Automation in finance is no longer a source of competitive advantage, it has become a competitive necessity. The integration of technology into pretty much every business practice and process is inescapable. We talk to Mat Croad, Group Financial Controller at Beca Group Ltd, about what drives automation at Beca and their finance function in 2018.
Where is automation currently?
At Beca, we’ve used automation to achieve so much more for the same cost, taking lengthy tasks away from staff to free them up for more important tasks. Automation and process improvement sit together, feeding off one another. We can take something that hasn’t been able to be done by traditional information systems approaches, build a smarter system with more complex rules and heuristics and get a smarter result.
What part do people play in finance automation?
At Beca our automation initiatives are, and will always be, driven by people. Beca is New Zealand’s largest professional services firm, and we’ve achieved that by keeping people at the centre of everything we do. We want to make the lives of our staff easier through automation, but overall, we want to enhance the experience for our customers and clients. We innovate with the goal to make our clients and employees more effective and mobile in their roles.
There is no substitute for common sense, and the human sense. We wouldn’t ever automate systems that take away from our customer’s experience. Technology should facilitate what people are trying to achieve, not tech for techs sake.
How do you integrate automation?
Carefully! You need to integrate in a meaningful way when you adopt any new technology. Understand the way people work, the degree of change in the way people work, and the motivation of the transition amongst the people impacted by the technology.
Consider the scope of the work and identify where there is wastage or inefficiency. There are a lot of vendors out there offering systems that can automate functions in your company. But these are only useful if they save you significant time and don’t create new, longer processes.
Have a look at the wider business function, rather than just what might be frustrating you. Ask around the business and see what their frustrations are – the more research you do, the better off you’ll be. New automation can bring a form of ‘industry best practice’ in a box, but there is no guarantee it will fit.
There is no substitute for common sense, and the human sense
What can we see for the future?
Technology is evolving at a rapid rate and organisations must constantly adapt and Beca is no different. Beca aims to be leaders in the market, but that doesn’t mean we will adopt prematurely. We place people at the heart of any development, and all our people expect things to move forward technologically. But we try to avoid unicorn solutions, and those that don’t fit with Beca. We’ll consider ‘what’s the value add’, ‘what’s essential in terms of supply chain’ and ‘how does this differentiate us in the market’. You might spend hours getting these systems into your business only to find that their value-add is minimal, or that they actually require more time resources to get right.
As a business we are continually innovating and keeping an eye consciously on future opportunities. Fortunately, that’s in Beca’s DNA. There is no doubt in my mind that the next five years we will see the rapid adoption of automation in the financial services functions, impacting general accounting activity first. There’s currently awareness and desire to integrate these systems, but it is getting over-hyped. Most of these new ideas are not yet ready for the prime time, or their cost is prohibitive. And like most new tech, it won’t be until the systems are implemented and integrated that we really understand the true capabilities and scope of the impact.
Mat Croad is the Group Financial Controller at Beca Group Ltd, a leading Asia-Pacific professional services company headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand. Mat also currently serves as the President of the NZ branch of CPA.
He has an obvious passion to make Beca a better and even more successful business by improving the business skills and services provided by all of their employees, and especially by the global finance team.
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