Is Finance prepared for the opportunities presented by IA? Maybe not and here’s why.

What is the future of Finance going to look like? Certainly, less like traditional 'accounting' and a lot more characterized by digitization, data analytics, and – wait for it – talent management. It's not ‘Finance as we know it’ anymore…

Anyone heading a modern-day Finance operation will tell you, it's a lot less about working with the actual numbers, these days, and a lot more like running an actual business. Why? Because over the last decade, technology has crept its way into processes to the extent that, with the addition of automation technology over the last couple of years, it's now far less important to understand the basics of accounting – but far more important to understand how to work with automation, engineer systems, and analyze data. In an interview with SSON last year, Marlene Pham, Director of Finance Shared Services, Schlumberger, put it like this: “Less accounting, more process knowledge, more data-driven – that's the future of Finance.”

Marlene's predictions have certainly come true. According to SSON Analytics, digitalization is sweeping across Finance functions driven predominantly by the need for improved accountability, transparency and quality. Eliminating paper is also still a priority, as the manual processes entailed are a primary source of mistakes, delays, and time wasted.

What's not yet been embraced by Finance, however, is the improved integration across the business that digitalization delivers. This is a message well understood at the top executive level of enterprise, but as a recent survey of Finance practitioners found, it has not quite trickled down to the functional level, with only 5% of survey respondents listing improved integration or improved access and speed as key drivers of digitization in finance. An


However, there has been if not widespread, then certainly robust, recognition and adoption of e-invoicing solutions, business intelligence solutions, and document imaging solutions. A far as other opportunities go, however, we still see a lack of significant activity or prioritization.

One area that is getting a lot of attention is the impact of robotic process automation or intelligent automation on processing. The key applications for these solutions are mundane, repetitive processes and, indeed, this is where the data shows the greatest interest as far as selection criteria is concerned. Processes with already high degrees of standardization and low hanging fruit offer just the kind of quick wins that shared services are after to prove the concept.

To move up the intelligent automation value chain, however, will require a more holistic view of the enterprise. And those benefits depend first and foremost on data – quality, clean, reliable, and accessible. But, according to nearly a quarter of respondents, it’s just this ‘cleanliness’ of data that is causing a challenge. Added to that are lack of resources, lack of skills, lack of budget, and the difficulties in actually mining the data … It's apparent that to fully leverage the capabilities of modern technology will take a lot more effort than most Finance operations are currently prepared for. However, nearly 2/3 of respondents agree that data analytics represents a significant opportunity for Finance, primarily via improved process metrics and improved resource allocation.

We would expect Finance organizations to overcome the current teething issues around building up data analytics capabilities, however, and move forward, eventually, with robust data integration strategies. The key is going to be access to data. While basic transactional activities can be significantly improved by robotic process automation, the truly significant wins will result from intelligent automation that digs far deeper into and across functions and businesses to drive truly innovative financial insights.

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