Enterprise automation is the future of finance
By Zahi Yaari, VP EMEA at SnapLogic
The economic downturn – now officially a recession in the UK – may seem a good reason to batten down the hatches and stick to tried-and-tested practices as a way to ride out the storm. But this works on the assumption that enterprises are already running at peak efficiency. In reality, this is rarely the case.
The Financial Times recently reported that asset management firms are asking for advice on “efficiencies”, following a fall in the sector’s annual revenue. This may become a wider trend across the financial sector, as businesses suddenly take an interest in fixing redundant or manual processes that cost both time and money.
The question remains, however: how do you ‘fix’ these problems?
Using enterprise automation to regain wasted time
According to Gartner, 70% of organisations will implement structured infrastructure automation by 2025, driven by a focus on productivity and efficiency. Automating manual, repetitive processes frees up time for employees to focus on high-value tasks and feels like an easy win for businesses that want to become more efficient.
Automating tasks makes room to focus on other projects, whilst still ensuring that important processes are completed just as effectively as if they were completed by humans.
For example, Delinian (previously Euromoney) built a workflow to process all its invoices within seven days, moving to a continuous close accounting system that provides better financial balance.
Adding simplicity and effectiveness to the process, finance automation allows you to complete a task in bulk.
Another example of this could be when it comes to filing taxes, a task that can often take hours to complete for each employee, but with automation you have the opportunity to generate and complete compliance reports more efficiently.
Automation is often powered or complemented by AI. Our own research into attitudes towards AI in the workplace found that almost two-thirds of workers like the idea of using AI in their role, either currently or in the future; with over half saying they thought using AI would save them time, and just under half saying it would improve their productivity.
With such enthusiasm, implementing AI and its close cousin, automation, feels like pushing at an open door.
However, as with all new technologies and processes, skills are an issue. Non-technologists may feel uncomfortable with the software or the concept; and others may worry that automation will make their role redundant. This is why taking the time to train and educate users is so vital – technology is nothing, after all, without proficient users at the helm.
The double benefit of ensuring that business users can use automation software without relying on IT is, firstly, that the IT team can focus on their own value-add activities instead of rushing to the aid of other departments; and secondly, that far from becoming redundant, business users will benefit from a new skillset and more time to devote to the type of activities that result in promotion, such as creative problem-solving.
Staff who can spend their working hours on projects they genuinely enjoy – and will be rewarded for – rather than dull, repetitive tasks, are more likely to deliver results, and less likely to leave the organisation, boosting retention as a result.
This is doubly true for the IT department, who are under increasing pressure. In our recent survey, 87% of IT decision makers told us their workload had increased in the past six months, against a backdrop of reduced headcount and shrinking IT budgets. If business users can manage their own automation projects, with minimal guidance from IT, the IT team can then focus on projects of their own.
An example of this in practice is investment management firm T. Rowe Price, which through enterprise automation has been able to increase its development productivity for over 150 users across four business units.
The final point on skills is a reminder that business users do not need a PhD in computer science to automate a task like invoice processing. Little to no coding is required – in fact, the hugely popular game Fortnite (whose youngest professional player is only eight) is probably more difficult to use than an automation application.
Generating insights for the business
A business’s most valuable asset is its own data – so the saying now goes. And it’s certainly true that a company’s metadata can be used to generate business insights that inform everything from new product development to M&A decision-making. Real-time business intelligence is a competitive advantage in a volatile market. Automation is a faster, more cost-effective and reliable way to extract data from the business, ready for the data analysts to do their work. When augmented with machine learning and AI, this data can be used, for example, to provide insurers with more accurate actuarial modeling. A predictive ability is valuable indeed – providing the c-suite with ideas for potential new markets, new products, or acquisition targets.
As the state of the economy proves to be more uncertain for all businesses, not least the financial sector, now is the time to adopt automation and stay competitive in turbulent times.