Catherine Grainger

Posted by:
Catherine Grainger
- Planning Practice Director

As a finance professional that has worked on both sides of the finance fence, a CIMA qualified management accountant in industry, as well as more than 20 years in data and technology consultancy and an IBM Champion, I understand the pressure finance teams are under, as well as their frustrations and aspirations.  From experience, I can also tell you not just how technology can help, but that, by implementing solutions that allow finance teams to use their skills to analyse data, they are driving better business outcomes for future-proofed financial resilience.

Today’s finance leaders are developing the skills needed to play a critical role in ensuring their organisation stays adaptable and is able to build resilience, improve efficiency and make smarter decisions.

Transformation of the finance function seeks to better support the organisation and to future-proof it, often through embracing technology to improve processes, have better data visibility and consistency.

The arrival of COVID-19 last year threw companies into crisis mode, one way or another. Alongside Brexit, trade with the EU drastically changed.  That’s two significant changes that hit at the same time, forcing companies to adapt.

Initially, changes to processes were sometimes rushed through, but now companies are emerging from that crisis mode and starting to think more strategically. A lot believe the worst is behind them and so can now start focusing on the future. Planning and forecasting have always been vitally important but now, more than ever, there’s a need to be even more efficient and agile – as Richard Exact, head of finance and risk at Ocado, said on a recent Financial Director webinar, CFOs must “get comfortable with inaccuracy” to stay afloat in the pandemic. The world is constantly changing and today’s solutions must be able to keep up, and stay ahead.

The existence of these challenges, in addition to other changes such as Making Tax Digital, means that the finance department needs to evolve; to be able to act as business partners, problem solvers and change agents, leveraging and embracing technology to help them move the business forward.

That’s all well and good, but having the time and clarity of thinking to evolve can be very hard – especially in a whirlwind of constant changes and pressures.  Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are hugely valuable here, enabling the automation of mundane tasks, thereby freeing up your intelligent workforce to think about and do the things that add more value to the business and giving them the headspace for the complex thinking that humans are best at.  As Gartner said in 2020, “automate everything or risk being left behind”.

Technology and digital disruption are changing how companies operate and finance leaders are learning how to make the most of technology for data management, business planning, business intelligence and intelligent automation. Being a finance leader is no longer just about having finance skills.  It’s about looking outwards and forwards, not inwards and backwards, in order to become even more strategically important to an organisation – the first port of call for insight into current financial resilience and future plans to maintain it.

Through our work with numerous finance and finance technology teams in leading UK organisations, Sempre has built a wealth of experience in understanding finance transformation, how to achieve it, the key components to focus on, and where organisations tend to fail.  Some of the key tenets of successful finance transformation are:

  1. Data Management and Governance
    Across organisations there is a need for an effective data management strategy. Where are your strengths in terms of defining goals, strategic principles, governance and semantics; providing documentation, guidance and references?  Do you have particular regulatory and compliance needs to meet?
  2. Business Planning
    In general terms planning covers budgeting and forecasting, not just from the financial standpoint but an operational one too. From financial forecasts to sales, workforce, project or supply chain planning and what-if scenarios, how widespread are your planning capabilities? How agile are they too – can you do scenario planning in hours not days?
  3. Business Intelligence
    One of the key areas for finance leaders is the ability to provide valuable analytical insight; crucial to support decision-making. The team is now expected to provide more than standard financial reports.  Can your finance team make sense of a wider influx of data combining external information with internal operational data, make it available and compelling to a wider group of stakeholders than before?
  4. Intelligent Automation
    The combination of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to create rapid end-to-end business process automation to accelerate digital transformation. Have you thought of the wider benefits to morale of automating often demotivating and repetitive tasks, allowing you to reassign resources to more valuable work?


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