-first future, the journey begins with the procurement function. Whilst it is impossible to have complete control over revenue, one thing a business can control is cost.

Effectively optimising operational and business costs will be key to freeing up valuable liquidity to fund new digital initiatives. But this requires a proactive approach to supplier management. Rather than relying on supplier rebates once a deal is done, the CPO (Chief Procurement Officer) must effectively influence and ensure efficiency from the beginning of a relationship to achieve significant savings.

For existing suppliers, a step change may be required in order to steer this initiative. Getting the right supplier onboard and having forward-looking conversations about new trends in the market will be pivotal. After all, these suppliers will be key to driving digital plans forward. Suppliers providing products and services where demand is declining should not be neglected. Chances are that because of the trends in the market, they are keen to maintain and gain as much business as possible, meaning preferable deals may be available.

In addition to effective supplier management, a review of internal systems is urgently needed to aid cost-reduction on a long-term basis. Traditional banks are often made up of a range of complex legacy systems that allow for very little flexibility in a new digital age. The key here will be to simplify these systems, whilst integrating solutions such as robotics, AI, and SaaS to ensure they are running as efficiently as possible.

 

Data – procurement’s secret weapon

To be successful on any cost-reduction mission, however, the CPO must be aided by accurate, up-to-date, intelligent data. Without it, the long-term, sustained change needed to outmanoeuvre new market entrants, simply cannot be achieved.

After all, the intelligence derived from good, high-quality data provides the CPO with much-needed visibility in which informed decisions over cost-reduction can be made. It is only with this visibility that organisations can identify opportunities and deliver efficiencies that lead to sustained cost savings.

Architecture that can effectively connect to anything, anywhere, will be an essential tool to ensure the CPO is presented with all the relevant data – for example, linking enterprise databases, data warehouses, applications, legacy systems, and Cloud services to comparable systems at partners and suppliers. Integrating with apps, wearables, and mobile devices at an individual user level, and using an enterprise mobility strategy to link to employees and contractors and third party ‘big data’ sources, will also help to provide a complete view.

 

Harnessing the power of data

Whilst a necessary tool for procurement, being faced with a mountain of data can be overwhelming and actually hinder performance if it is not captured and interpreted correctly. Typically, within financial services, there is a huge amount of data being captured within Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other finance-based systems that is not being analysed. As a result, efficiencies are missed, and the organisation remains stagnant in the digitalisation journey. To truly harness the power of data, the procurement team must ensure it has access to the right skills and have the right talent in place. This may require additional training, or consultancy to leverage data effectively and to execute successfully in today’s agile and fast-paced environment.

Ultimately, to remain competitive, banks must put the power back into the hands of procurement. By providing the CPO with the right tools and responsibility, the procurement function can align to the strategic targets set out across the business.

Good data, when teamed with effective procurement capability, will be a much-needed adrenaline shot for finance companies. Whilst challenger brands may only be running a 400-metre sprint in terms of digitalisation, in comparison, traditional banks are running a marathon. Stamina and the need for long-term efficiencies will be pivotal to win in a race of innovation.

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