Ventana Research recently announced its 2020 research agenda for the Office of Finance, continuing the guidance we’ve offered for nearly two decades on the practical use of technology for the finance and accounting department to help these organizations derive greater value and improve their performance. For decades organizations have discussed transforming Finance from a backward-looking “bean counter” to a more strategic advisory role — yet little has changed. One important reason is that the department is a technology laggard. Our recent Office of Finance benchmark research finds that half (49%) of organizations are at the lowest level of performance in utilizing technology. We also find a meaningful correlation between that level of performance and how well a department performs core processes.
We craft our annual research agenda using our firm’s expertise in business requirements and our knowledge of technology vendors and products. As a result of our continuous market research, we are able to offer insights and best practices to both the lines of business and IT as well as across industry verticals, providing guidance that will help any organization reach its maximum potential.
After a decade of limited technology innovation, significant change is underway in the office of finance. Over the coming decade, technology will transform how it operates more than has been the case over the past 50 years. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, bots, RPA, enterprise data management, blockchain distributed ledgers, cloud computing and restructured architecture will transform how all aspects of the office of finance works, including accounting, planning and analytics, budgeting and closing. These technologies will bring us closer to that longed-for condition where computers adapt to the individual performing work rather than requiring that the individual adapt to the shortcomings of computers.
Our Finance practice includes six focus areas: business planning; ERP and continuous accounting; financial performance management; pricing and revenue management; robotic finance; and revenue, lease and tax accounting.
Predictive planning, the optimal approach to business planning and the approach we embrace, employs technology such as in-memory computing, advanced analytics and interactive planning to make planning and budgeting processes more agile and easier. Our value index and benchmark research on business planning in 2020 will focus on how financial planning and analysis (FP&A) groups can finally make planning and budgeting easier for budget owners and significantly enhance the business value of these processes.
ERP and Continuous Accounting
Our 2020 research will highlight how modern ERP and other maturing technologies are transforming the way the accounting department functions. Continuous accounting is a technology-driven approach to managing transactions recording and accounting that takes advantage of current technology to streamline and restructure workloads. Continuous accounting can provide organizations with more real-time information and insight. It also helps CFOs address two key challenges: cutting administrative overhead and attracting and retaining the best talent by eliminating unproductive and soul-deadening accounting chores. This year we will be tracking how diligently finance departments are pursuing these goals.
Financial Performance Management
Financial performance management applies technology to the full cycle of departmental functions — corporate and strategic finance, planning, forecasting, analysis, closing and reporting. Our research in 2020 will spotlight the evolving role and mission of the FP&A group and the importance of technology to support that evolution. We also will investigate the extent to which organizations are employing advanced analytics. Our research in 2019 found that half of finance organizations fail to utilize technologies that would enable them to support a faster accounting close and more accurate planning and provide executives and managers with important information sooner; we will pursue research in this issue.
Pricing and Revenue Management
Finance organizations concentrate on controlling costs, but few currently exploit the power of intelligent pricing. Our research this year will focus on how using big data analytics, machine learning and process management as well as price and revenue management technology enables B2B companies to realize profit margin and sales objectives and achieve consistently better financial results. Pricing and revenue management software designed for use by companies in B2B and financial services vertical industries is now in common use. This should motivate CFOs and C-suite executives because differentiated strategies will drive a higher return on equity and company valuations.
Our research on this topic in 2020 will explore how robotic finance can shift the balance of the department’s work from transactions processing and reporting to forward-looking operational and financial analyses. Robotic finance utilizes technology to eliminate rote, repetitive work and increase the quality of financial processes and financial statements. These technologies, including AI and machine learning, robotic process automation and blockchain distributed ledgers, will support a profound change in the office of finance’s role and enable a more substantial challenge than ever before to “we’ve always done it this way” inertia.
Revenue, Lease and Tax Accounting
We will continue to use our research on approaches to compliance with more rigorous accounting standards and the increasing complexity of tax legislation to highlight the optimal uses of technology for compliance. Organizations are still adapting to new and more complex revenue recognition and lease accounting standards – standards which that in our view are best handled by software. The new standards also are more principles-based, requiring effective process control and comprehensive disclosures. Tax departments must provide to executives and boards greater transparency in tax provision and tax positions as they adapt to the increasing use of electronic filing and review by tax authorities. Those that haven’t yet done so must accelerate efforts to implement software that more effectively manages these functions.
For too long the office of finance has operated as if information technology was of secondary importance to its ability to do its work. That attitude has grown increasingly obsolete. As baby-boomer CFOs retire, they will be replaced by individuals who recognize the vital importance of managing the technologies that support the department’s missions
Subscribe to our community to keep up to date on our research efforts in 2020 and come to our Office of Finance page and topic areas for more research facts and best practices.