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Automation, Finance and Lightbulbs

Originally published via LinkedIn on February 14, 2018: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/automation-finance-lightbulbs-jamie-l-smith/

So for 2018 I said that another hot topic was “Transformation and the ‘lightbulb’ moment that we need to get on board with automation and strategic opportunities that exist”.

We have been talking about automation and technology in Finance for years. It was my buying and interest in reconciliation software that introduced me to the Deloitte team I’m part of today.

Disruption, robotics, cloud commuting and the “dangers” of excel are all common and old discussions. We work with clients on their technology requirements and solutions regularly.

What is the ‘lightbulb’ for 2018?

The media in general is over-rotating on all of this with much fear added in. Fear is great for entertainment and shock value. New capitalism (once all our jobs are gone), the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI), the need for new educational focuses and many other discussions are hot on podcasts, news programs, articles and social media. Movies have always explored the science fiction ideas of robots, AI and technology. We see television following suit too and even revisiting history and the perceived dangers of technology (For example, Manhunt Unabomber was recommended to me 3+ times so my husband and I jumped on the trend and finished the binge last night).

What is lighting up for Finance?

As I previously started to discuss (see links below) we see a conflict within Finance. On the one hand there are change agents that have pushed for improved efficiency, better controls and a less costly Finance department for years. Some of them have found it an uphill battle and some are tiring of fighting that case largely on their own.

Meanwhile others have tried before and they fell into the majority and experienced a rocky or failed implementation where the value expected was not achieved and the road to Day one was hard travelled. They are hesitant now and struggle to believe and communicate the value of transformation or even continuous improvement investments.

In the meantime, most Finance professionals recognize that the millennials they hire expect a certain level of user-friendly interfaces and access to tools and technology that enhance their abilities to provide value in a meaningful way. They won’t stay in jobs that feel repetitive or do not feel part of a larger meaningful goal.

Similarly, most Finance professionals recognize that given this repetitive nature and the manual tasks that there is an opportunity that is strategic and transformational.

We, as Finance leaders, feel underutilized and crave the opportunity to add value and step up as strategists and catalysts within the organization. Our team members that are loyal stewards and operators want to be doing their roles in support of a leader and a team that is seen as a business partner and has a seat at the decision making table.

These conflicting forces have prevented us from making strategic transformation decisions relating to our Finance Operating Model. And yet, we know that we may not be ready for a large scale transformation in all cases but we also know that at minimum we need to proceed with some continuous improvement projects and a Finance IT strategy.

What is ahead?

I heard someone say the other day that with cloud computing a review of process was not applicable. Due to the lack of customization and the automatic upgrades the new system would force best practice. I don’t agree. I think there is no “magic bullet” and that there is many considerations that technology alone can not address. While best practice may be forced that doesn’t eliminate the need to review process (and consider people). For example:

When I discussed Talent ((see link below) I asked: Do we have a culture that supports the technology? Do we have talent that has the right training? Do we have the change management expertise to help us transform?

Additional questions would be around the data quality and inputs – are they set up in a way that allows us to get what we expect from the technology? Is the level of detail appropriate? Can we use the technology to get what we need for financial reporting, disclosure and compliance as well as operations and financial planning and analysis?

These considerations and others lead to additional work around process and controls and people and can be discouraging. After all a silver bullet or the sales pitch we heard from the vendors didn’t sound nearly as challenging.

But the business cases are strong and the options available can meet or exceed the requirements that most Finance teams set as objectives. We have seen cases of reduced days for close, cases of sustainable full-time employee numbers during high growth periods, reduced employee costs in cases of less growth, cases of reduced cost per transaction/invoice/receivable, cases of >100% decline in manual journal entries and other measurable metrics which were outlined as objectives.

We’ve seen clients who had failures, “okay” projects and successes. The difference? Nothing complicated but the often rushed, misunderstood, informal or neglected:

  • Roadmap with clear milestones, some quick wins and patience for the long-term initiatives
  • Project management
  • Change management
  • Clear scope and requirements assessment
  • Dedicated staff and well-understood roles and responsibilities
  • Tone at the Top and decision makers that are educated and understand the landscape of options and the art of the possible

So much more could be said about this. Let’s discuss? Do you agree it is hot for 2018?

Articles and videos that relate:

My original article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/too-late-post-2018-predictions-jamie-l-smith/

My Talent article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/talent-hot-finance-2018-jamie-l-smith/

A Deloitte discussion on the future of work: https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/evolution-of-work-seven-new-realities.html

A Deloitte discussion on the CFOs and technology: http://deloitte.wsj.com/riskandcompliance/2017/10/24/technology-and-talent-are-among-cfos-top-concerns-cfo-signals/

Jack Ma on education and computers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQCF3PtAaSg

Ed Weinstein on new capitalism from automation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYsy6qbKp3Y

As previously shared, discussions that relate to transformation and automation and talent:

https://work.qz.com/1096816/productivity-is-not-only-about-individual-performance/

https://hbr.org/2017/12/fulfilling-the-promise-of-ai-requires-rethinking-the-nature-of-work-itself?_lrsc=0ecd19d6-3658-4ebc-ba92-29cbeed61694&id=wl:2sm:3li:4elevate:5awa:6oth:105083:253258

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