Has finance really progressed in the last 10 years?
Over the various years, finance has been challenged with faster data provision, more accurate real-time reporting, more statutory and regulatory requirements and a higher focus on commercial growth, but has finance really stepped up to these challenges?
It would be unfair to highlight that Finance & Accounting has not recognised the need to change, but across most organisations, finance is still a “cost”, which is not often invested in. Even though there are many new finance and reporting cloud solutions, most finance organisations follow the “company ERP” and are often left with a combination of transactional systems and highly sophisticated excel databases. Additionally, the past focus on optimal cost reductions through Shared Services and Business Process Outsourcing has removed finance further from the other business functions. Lately, this has been improved through the transition towards Global Business Services, which incorporates other transactional services, incl. Human Resources, Purchasing, Order Management and many more. The additional inclusion or highly specialised services, like Tax, Treasury, Sourcing, etc. has further optimised the integration of Finance & Accounting with the other business functions.
One of the ways that Finance has progressed over the last 10 years, is its ability to deliver solid finance & accounting “services” through finance professionals, which had to be very innovative and creative to deliver “optimal” services with minimal investment. In the early and mid-2000’s, finance has always been one of the frontrunners in translating existing business and industry-models into financial innovative solutions that not only created a benefit for finance itself, but was also felt throughout the organisation.
So, the question if Finance has really progressed is a double-edge sword. In one way finance, has used minimal funds to create centralised transactional finance functions, outsourced non-critical finance activities to low-cost, more advanced finance service providers, allowing finance to focus on creating value-add on-site finance services to its stakeholders. But this has also removed a large part of finance from their key stakeholders.
On the other hand, most finance professionals have not moved away from Excel, and many critical finance functions are still being executed in these highly complicated and sophisticated excel spreadsheets. Various research papers have identified the risk that comes with finance professionals using Excel. But, many finance system experts have told me time-and-time-again that unless new finance solutions don’t incorporate or fully integrate with Excel, the adoption levels of these new technology solutions are extremely low. I have even been running workshops where the business suggested to remove the Excel integration from their SAP environment, transitioning finance towards using Business Intelligence tools, but this suggestion was quickly swept of the table.
The introduction of RPA (Robotics Process Automation), AI (Artificial Intelligence/ machine learning) provides real opportunities for finance to increase the finance effectiveness and even bring transactional finance services back in-house, allowing on-site finance professionals to be more in control of the end-to-end finance function. It also allows better integration of their finance processes across the other functions, e.g. an end-to-end Sales & Operational Planning process.
On many fronts, the finance & accounting functional has progressed, through the introducing of RPA, AI with the focus on end-to-end operation innovative solutions allows finance & accounting to take again a leading position in delivering innovative finance support to its business stakeholders...
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