Sometimes it takes a while for technology to fundamentally change how work is done. That’s because several innovations usually have to come together before a transformation can occur. For instance, Karl Benz created the first practical motorcar in 1885, but consumers would have to wait until the 1920s for the modern automobile. Computerized accounting systems originated in the 1950s but it’s only now that technologies have evolved and come together to fundamentally change how work is done.
We find in our recent Change in the Office of Finance benchmark research an indication of the value of using automation to execute finance department functions. Our findings reveal an increase in the use of automation by finance organizations over the past five years and a concomitant improvement in performance. For example, 46 percent of companies close their monthly books within four business days compared to 29 percent in our earlier research. Yet the glass is only half full. Finance organizations continue to be laggards in adopting technology that measurably improves effectiveness.
In late February I attended Spark, the Scout annual user group meeting. This was the third and likely the last such meeting, as Scout was recently acquired by Workday. Scout’s users represent a new breed of purchasing managers and executives looking to change the role of the purchasing department. This change is critical for businesses. Saving money is the essential job of sourcing and purchasing departments. But departments can go far beyond that, helping support product and go-to-market strategies that are more complex and innovative. To empower this change, the bulk of conference content included experience-driven advice from practitioners who are pioneering the evolution of sourcing and procurement.
Topics: Office of Finance, expense management, Financial Performance Management, Digital Technology, Digital Commerce, Operations & Supply Chain, Enterprise Resource Planning, ERP and Continuous Accounting, purchasing, sourcing
One of the objectives of our recent Change in the Office of Finance benchmark research was to assess the technological capabilities of finance and accounting departments. The research confirms that today we are on the verge of a major technology-led shift. Technology that’s already available can have a greater impact on how the finance department operates over the next 10 years than it has over the past 50. Advances in columnar databases, in-memory processing and artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as a relentless reduction in the cost of computing resources, will make it possible to substantially redefine how work gets done in the department.
Topics: Office of Finance, Financial Performance Management, Price and Revenue Management, ERP and Continuous Accounting, robotic finance, Predictive Planning, revenue and lease accounting, subscription management
I was invited to sit on a panel at CFO 3.0 events held in San Francisco and New York hosted by Sage Intacct. This event is about the evolution of the role that started with the archetypal CFO 1.0, the green-eye-shade-wearing bean counter. Lacking usable technology, he or she was limited to keeping the books in good order and simply reporting what just happened. Today’s CFO 2.0 relies on technology developed over the past two decades as well as the broader perception of the role, catalyzed by technology that provides deeper analysis to explain what happened and why. At the next 3.0 level, CFOs will lead an organization that can provide guidance to executives and managers so they can better shape the company’s future, providing insights through rich scenario planning.
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.
Yes, it’s an easy metaphor, but a worthwhile one to consider. For the Office of Finance, figures are its raw material. They are transformed and assembled into financial statements, forecasts and reports. Like a factory, there are blueprints (accounting standards, models and forms) that show how the parts are to be pieced together. There’s quality control in the form of internal audit. And there are final inspections — external audits — to ensure the end product has been assembled properly.
Sage Intacct recently hosted its annual user group meeting, Advantage, and earlier this year met with industry analysts. Both meetings shed light on how the company is addressing two key opportunities. One is building a robust offering to address rapidly evolving technology requirements for the Office of Finance. The other is broadening the scope of its offering to address the financial management and administration needs of its customers.
Topics: Office of Finance, business intelligence, Financial Performance Management, ERP and Continuous Accounting, robotic finance, Predictive Planning, AI and Machine Learning, revenue and lease accounting
For years I’ve viewed with skepticism the claim that one technology or another will reduce audit costs. For one, there’s rarely a silver bullet. An array of moving parts drive audit fees. For example, the complexity of the corporation, accounting data management and the audit staff’s familiarity with the industry and the company all affect the time auditors must spend. Also, most of the time I’ve found that achieving significant savings was not the result of going from good to great, but from fixing deep-seated issues. If a company’s books and accounting practices are a mess, it can achieve considerable savings simply by cleaning up its act. In this circumstance, technology can play a part of a broader initiative that addresses the people, process and data management elements that are behind the mess.
Ventana Research recently published benchmark research findings on the Office of Finance, many of which show a trend in the right direction. Organizations are closing the books sooner; financial planning and analysis has improved; and companies are more frequently establishing Finance IT groups to manage the increasingly technological requirements for effectiveness.