15 June, 2017

Special Report - Modern finance: automating processes

Automation and technology solutions to help CFOs streamline and improve processes.

Special Report - Modern finance: automating processes
15 June 2017
With rapid digitisation and the introduction of new regulations on tax and accounting standards in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), businesses now realise that they must change their finance processes. However, automating processes and switching to modern finance requires a highly structured approach.

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Enhancing finance productivity

Many businesses in the region have been doing things the same way for years, so why automate processes now? The answer is very simple: because people are an organisation's greatest assets.

To make the best use of their time, finance workers need to be freed of repetitive, low-value and labour-intensive tasks. Manual methods kill productivity: they are time-consuming, leading to long close times, and make it impossible for the finance department to anticipate.

Too many businesses in the region are still relying on old work practices and processes that leave them more vulnerable to data errors or mishandling. Yet the need to modernise finance to avoid these is greater than ever.

The region is set to undergo huge changes with the introduction of new regulations and taxes like value-added tax (VAT), and the switch to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). No mistakes are allowed since they will increase the compliance risk.

Easing digital transformation

Furthermore, only automation can help businesses in the region make the most of big data and analytics to derive business insights from all the information they could have at their disposal.

Research by Marketsandmarkets suggests that by 2021, the big data market in the Middle East will increase annually by 18.5 percent to U.S.$66.8 bn. Is your business making the most of this opportunity?

This is a challenging issue for most firms in the GCC already under pressure due to the macroeconomic climate.

"Recent economic downturn, continuing uncertainty, and growing competitive pressure have collectively forced CFOs to adopt austerity measures across industries in the region. Many firms have initiated cost optimisation measures, including workforce trimming, product rationalisation, opex optimisation, etc., and postponed several key investments," notes Amit Ray, managing director at consultancy Protiviti Member Firm, Middle East.   

"Several CFOs are now facing the brunt of inadequate data collection, management, and consumption practices, as difference between growth and stagnation rests directly on a firm's ability to extract critical insights, understand trends, and predict direction."

Mapping out a strategy for change

To successfully improve processes in finance and beyond, finance leaders must first identify the key administrative and operational areas that are currently either creating problems or slowing down progress.

This task may appear huge at first and it will help if CFOs ask themselves and their team specific questions. These include: How can we make the billing process quicker? Is our customer data safe? Do we fill too many spreadsheets? Do we need to move paper documents around several offices and departments? Am I making the most of my employees' time?

Another good starting point is looking at what is currently input in spreadsheets that could be automated, such as financial reports, operational analysis, KPIs, metrics, deferred revenue management, budgeting and forecasting modelling, allocations, expense reports and timesheets.

Finance leaders need to evaluate current levels of efficiency and estimate how automation will help. They also need to consider which technology and vendor will best assist them in this process.

Getting people on board

Change is not easy as it can unsettle people. This is possibly the greatest challenge finance leaders will have to overcome. They also need to weigh the potential impact of automating processes on all other stakeholders.

"I would urge CFOs to look at the bigger picture when looking to make any decision on introducing a new or improved process. Consider what the desired outcome is and consider the impacts any changes will have, not just on the finance department, but on everyone who interacts with it, such as customers and other employees," says Steve Currie, general manager of Dubai-headquartered business services marketplace Taskgate. 

For more information on how to improve processes in finance, read the process report, the ultimate guide for CFOs willing to transform their organisations and make them fit for 21st-century business.

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