By Hugh Scantlebury, CEO & Founder at Aqilla
Accounting and finance software solutions that use automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning are helping finance departments to evolve. But to fully realise their new potential, some teams will need to develop fresh skills — or acquire additional knowledge — that might not seem immediately necessary or obvious. This article looks at four such areas, outlines the benefits of improving familiarity and suggests that 2023 is the year to start making inroads.
Accounting and finance software has helped reduce and, in some instances, eliminate the burden and drudgery of monotonous data entry by automating core accounting processes. More recently, this software has matured to allow comprehensive integration with other systems such as ERP, business intelligence, asset management, inventory, CRM, HR and payroll.
The most modern of these solutions can also securely integrate with customer, supplier, government and other third-party systems — through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), Open Banking and the Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative. Each of these integrations offers massive potential for improving departmental efficiency. They also present an incredible opportunity for finance teams to access and analyse more company-wide data and gain a broader picture of business operations.
It’s not, of course, necessary for finance teams to know how to connect these solutions; plenty of third-party IT specialists and systems integrators can help in that regard. But finance teams need to know that such integrations exist. They also need to understand how this connectivity could help improve departmental and company-wide outcomes.
Big Data and Data Analytics
This new level of system interconnectivity means finance teams could play a central role in big data analysis. Alongside other company data, the information they hold and process could help to uncover trends and patterns with the potential to reduce business costs, enhance supply chain relationships and boost margins — as well as play a key role in creating new products or services.
But rather than playing a passive part and handing over all the data for analysis by other departments, finance teams equipped with the right skills could become big data analysis experts in their own right — using their inter-connected accounting software as a starting point to consolidate information, visualise it and deliver it to stakeholders.
Data as a Service (DaaS)
But getting started with big data analysis can be daunting. The software can initially appear complex and time-consuming to learn and use — discouraging finance teams from fully getting to grips with its functionality. Data as a Service (DaaS) solutions for finance teams offer a way to speed up and simplify big data analysis. For me, at least, they represent the future of financial data analysis, and I believe they will play a key role in helping finance teams expand their reach and influence.
Like other IT as a Service offerings, DaaS solutions store company data in the cloud and offer a set of simple-to-use tools that, in this case, can analyse revenue, expenses and profitability to forecast future performance. Correctly configured, DaaS solutions can also draw on non-financial data, such as market intelligence or customer information — helping to provide a sound financial take on wider decision-making and company growth strategy.
Networking and Relationship Building
We’ve talked about how IT solutions can break down silos of information and give finance teams a broader perspective. But I think there’s another aspect to this — and a very human one too. To make these solutions work effectively and to deliver cross-company benefits, finance teams need to become even better networkers.
That doesn’t mean attending loads of networking events or joining peer-to-peer platforms — although these can be extremely helpful. Networking, in this context, means building solid relationships across the business so that the finance team has the knowledge and empathy to take a holistic view and understand how their work fits into the broader organisation. Close working and friendship connections across IT, operations, HR and sales will do wonders to open communications channels, share ideas, remain relevant to the business and operate effectively.
It’s always going to be essential for financial teams to have a detailed knowledge of technical accounting so they can provide human oversight and review of all financial data — whether that’s to spot unintentional errors or raise a red flag about potential fraud or compliance concerns. But, thanks to advances in accounting and finance software — particularly on the automation front — the mundane, repetitive tasks that traditionally took up so much time should now be a thing of the past.
This kind of automation doesn’t mean the end for finance teams — far from it! Automated IT solutions are freeing up much-needed time and headspace. They’re creating the right environment for finance teams to acquire new skills that can deliver additional value and support the wider business. As a result, the opportunity exists for finance teams to take ownership of cross-company knowledge and explain the interconnections between financial and non-financial information. I believe this will extend the finance team’s influence far beyond its current threshold and firmly position the department at the heart of business decision-making for many more years to come.