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Lessons learned from your CIO – what finance departments can do to streamline operations

(Image credit: Image Credit: Rawpixel / Pixabay)

The introduction of innovative technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI and ML, respectively) into business is bringing previously analogue systems – and the departments that rely on them – into the 21st century, and it’s never been more timely and important.

Now, with so many people forced to work remotely, being able to use and rely on cloud-based solutions to support operations is important to ensure business continuity, but also to give employees the ability to work with minimal disruption.

Nowhere in the organisation is this more mission critical than within the company finance department.

Barriers facing CFOs

Finance departments and the CFOs that lead them face a range of challenges in today’s digital economy, often with solutions that aren’t clear or accessible without the support of a seasoned CIO.

Today, nearly 75 per cent of businesses rely on more than six different reporting systems, and when we drill down specifically into the handling of financial information, only 34 per cent of tasks are automated. This lack of efficiency in everyday tasks means that finance teams are spending precious time and resources on tedious administration like checking and updating data, and not enough time on data analysis. Not only can this be frustrating to employees, but it also increases the likelihood of missing deadlines, making mistakes, and reporting erroneous information, all of which can have catastrophic effects on the business.

As companies come to realise the time and resource wasted in only automating a small percentage of their processes, CFOs are being challenged to be more tech-savvy – to think like their CIO counterparts – in order to implement tech-based solutions, streamline everyday operations, and remove risk.

Collaborating for the digital age

The role of the CFO as we know it is no longer fit for purpose – they now need to be more than the financial leaders in their businesses, they also need to be technological leaders, creating the path to modernisation of traditional processes, like financial reporting.

Compounding this challenge is the fact that CFOs often deal with the most sensitive information within the business. This is where CIOs come in, to help them learn what solutions make sense for their department and the business, and how to best put them in place with minimal disruption. Collaboration is crucial to ensuring that the most sensitive processes are protected while workflow efficiencies are streamlined and wider company reputation is protected.

Collaboration can also help CFOs navigate the path away from what they’re relying on, toward innovative technology solutions, ensuring they keep pace with increasing demand from the business, and other external stakeholders and regulatory bodies they’re required to report into.

CIOs can be an invaluable resource to lend a helping hand, and guide CFOs as their roles and requirements necessitate. In working together, CFOs, CIOs, and the rest of the C-Suite for that matter, can find and implement solutions that best fit company needs in a way that avoids duplication and resource wastage. Technologies that are being implemented most across finance departments include Robotic Process Automation (RPA), machine learning, and artificial intelligence, particularly to help finance teams collect, manage, and report financial data in an efficient and accurate way.

Connecting data through automation

In general, 70 per cent of companies’ manual processes could be automated to improve efficiencies. That means that, in not implementing some form of automation within company systems, businesses are wasting time, resource, money, and in the worst cases, risking their reputations. That’s also why it’s so important for finance departments to be forward thinking and proactive in how they’re collaborating with their tech teams and implementing things like RPA and connected reporting. Because when a CFO thinks like a CIO, everyone wins.

Computers are doing a bulk of our heavy lifting for us today, carrying out many of our mundane daily tasks having to do with crunching numbers, connecting people through email, and making documents accessible across businesses. And as technology continues to improve, so too will the applications for smart tech in more complicated and sensitive business areas, like financial reporting. Connected reporting is one of these innovations, which is enabling businesses and employees to not only work across a single set of data, across reports, but also improving ability to present static figures as insightful visualisations, which allows finance teams to spend their time analysing insights to use for wider strategic business purposes.

Connected processes through automation can also help CFOs – and the rest of the C-Suite – refine reports and increase transparency within the company in ensuring that reports are correct from the first iteration, to reduce version histories, to making sure all facts and figures are compliant with relevant regulatory frameworks. It also improves collaboration and accountability among employees, which ultimately results in the minimisation of errors and less frustration over access to ‘the right’ version of whatever document is needed. All of this is more important now than ever, as businesses are forced to move their day-to-day online as we work remotely.

Removing rigidity for finance teams

Removing rigid reporting structures is key to doing business in today’s digital economy. Currently it’s estimated that 2 out of 3 CFOs spend an unnecessary amount of time manually checking, cleaning, and updating data; something that could take a matter of seconds through automation. With all that time wasted, reporting is becoming unwieldy, confusing, and leaving CFOs beholden to the archaic, inefficient processes around financial reporting.

Whatever your industry, challenges will remain. Slow growth, changing workforces and business models, the availability of and access to data, and highly scrutinised regulatory frameworks are all forcing businesses to modernise – nowhere is this felt more strongly than in finance departments.

But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel – through internal collaboration with IT teams, CFOs can take the reins and implement the solutions that work best for them, their teams, and the business as a whole.

It’s no longer enough for CFOs to be financial leaders. Now it’s time for them to step into the role of technological innovators, pushing for the implementation of solutions that will drive accuracy, efficiency, and transparency within and beyond their business. The first step in doing this is in building out core automated solutions to improve internal and external reporting and workflow processes. From there, it will be about encouraging adoption and integration of these forward thinking technologies to maximise performance, drive revenue, and improve ROI.

Andromeda Wood, Senior Director of Data Modeling, Workiva

Andromeda Wood is Senior Director of Data Modeling at Workiva.