2018 has been something of a rollercoaster. Tech has dominated the headlines for both good (Monzo’s plans to bank the unbanked) and bad (Facebook and Cambridge Analytica) reasons. Beyond the headlines, we’ve seen opportunities arise from regulation such as GDPR, increased innovation and European start-ups really starting to rival their Silicon Valley counterparts.
Tech continues to drive change at an unprecedented pace, so the question is: what will 2019 bring? The political climate will certainly bring some uncertainty, but customers I’m talking with are keen not to lose ground to their global competitors and want to continue to invest so that they remain competitive.
Below I’ve outlined where I see the most opportunity for investment and change:
AI – Forecasting against behaviours
It’s fair to say AI has dominated the headlines in the UK this year, and it will continue to be applicable to everyday business needs. As mentioned, the Government is taking AI and its potential very seriously, with recent plans to invest £50 million in developing world-leading AI talent in the UK and announcements of a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation board.
Two sectors that show a lot of AI potential are business travel and finance. For example, do businesses use every tool out there to make sure they are not spending more money than they need to? Your preferred airline carrier may tick all boxes for company policies and compliance, but could there have been a different carrier that could have saved money? AI can also be used to cut out tedious processes like completing expense reports or spotting fraudulent invoices.
And an area in particular I think will take off in 2019 is forecasting against behaviours. Many teams find themselves over budget before they know it, so forecasting against behaviours based on historical data can help organisations be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to spend management.
Of course, this isn’t to say AI will make finance teams redundant; instead, it will make their lives that bit easier by taking on the heavy lifting. And technology can only work effectively as long as there’s someone monitoring and using the data in clever ways — showing the need for both bot and body.
It's also important people don’t assume just because a machine states something that it’s necessarily correct. This is exactly what Stanislav Petrov did in 1983 when he questioned the fool proof computer that detected an “incoming missile” from the United States — the protocol was to retaliate with a nuclear attack — but Petrov suggested the computer was wrong, by using his brain, and saved the world in the process.
This is a complex issue in a digitised world, so whilst it’s also very sensitive, it’s also a complex web to unweave against an ongoing political rhetoric of globalism versus nationalism.
I was at a dinner a while ago with some key industry leaders and a pertinent topic that cropped up was data sovereignty. This is something I think will become even more important next year, especially with the continuing uncertainty around Brexit. And it could very well mean that tech firms invest in British data centres, just like many of the hyperscalers have done in the Middle East to overcome sovereignty concerns. This is an issue that has bubbled up then died back down a few times. But it might rear to a head when the GDPR deadline hits on 29th March. It could also mean that countries request data centres in their own borders in order to manage their risk of storing and securing customers’ data.
The blurred lines between HR and FDs
Another interesting trend that will flourish in 2019 is the blurring of the lines between HR and finance teams when it comes to employee spend.
We once saw a divide within the private and public worlds. For example, in the public sector we could find payroll squarely within HR, but in the private sector it would be a remit of the finance teams. But we have started to see a shift with some industries, such as manufacturing, whereby payroll has moved into HR territory too. As the two roles of HR Director and Finance Director become more strategically aligned, the blurring of some of the more mundane admin elements of the job will continue.
Community and sharing
We have seen a significant uptick in customers being asked to be connected with others to learn from and leapfrog on successes.
So, in light of this, a focus for 2019 will be parity. Gender diversity is already a priority for many businesses and they are looking to get it right. Growing this collaborative economy should be encouraged in order to benefit not only employees but businesses as a whole. For instance, previous research shows that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on boards financially outperform companies with the lowest representation of women on boards.
Ensuring we have a workforce that is comprised of different ages, genders and backgrounds is going to become increasingly important if businesses want to prosper, be innovative and stay ahead of the curve. In fact, a recent report by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile – so diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes business sense.
The New Year is destined deliver a curve ball – it always does. What that will be in 2019 I don’t know yet, but with the right data, insights and processes in place enterprises can put their best foot forward.
Emma Maslen, MD of UK Enterprise, SAP Concur
Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock