Just five years ago, technology’s role in the finance department was static: It supported more technical work rather than enabling it, thus promoting self-service for users, and adding limited efficiency to decades-old processes.
"With digital technologies, that company can now fully automate those reports, which helps improve accuracy and efficiency while freeing employees to perform other tasks"
Now, finance technology has entered an exciting new realm of “exponentializers,” which have dramatically improved capabilities and fundamentally altered the nature of financial reporting. Gone are the days of manually running reports; here to stay is the future of in-memory computing, cloud-based data, and AI that uses natural language generation to create detailed, accurate, and comprehensive reports. Businesses that don’t exploit these benefits are, at best, missing a competitive advantage. Worst case, they could be left behind.
Think of the box scores in the newspaper sports pages: Every day, a computer generates a top-line recap of what happened in each game. That goes far beyond statistical analysis – which may have been possible in a rudimentary fashion decades ago – to embrace short, nuanced descriptions of what took place in the game. If a player singled to left field, drove in two runs, or struck out the side in the 9th inning, the computer can capture that on its own, much more quickly and accurately than a human observer.
The same revolution is happening now in financial reporting. As other functions in business embrace technology, finance too has an exciting new suite of tools that defy the staid, traditional reputation often erroneously ascribed to the CFO. Once the realm of “modernizers” and incremental improvements, finance is now a key proving ground for exponential technologies that can drive results enterprise-wide.
Executives looking to adopt exponential technologies in the finance department need to consider three leading practices to make the most of these technologies’ potential:
• Start Small, Scale Fast: Piloting new technologies is an important way to start building trust and proving their use-case. By getting the company to buy in and be receptive to experimenting with new technologies, it’s easier to adopt other new technologies later and make the most of their potential once the organization is ready to scale.
• Prepare and Partner with Talent: Be aware that workforce disruption is top of mind for many employees when adopting automation or digital tools. While some more repeatable finance tasks may be obsolete (by design) when new technologies take hold, talent needs to be assured that new ones will be created. It’s important to work with employees to make the most of their human skills, empowering them in new roles that rely on high-level analysis, relationship-building, and creativity.
• Buy-In from the C-Suite: It’s imperative for CFOs to bring these ideas to the entire C-suite with confidence to secure further executive buy-in. If the CEO and other leaders champion major technological innovation in finance, it can help the business as a whole adopt the technologies and make the most of their capabilities – without unsettling employees or jeopardizing further progress.
There are challenges to implementing these technologies, and CFOs should take care to build a strong business case for their deployment. The benefits, however, strongly outweigh the minimal risks. One major Deloitte client, for example, produces 165 different sets of financial reports with specific, deeply analytical commentary on each slide. With digital technologies, that company can now fully automate those reports, which helps improve accuracy and efficiency while freeing employees to perform other tasks.
In business, it’s always key to take advantage of a win-win. Financial reporting has much to gain and little to lose from new “exponentializing” technologies like automation, machine learning, and natural language generation. Now is the time for CFOs to consider getting on board.