In our 2022 CFO Benchmarks survey, we asked CFOs and other Finance leaders what their 2022 plans look like. The number one priority was clear: automation. Over half (55%) of respondents told us they are prioritizing investments in automation tools this year. And it’s no wonder: automating the most labor-intensive Finance tasks can accelerate processes, elevate the status of the Finance function, and even improve morale.
But digital transformation isn’t as simple as buying an automation solution. The plethora of tasks that currently bog down spreadsheet-dependent Finance functions need to be organized into a rollout plan. Then, the Finance team needs to level up their tech skills. And, perhaps most importantly, the Finance team needs to venture out into the rest of the organization to share what they’ve learned and become a trusted advisor.
Here are some best practices for how Finance teams can dive headfirst into automation and begin to see a return on the investment:
Automate Tasks, but Don’t Stop There
Every digital transformation needs to start somewhere. When you’re starting out, consider automating these tasks first:
- Routine report distribution
- Routine report creation
- Month-end task management
- Variance analysis
- Expense allocations
But, says Theodora Lau, founder of Unconventional Ventures, automating routine reports and analyses shouldn’t be the end of a company’s digital transformation. Instead, she says, “organizations should invest in AI to bring about the next level of improvements.” These tools can provide a deeper level of analysis – take corporate finance, for example. Theodora says, “AI solutions can be deployed for anti-money laundering and fraud detection, reducing false positives and human error in the process, and saving money for the organization.”
It’s not enough to simply have a computer program crunch your numbers for you. The tools exist today to provide a higher level of analysis, with AI and machine learning systems that can see patterns faster and more effectively than human operators can. These deeper insights are what enable the Finance team to truly elevate their work and standing within the company.
Train the Hard Skills
Automated tasks and AI solutions may drastically reduce the amount of time spent on processes, but they still require a knowledgeable staff to operate. Hard skills, like understanding the basics of programming, are vital for Finance teams to get more out of their data.
The operation and maintenance of modern Finance automation systems are trainable skills, especially for a talent pool as technically-minded as Finance. You should expect to train these skills—and then to retrain the same employees with the new skills they will need when better tools come out. Digital transformation is not a one-and-done process, and a culture of learning will prepare your team to level up more often.
Hire the Soft Skills
The promise of digital transformation is an increased capacity for more meaningful analysis and collaboration. But the traditional skill sets valued by Finance functions don’t always map onto the new requirements of a more collaborative department.
When growing your Finance team, look for candidates who have what are commonly known as “people skills,” such as effective communication, empathy, and a predisposition for connecting with colleagues outside the Finance department.
These soft skills should not be limited to new hires or those lower in the organization. Kimberly Ellison Taylor, CEO of KET Solutions, LLC, says, “Finance leaders have the best enterprise view of the organization, including value-creation opportunities,” which requires those leaders to “tap into their storytelling skills to fully convey the benefits of automation across the organization.”
It may be the case that numbers speak for themselves—to a Finance professional. But to a Marketing or Sales professional, sometimes all numbers look the same. The Finance department needs to provide useful reports and effectively communicate the meaning of those reports to the whole organization. The storytelling skill is essential for Finance leaders to take their place alongside the executive team.
Get Started Today
As you begin your Finance function’s digital transformation, keep in mind everything you need for your rollout plan. Look beyond the list of tasks that can be automated and start thinking about how you can train your team to best use the tools at their disposal and then effectively share that information with the rest of the company. With the right plan, the results of your digital transformation will be a stronger and more influential Finance department.
Prophix is committed to elevating and supporting Finance leaders in their transformation journey. Check out the 2022 CFO Benchmarks page to get started.