By Hugh Scantlebury, founder and CEO, Aqilla
The traditional role of finance teams is evolving. Always a fundamental part of any organisation’s ability to operate, technology is now driving significant developments beyond core responsibilities such as reporting, governance and analysis. Increasingly, the finance function is tasked with broader goals, perhaps most notably digitally transforming its capabilities to focus on business growth.
In practical terms, this is about adding value to core fiscal competencies, with business leaders looking to finance to deliver data-driven insight and decision-making across planning, long-term strategy and operational priorities. Financial leadership – increasingly in the form of a Chief Financial Officer – is a broader role than ever, central to achieving holistic organisational goals and corporate vision.
Technology innovation is playing a huge role in the ability of finance teams to evolve. No longer just a set of tools to help optimise performance and efficiency, today’s IT solutions hold the key to the ability of finance to deliver against broader objectives. Take cloud computing, for example, which has become one of the enduring tech success stories of recent years, spawning a huge range of specialist finance-focusing services and solutions.
Whether it’s providing more affordable IT options so finance can build a better technology portfolio, more efficient collaboration or, perhaps most exciting of all, the growing use of automation and Artificial Intelligence, finance is currently seeing more tech-led change than at any time in recent experience. But beneath the buzzwords, where should finance teams be focusing their attention and investment to deliver on their business objectives? Here are five core considerations:
Among the most important and widely adopted cloud-based services has been the recent major increase in the use of collaboration technologies. In common with other roles, finance teams have turned to digital services to facilitate efficient home working. Perhaps most important of all, this is not just a short-term adaptation to work through the challenges of lockdown. Finance teams have gained valuable experience in the use and impact of digital collaboration technologies, and for many the changes they have made in the last year will be permanent. By embracing tech-led innovation today, finance teams are also more likely to implement more cloud-based services in the future.
2. AI and Automation
When talking about ‘transformational’ technologies, the greatest potential lies with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation. Indeed, there are a growing range of cloud-based services that allow finance teams to use AI to significantly increase their ability to collect, manage and deliver insight from their data sets. What’s more, automation technologies are helping finance teams take manual, repetitive tasks off their daily to do list and focus on more strategic goals. This is a win-win situation, with technology reducing the likelihood of errors, improving efficiency and broadening the scope for finance to make a bigger business impact.
As a key financial responsibility, compliance is also benefiting from a range of specialist cloud-based solutions, designed to improve accuracy and efficiency. Available for the most niche requirements, there is often a software service out there designed to satisfy compliance obligations, often saving finance professionals considerable time and effort.
Although not a core responsibility of finance teams, security – or the lack of it – can have enormous implications on their work. For instance, teams can’t be expected to maximise their use of digital assets if their technology is at risk from a cybersecurity breach. But the nightmare scenario is having to deal with the impact of a serious cybersecurity incident. Today’s market-leading cloud-based technologies focus on demonstrable levels of security, data protection and backup, not only to minimise the risk of a serious security breach, but also to help organisations recover quickly in the event of a crisis.
It also seems fitting to focus on prudent financial management as a factor behind the development of finance-focused technology. Many of today’s cloud-based services sell themselves on a significant level of cost efficiency over traditional models of IT procurement. In contrast to the capital outlay associated with legacy software solutions, many cloud-based services offer the more flexible alternative of a monthly pay-as-you-go subscription model.
This also considerably widens the potential for finance to test and invest in a range of software solutions, both large and small. As a result, there are now a huge choice of specialist technologies that can be geared to the precise requirements, not just of finance in general, but the needs of individual organisations and their teams.
But this is just that start, and the impact and importance of finance professionals will continue to grow, driven by the innovation and momentum behind cloud computing. Teams that fully embrace emerging technologies as part of their wider skill sets will be ideally placed to deliver on the goals business leaders are setting out.