I participated in a panel event today hosted by the Public Sector Network (PSN) focused on Financial Analytics. As you probably know, panel events flow fast (by design!) and as panellists we don’t always get a chance to give a detailed answer, I thought it might be beneficial to share my perspective on the queries posed to the panel.
How does the modern finance function differ from 5 or 10 years ago?
If you look back 10 years it takes us to 2011, back in the EMEA region I was in Innovation Apps at Santander. We were focusing on automating everything related to finance and delivering real time insight all using bespoke code and SQL databases. The finance area was north of 100 people, with highly skilled & paid people including accountants doing tasks like moving data from one system to another, or doing basic excel manipulation all manually.
Fast forward to 2016, we have the advent of ‘RPA’ ‘Robotic Process Automation’, which promised to do what we had been doing for years, we had already made the finance area as efficient as possible with the current tech available by the end of 2011 and delivered predictive analytics to them which provided a wealth of information.
Come to 2021 we are at a point where you no longer need to spend money on having a team of developers, data scientists, DBA’s, process analysts etc to deliver the results you want, there is a whole raft of software out there that can deliver the same results within months, and give way more insight than even the bespoke methods we created 10 years ago.
In short, automation enhanced with AI and process mining will open the doors to all the information and efficiencies you could ever need.
What trends are we seeing emerging in the finance space?
For me this one depends on where you are in the world. Here in the ANZ region it would seem the trend is starting to move towards automation. If we look at Europe or the Americas who are way past automation and a lot already have process mining, they are starting to trend towards AI integration of their data sets, and more creative uses of AI.
Any way you look at it though, all are investing in technology to deliver the enhancements and insights they need.
What are some of the key challenges facing public sector finance departments, and how have finance areas overcome these?
In short this is area and industry agnostic, the challenge is simple: ‘do more, with less, do it faster and more efficiently in a robust and scalable way’. This has just been exacerbated through the extra challenges bought via the pandemic and lockdowns, but has forced businesses to accelerate their tech vision significantly and enabled business to restructure their approaches.
The inevitable focus areas for overcoming the challenges have all centered around tech, be it more effective video conferencing, enhanced cyber security and accessibility or introducing automations and AI.
Could you share some details about your finance transformation?
I have worked with some of the biggest companies in the world helping them transform digitally. There is no silver bullet for this, it involves identifying long term strategies and goals and ensuring you have capacity to deliver against them. Automation and AI is an enabler for this, not only does it deliver wins quickly, but through doing this it also frees up capacity and funds. This extra capacity and funds allow people to stand back and take a more holistic view as to the direction of the company and what is needed to best serve their customers.
I could speak about automating all the various processes within an area, and how bots report on everything they touch, thus giving unlimited insight, however I think this is a broader question and should be targeted at the business’s overall digital strategy.
Can you share some top tips or lessons learned from your finance transformation experience?
Overall the main tips I will share:
- Know your vision, if you dont have one, speak to someone around where you want to be.
- Put in place cascading goals that lead to delivering the vision
- Move fast, be fearless
- and remember – there is nothing wrong with aiming at specific pain points, just dont forget to look at the bigger picture
There were a few audience questions also:
Which is the best tool?
The answer to this is that there is a whole industry built around this, and while their are a whole swathe of tools for each different category which is right for your business, vision, requirements and budget will always vary, the best advise here is ask an impartial expert, you could refer to the analysts charts and comparisons, however bear in mind they are usually swayed by the size and values of companies, and the little guys don’t usually get a look in, but may be more suited to what you need, also I’m yet to see an open source recommendation from any of the major analysts!
How to bring your team along on the journey?
This is a very normal question, especially in the tech space because of the undertones that go with it. In reality it is about identifying your plan and developing a communication strategy to go with it. One company may have very different goals to another, that said the goals are normally a mix of the following:
- I want to scale but dont want to hire more staff
- I want to improve my customer satisfaction
- I want to improve my employee satisfaction
- I want to save costs
None of these mean there will definitely be job cuts which is usually employees first concern.. in a lot of instances those who show willing and want to get involved are normally re-skilled to assist with development. Likewise it’s a chance for them to help fix the issues that have been a consistent pain for them but have never been fixed. Essentially it simply removes the robot from the human and enables us to do what we do best, talk, problem solve and innovate.
Tech is likely the main enabler to achieve all your goals, what type of tech will be up for debate, along with how to best implement and scale. This is a discussion you should have with an expert in the field.
At Customer Science we pride ourselves in understanding that every client is unique and have a fantastic track record of delivering for the both the public and private sector. We can help you with all aspects of your journey from creating a digital strategy, to delivering against it in a robust and scalable way. Give us a call for a chat and let’s see where it goes….
Director Intelligent Automation | Customer Science & Doll Martin Associates