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How technology is redefining the finance function

Before the convergence of cloud computing, big data and automation, finance departments were dominated by manual core processes and rigid accounting and finance practices.

Although this traditional image may still be representative of the way some departments operate within SMEs, the complexion of the commercial finance department has undoubtedly changed where traditional businesses are attempting to compete with innovative models.

Finance staff are increasingly spending more time understanding the vast amount of financial data their business churns out, and it is technology that is enabling finance professionals to become business partners and analysts - analysing financial data in far more detail and explaining how it can be utilised to improve a company’s performance.

According to global research published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 83% of large companies said they expected to spend more on digital technologies to help improve financial decision-making in the coming year.

The technologies redefining the finance function:Cloud computing

Cloud accounting and real-time reporting enable finance professionals and firms to access the information they need from wherever they may be, allowing decisions to be made remotely based on sound business intelligence.

With increasing pressure to make financial reporting and analysis more efficient, finance departments can now deploy a suite of affordable IT resources flexibly and efficiently to manage change and improve processes. These resources can be scaled up and down to meet demand, and accessed anytime, anywhere, from fixed and mobile devices.

When surveying finance professionals on the benefits of cloud-based systems, over a third stated that the ability to access and process information remotely was a huge perk. Over a quarter of professionals stated that slick cloud systems which are easy to access and navigate increased their productivity.

The enabling of multi-user collaboration in real-time is also another key benefit, with 21% stating that this is one of the biggest advantages to cloud.

Interesting, although improving productivity and allround efficiency – cost saving is considered the lowest benefit of moving the finance function to cloud-based systems – with many seeing the cost, be it high or low, completely justified.

Big data

Businesses are being transformed by the impact of big data and data analytics, and never has a finance team had so much access to such a depth of business intelligence.

The ability to curate, manage and analyse data effectively and efficiently can provide critical insights into systems and transactions at a range of different levels. For example, data derived from transactions can be used to identify consumer expenditure patterns and capture predicted demand.

As a natural consequence, finance professionals are constantly striving to bridge the gap between the data-intensive IT department and the process optimisation side of the business.

However, data is only valuable once advanced tools have been implemented to reveal meaningful patterns, which means finance professionals are required to acclimate quickly to extract deeper insights from financial data.

A commercially integrated finance department has always been critical. However, it’s the scope of its analysis of information assets which has altered.

The increasing demand for the latter means the once number-crunching and calculation-focussed account & finance professionals, now need to get to grips with deep-thinking analysis and business intelligence – in essence becoming financial analysis specialists.

Automation

Due to the time-saving nature of new technology, core business tasks, such as quarterly financial reports, balance sheets and profit and loss statements, can now all be produced in a shorter period of time.

Automating these repetitive tasks has unlocked valuable resources within the finance department to enable leaders to focus on areas of real business value.

According to Gartner, in the past year robotic process automation (RPA) – bots and software that can be programmed to do basic tasks previously done by humans – has eliminated 20% of repetitive “non-valueadded tasks” within the finance department.

The automation of traditional finance tasks means that a much larger number of transactions can be processed in less time.

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