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Automation – a transformational force for finance teams

(Image credit: Image Credit: Cordis Technology)

Technology is fundamentally changing the way that organisations do business. Finance departments – formerly a bastion of traditional, paper-pushing processes and procedures – are being transformed through the automation of processes such as invoicing, workflow and data analytics. By tapping into the opportunity that this technology brings, through a well-considered automation strategy, finance leaders can release the potential of their teams to add new value across their organisation.

In the early days of IT adoption, technology was perceived as a possible threat to jobs. In fact, as digitisation has gained momentum, technology has proven to be a liberating force, empowering team members and driving growth. By streamlining admin-heavy, laborious and error-prone procedures, automation software means that a task that would have taken hours of data entry and spreadsheet juggling can now be completed within minutes, with a few clicks of the mouse. 

This has been transformational for the role of the finance team. Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) – and indeed finance professionals of all levels – are becoming far more influential in their organisations.  Rather than spending their time pushing paper, teams are freed up and empowered to take a far more strategic role, advising on new opportunities to reduce risk and create value. 

Automation and digitisation also give finance professionals more control and visibility of data and information. Access to sophisticated analytics allows them to measure and manage organisational performance and spot trends that would previously have remained hidden. This enables them to add value, better support complex decisions and create more accountability across the company. 

As a result, according to Accenture’s Finance 2020 report, “Finance is doing things that it never could before thanks to digital technologies. The finance organisation will evolve from an expense control, spreadsheet-driven accounting and reporting centre, into a predictive analytics powerhouse that creates business value.”

Unsurprisingly, use of automation technology is set to accelerate even further in finance functions over the next few years. In a 2016 EY survey of finance leaders, 65 per cent said that standardising and automating processes will be a significant priority for tomorrow’s finance departments. 

So what steps should finance leaders take to kick-start an automation strategy and redefine the role of their team within their own organisation?

  • Define the value proposition and future vision for your team – What do you want your team to deliver and how do you want it to be perceived?  How will you add value to the business? What does this mean for the team’s function and work as it currently stands?
  • Determine the team’s capabilities – What capabilities are core to delivering on your vision? How does this relate to current roles and functions?  What needs to change for you to deliver business value? What can you lose or transform through automation? 
  • Consider your team structure – Have you got the right people in the right roles?  Where should automation technology be applied to free them up to add value and develop new skills?
  • Create your automation plan – Work with your team and the wider business to agree which processes to automate to achieve your vision. Prioritise those where automation will reduce errors, significantly free up team members’ time to add value elsewhere, and/or create new levels of data visibility and analysis. Your plan should also clarify team roles and accountabilities, lay out required timelines and milestones, define budget and secure approvals from all necessary parties.
  • Create your automation plan – Work with your team and the wider business to agree which processes to automate to achieve your vision. Prioritise those where automation will reduce errors, significantly free up team members’ time to add value elsewhere, and/or create new levels of data visibility and analysis. Your plan should also clarify team roles and accountabilities, lay out required timelines and milestones, define budget and secure approvals from all necessary parties.
  • Design a test framework – The test automation framework plays a vital role in the success or failure of any automation project. Consider processes, technology and roles. It’s also important to think about the best time to develop your test cases and trial automation, and who will be responsible for implementing and measuring test results.
  • Risk analysis – Create a list of identifiable risks and rate each one in terms of probability, severity of impact, potential mitigation measures and cost of these. 
  • Test your automation environment – Work with your IT department and automation partner to trial the software within test environments, ironing out any issues before it goes live. Use your test results to refine your approach, reviewing success and failures and agreeing actions required ahead of your go-live date.
  • Ensure continuous improvement – For automation software to deliver full ROI, finance leaders should create a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Embrace feedback from stakeholders and team members working with automation. And adjust the strategy if needed.

By taking the leap with automation, CFOs can liberate the potential of their function and ensure it takes the lead and stays relevant within modern value-driven organisations.

Dean McGlone Sales Director, V1