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What CFOs Really Think About Automation in Finance

“Back in the day it would have been unheard of for IT to be anywhere near a CFO… but now they’re tight with the finance function and they work seamlessly because there’s such a dependency on technology.” 

Brian Southward, CFO, Roboyo raises an excellent point. The finance function used to only be contacted if an invoice needed paying, but now they are integral to strategic business operations and make use of the latest technology to achieve this.

Southward joined Bizagi CFO, Nick Taylor, and ABBYY CFO, Vadim Tereshchenko, for the roundtable discussion, State of Finance and Strategies for 2021 and Beyond. The CFOs of the three organizations joined together to share their first-hand experiences of leading finance operations in their own organizations. The group also shared their knowledge of automation technologies and the impact they are having on businesses right now. 

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The changing role of finance 

Finance used to be a department that was very much focused on routine processes and operations: paying invoices, completing payrolls, issuing historical financial reports. But today, finance is responsible for more than that, thanks to technological advancements. 

“Now with all this information at your fingertips, and predictive technologies as well, [CFOs can] manage the business and look at what’s happening today and tomorrow, and that future-looking viewpoint is very information and data-driven,” said Southward. “I think that’s fundamentally changed the way finance operates and the mentality of how CFOs and finance functions are viewed.”

Automation technologies in particular are playing a large part in changing how CFOs and their departments operate by taking care of routine activities like expense management and regular reporting.

“Automation allows people to think less about routine processes and about the challenges of the business and more about information you need to make really good strategy decisions,” said Bizagi’s CFO Nick Taylor. “Automation has freed [finance] up from routine tasks and put us in the co-pilot slot of the company. It also enables us to have some really interesting careers in that function, where people are business-people first and foremost, but finance specialists as well,” he said. 

 

A connected view 

When there are so many different technologies on offer for businesses to implement, it’s important to think about how your tech stack sits together and where information sits. It’s all very well having data and capabilities, but the finance department needs to consider how to use it effectively.

“I typically approach automation based on what the business needs,” said Taylor.” In a SaaS or PaaS world, you have to see the whole 360-degree view of information about your customers you need to make that information available to your employees, but also your suppliers and partners as well. 

“The way [Bizagi] approached it allowing our systems to talk to each other, pass information in both directions, and then put the power back into the hands of the people. That allows them to use that to drive the customer journey and to engage more meaningfully with our partners,” he said. 

The importance of integration was corroborated by ABBYY CFO, Vadim Tereshchenko, when he spoke about the benefits of the unification of best-of-breed software. “Well-designed industry systems are a key to success; you will never be able to develop your own system better than the industry experts do. So, our IT right now is about proper selection, implementation and integration,” he said.

“Integration is the key. All this is made successful because we have champions in each function that drive the processes to the finish because if you don’t know what to automate, you will never get automation right… It’s a never-ending story of integration,” said Tereshchenko.  

 

The importance of people

While automation technologies are transforming the way finance operate, its vital to remember that technology doesn’t solve all problems. “Technology [is] an enabler, but you need to have the right talent and the right cultural environment to exploit it, and I think that’s key,” said Southward. “You need to have quality people in your organization who can work within those frameworks.”

Organizations need to consider change management and training when implementing these new systems in order to make sure that they run effectively. Tereshchenko even argued that ability and communications skills are more important than technology itself. 

“Technology can be fixed reasonably fast, there is a good cloud-based solution… it’s easy to move to a cloud environment. But people take longer to adapt to a new working environment,” he said.

At the end of the day, technology is there to help employees do their job better and provide a better service to customers. “In reality, that means having a really good design around your systems… how you use your digitization software, and what type of people you need to manage those systems,” said Taylor. “You need the type of people who are going to collaborate and use that information to drive decision making for the company and for your customers going forward.”


 

Enabling change with automation 

Many topics were covered during this roundtable discussion between CFOs, but a common thread throughout the conversation was that in finance, and throughout businesses, technology is arming employees with the information they need to do their jobs, with automation giving them more time to focus on partnering with other departments in the business, and customers, to deliver more value.

If you would like to hear more about what was discussed in the CFO roundtable, and other discussions and presentations in the Finance Process Automation Forum, you can watch on-demand now.


Highlights include:

  • Firsthand insight how large corporations like Bayer, DHL and Generali transformed their finance departments through automation
  • How technologies such as RPA, BPM, and Intelligent Capture are transforming finance
  • Advice from your peers on how to leverage technology and overcoming 2021’s obstacles

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