Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are central to nearly every organization’s management of operational and financial business processes. They are essential to the smooth functioning of an organization’s record keeping, accounting and finance tasks. In manufacturing and distribution, ERP manages inventory and logistics. Some ERP software vendors incorporate an extended set of capabilities that include managing human resources as well as supply chains and logistics. In the 2020s, technology will drive fundamental change in how ERP systems operate and how companies use the software.
An important recent development in software designed for the Office of Finance is the addition of what we’re calling a data aggregation device (DAD) for analytical applications. A DAD automates the collection of data from disparate sources using, for example, application programming interfaces (APIs) and robotic process automation (RPA). With a DAD, users of the analytical application have immediate access to a much broader data set; one that incorporates operational as well as financial data from internal and external sources. The larger data set enables a much more expansive set of analyses than has been feasible in the past because the process of acquiring the data is automated, and the data aggregation is handled in a controlled manner. This control means that data in the system is authoritative, accurate, consistent, complete and secure. The difference between a DAD and a finance data mart is that the former is prebuilt for the specific application, and therefore eliminates this source of implementation costs and offers faster time to value.
A great deal has changed in how finance and accounting departments operate since the start of 2020. To cope with unprecedented conditions, many departments have found that significant changes to their processes and operating methods are not only possible, they’re necessary. With workers unable to be in office, organizations have learned how to work virtually using videoconferencing, and adopted a variety of new software that make it possible to work under any conditions. Software that automates the close, for instance, smooths the execution of processes by managing hand-offs, reviews and approvals even when face-to-face interaction isn’t feasible.
One of the challenges of being a practically minded technology analyst is squaring the importance of “the next big thing” with the reality of what most organizations are doing. For decades it’s been the case that “the next big thing” in the world of information technology is easily several years ahead of where most organizations are in their use of technology. And before most organizations can realize the benefit of some whiz-bang technology, they frequently need to address a range of more mundane issues, such as data availability and accuracy, employee training and corporate culture, among other impediments. Sometimes, though, advanced technology works to uncomplicate things for organizations.
Topics: Human Capital Management, Marketing, Office of Finance, Analytics, Business Intelligence, Sales Performance Management, Financial Performance Management, Price and Revenue Management, Digital Marketing, Work and Resource Management, Digital Commerce, Operations & Supply Chain, Enterprise Resource Planning, ERP and Continuous Accounting, robotic finance, Predictive Planning, AI and Machine Learning, revenue and lease accounting, subscription management, intelligent sales
Workiva recently introduced Chains, a visual workflow tool for the Workiva platform. Individuals use Chains to create and manage linear sequences of tasks that they otherwise would have to execute manually, for example, automatically updating a report with the most current dataset. Chains is like old-style Excel macros in its simplicity; users configure sequences with a drag-and-drop visual interface. There’s nothing to code and it’s easy to follow the sequence and the logic that drives the process. Organizations can take a modular approach to building chains, enabling users to string together a sequence of them. Such an approach makes it possible to standardize process execution and maintaining shorter chains is usually simpler than longer ones.
Recent events are forcing corporations to adopt dedicated software for tax provision, transfer pricing and tax analysis. The fiscal damage that the global pandemic is inflicting on countries is likely to result in a more aggressive tax enforcement environment. This will further pressure organizations to establish centralized control and oversight in managing income taxes in corporations. This will also require visibility into tax processes by senior executives, especially for the CFO. Dedicated software for managing tax processes provides greater control and visibility compared to desktop spreadsheets. Our Office of Finance benchmark research finds that 62% of organizations that use a dedicated tax provision application say they can effectively control tax risks compared to 33% of those that use spreadsheets.
In a recent note on virtualizing the close, I observed that finance and accounting organizations that can operate in a virtual mode are better able to adapt to changing circumstances and overcome obstacles. Having systems that people can readily access remotely to collaborate and execute processes virtually makes it easier for departments to meet their commitments with confidence. The core technology underpinning the ability to work in a virtual mode is the cloud. That’s because the cloud eliminates the constraints of having to be in a specific place at a specific time; work gets done when it needs to be done.
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.
I like Louis Pasteur’s observation that “fortune favors the prepared mind.” So-called black swan events happen regularly and can have a very negative effect on a business. Of course, risk is inherent in any commercial undertaking; organizations don’t succeed by being overly cautious and reckless ones usually fail after awhile. Those that are consistently successful are ones that manage risk intelligently. That is, they correctly identify vulnerabilities, avoid the decisions and situations where risks outweigh the benefits, insure the risks that are economically insurable and quickly mitigate the impact of negative events. They are resilient in the face of change because they are adaptable.
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.