Dee Houchen, Senior Director of ERP solutions at Oracle
The major trends we’re seeing in the ERP space are around embedding artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, chatbots and intelligent process automation into core business processes to reimagine the business. For example, AI and intelligent process automation in the context of financial close is leading finance teams to believe in the potential for an autonomous close. Chatbots and AI are enabling finance teams to delight employees with simple conversational user interfaces for expense reporting to reduce manual effort and improve accuracy.
At the same time, IoT and AI enables businesses to drive new revenue streams by feeding IoT data through usage meters to improve product insight and bring usage-based monetization models to market.
All of these trends support today’s most common business goals: increasing efficiency, freeing up valuable time, improving decision-making, and having a single source of truth for your data. Intelligent process automation automates route business tasks so that employees can focus energy on more strategic business priorities; chatbots streamline communications by providing instant responses to users’ most frequently asked questions; IoT provides a view of where and how your assets or products are operating so you can act on real-time data. But the transformational technology that underpins these emerging technologies is artificial intelligence, which will drive a new era of business productivity.
What should businesses be able to do with analytics today?
Today, organisations need to be able to access new data sources and determine what is valuable and what is noise. The ability to run personalised reports, fed by real-time analytics using pre-packaged data models should be par-for-the-course in 2020. Pervasive analytics help businesses unlock insight, improve decision-making, open new revenue streams and drive profitability. Eliminating data siloes and gaining the ability to integrate data across the line-of-business applications to deliver a holistic view of enterprise performance should be a key priority for CIOs.
However, current adoption doesn’t necessarily reflect the full range of possibilities. Companies on the leading edge are beginning to take advantage of “augmented analytics” – or analytics that incorporate machine learning. For instance, many advanced ERP systems now have embedded machine learning in the platform to not only analyse data, but actually drive smarter and more meaningful insights. Always on and working in the background, machine learning is continuously studying input data, increasing accuracy over time and allowing the system to unlock patterns, predict trends and provide unbiased recommendations.
What ERP analytics trends are we seeing right now?
After decades focusing on providing more dashboards to business users, leading organisations will distance themselves from the rest of the pack by driving the use of “Augmented Domain Analytics”
applications. These types of applications focus on the infusion of Artificial Intelligence into the Analytics process and enable companies to move from “Systems of Insights” to “Systems of Actions”. We will see analytics applications automate (or at least suggest) the execution of specific business process tasks based on insights and analytics. For instance, a finance employee might see his time to close radically reduced because the “system” will have triggered key actions based on its understanding of historical patterns. Such “Augmented Domain Analytics” application might recommend to an HR Manager that they enroll employees into specific training programs based on early attrition detection insights.
This type of capability cannot be improvised by traditional analytics vendors for it requires a deep
understanding of business process and the data models powering those insights. Traditional Business Intelligence vendors will be challenged by this new trend and it will move the field of analytics into its next evolution.
Why are organisations still struggling with real-time operations?
Many organisations still struggle with keeping data updated in real-time. There are a number of factors that cause this: Disjointed lines-of-business that are running on separate siloed systems; technology integrations that require re-implementation with each update, often taking so much effort that companies forego the re-integration process and let their systems operate in isolation; and financial consolidation associated with these disconnected systems.
Real-time operations can be hard if you don’t set your processes up for success. There are four key elements to do this:
A single integrated platform: It’s nearly impossible to have real-time data if your systems are siloed or ‘Frankenstein-ed’ together. That’s why a single, integrated platform is crucial to real-time operational success. Either choose a vendor with solutions for every line-of-business, so that each department can operate off one system, or select solutions that easily integrate with all other systems in your suite.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS): Running systems in the cloud is the easiest way to make sure that an organisation can operate in real-time. The benefits of SaaS are that systems are always up-to-date, have less downtime that could hinder your ability to run urgent reports, and demand fewer integrations with your other solutions.
Smart data: Analysis is only as good as the model and data it uses. Therefore, it’s critical that your data is not only unified across the organisation, but that it’s also clean and accurate. Think of data as nutrition – if you consume junk, a body will have low-quality output. The same goes for analytics and reporting.
Enterprise-grade AI: The use of artificial intelligence can greatly benefit your ability to operate in real-time, if it’s scalable and well-trained. A lot of businesses have the resources to hire data scientists to stand up a pilot, but balk at the thought of the long-term costs of building and maintaining AI projects at scale. The good news is that many vendors are now providing ready-to-go AI algorithms and supervisory controls to customers so they can implement and tweak AI without the significant investment in data scientists. These offerings are designed to serve the world’s largest organisations and provide an easy path to AI-powered insights that enable agility and real-time business visibility.
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR CASH FLOW IN UNCERTAIN TIMES
While the world is constantly changing, probably at a faster pace now than ever before, businesses need to manage cash flow and costs to drive success in uncertain times, says Matthew Thorpe, partner at Haines Watts Essex.
Managing people and expenses
There are certain costs that you just can’t avoid as a business – to keep your operation running seamlessly, but scrutinise the detail and cut down on any non-essential expenses. Check things like your SaaS subscriptions and look out for costs that auto-renew and if you do cancel, remember to also cancel your direct debits too.
You might want to put a freeze on hiring new people, but ensure that other roles and responsibilities are clearly and efficiently assigned across your team. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been introduced by the Government to help UK employers access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary to avoid redundancies. Affected employees are classed as “furloughed workers”.
Once furloughed, the employee cannot work or they will not qualify for the scheme. For businesses that perhaps need to go further, there may be some roles they don’t need any more, but businesses should work sensitively with people to manage this.
Cash is king
In uncertain times, owner managers will need to keep operations going to ensure financial stability. You should look to manage debt more efficiently by negotiating extended payment terms with creditors. You could also renegotiate loans for longer repayment terms to give yourself a lower monthly payment, helping the business to set some cash aside each month.
As a business owner, you need to create a cash flow projection and update this regularly if you are to improve things. You can do this using financial information to create a picture of how the business will look in the next 12 months. The forecast needs to show revenue sources and expenses, which will show the ups and downs of business income and can be used to make sure that enough finance is in place.
While banks and other finance providers recognise that the cashflow of a business may be disrupted by the impact of Covid-19, they are still going to want to see that you are viable and continue to trade in these uncertain times. Make sure your business is organised and don’t let disorganisation cause unnecessary issues. You can evidence this by having detailed forecasts; current order books and projections (as best as possible).
Having instantly accessible, accurate financial information allows you to plan effectively, spot issues before they become problems and manage your money in the most efficient and rewarding way.
Software is now incredibly user-friendly and accessible from anywhere. For a business owner embracing the technology, this means:
- Invoicing can be done instantly when a job is complete, emailed to the customer with an easy to use link to a payment platform.
- Comparison websites can automatically monitor and help maintain lowest cost for things such as light & heat, insurance etc.
- Technology can be used in place of face-to-face meetings. It can also enable them to adapt production lines to different demands.
All of these things and more, used properly, can make managing your business finances quicker, easier and often cheaper. You will also be able to bring clarity to where your business stands and prepare for the next steps.
HOW FINANCIAL SERVICES CAN GET TO GRIPS WITH RISING SUPPLY CHAIN RISK
By Alex Saric, smart procurement expert, Ivalua
UK businesses have never been more dependent on their suppliers to help them deliver goods and services to their customers. Be it retail, manufacturing or financial services, suppliers have a vital role to play when it comes to innovation and meeting customer expectations. However, as supply chains become increasingly global, businesses are potentially exposing themselves to more risk than ever before.
This is especially true in financial services. Whether it’s the impact of geopolitical events like Brexit or global tariff wars, supply shortages, security or the businesses impact on the environment, an organisation’s failure to identify and mitigate risk could see millions wiped off its share price, and its corporate reputation left in tatters. Risk can present itself anywhere and at any time, so financial services firms must be ready to address it. However, many simply don’t have the ability to evaluate suppliers for risk factors, leaving them wide open to business operations being hindered, or being slapped with financial penalties.
More suppliers, increasing risk
One reason why financial services firms aren’t able to evaluate suppliers is the breadth and scale of today’s supply chains. For example, French oil company Total said in in a recent human rights briefing paper that they work with over 150,000 direct suppliers worldwide. This is just one example of how large and varied the roster of partners has become. Research from Ivalua has found that financial services businesses on average are working with around 3,600 suppliers annually, which is evenly split between UK-based and international partners. That number is expected to rise, with 60% expecting the number of suppliers they work with to rise.
The expanding nature of suppliers is only going to expose financial services firms to more potential risk than ever before, yet 78% say they face challenges gaining complete visibility into suppliers and their activities.
A lack of supplier visibility leaves businesses unable to identify and mitigate against supply chain risk. In fact, almost three-quarters (73%) of financial services firms have experienced some type of risk during the last 12 months. These include; supplier failure (43%), environmental impact, such as pollution or waste (35%) and supply shortages (45%). Supply shortages can be among the most damaging to a business, as seen by both the KFC chicken shortage which closed stores, and the summer 2018 CO2 shortage which caused companies such as Heineken and Coca-Cola to pause production, impacting supply across Europe during the World Cup.
Businesses unprepared for the worst
One way financial services firms can better prepare for risk is to ensure they know what to plan for to reduce the impact. However, whilst some say they have a contingency plan in place to deal with risk, many of them are unprepared. Financial services firms admitted to not having comprehensive and deployed contingency plans in place to prepare the supply chain for risk such as; natural disasters (68%), supply shortages (67%), geopolitical changes (65%), environmental impact (63%), supplier failure (62%) and modern slavery (50%).
In order to effectively prepare for these types of risks, it’s vital that financial services businesses fully understand their suppliers, their business environment, global variations in regulations, geopolitics, and a host of other factors. But for many, there are multiple challenges when it comes to gaining this understanding. A prevailing factor is an inability to gain visibility into all suppliers and activity because supplier management data is stored in multiple locations and formats, making insights difficult to access. This leaves teams unable to review supplier activity and assess compliance.
Making supplier management smarter
It’s imperative that financial services businesses are able to respond or prepare for supply chain risk. Clearly, much more needs to be done to ensure they have complete visibility of suppliers, especially in an era where regulators can levy heavy fines for GDPR breaches and scandals spread in minutes over social media. These types of risks can be reduced in the future if procurement teams have a 360-degree view of suppliers which will help with contingency planning and risk management.
For example, in the instance of supply shortages, plans could be put in place that identify alternative suppliers to ensure any shortages do not impact end users. This type of supplier collaboration is paramount when it comes to managing and mitigating against supplier shortages. When it comes to regulations, financial services firms can’t allow a lack of visibility to limit their ability to ensure all suppliers are compliant.
To do this, teams must take a smarter approach to procurement that gives complete visibility into suppliers throughout the supply chain. This will allow financial services firms to identify and plan for risk, reducing the potential damage, and ensuring they are working with and awarding business to low-risk suppliers. Supply chain risk is rapidly becoming an overarching concern for financial services firms, but by providing the ability to assess suppliers, they will have all the insights they need to mitigate the impact on business operations.
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