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What Do GRC Reports And Plato Have In Common? It’s All An Impression

Thomas Frenehard

When designing the proof of concept for GRC in the SAP Digital Boardroom, I decided to go back to the basics and ask myself, What would executives expect to find in this type of dashboard to help steer their organization? My next thought was, What’s already available to them, and how do they use it?

Most executives tell me they use static reports they receive either online or even in a printed format. To some extent – and apologies to the true philosophers – this could be compared to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

In this metaphor, a group of prisoners are chained in a cave and forced to stare at a wall in front of them. Displayed on this wall are shadows of objects, puppets, and so on. Hence, they see only an image of the real world, but not the reality itself.

I might be pushing my reasoning here, but static reports are just that: an image – or worse, an interpretation – of the progress, performance, risk and control level, and so forth but not the event itself. If an executive wants more information about one risk event, he or she would have to get out of the proverbial cave and start looking for it.

And, very much like in the Allegory of the Cave, this executive would be at first blinded by the amount of information, and it would take some time to absorb it all. Since time is of the essence in all organizations, I don’t feel this is the right approach.

Executives today are asking for more, even if they don’t always formally express it. In my experience, executives don’t just want to be able to review the information that’s provided to them. They want to interact with it and analyze it in depth, to ensure that their operation or even strategic business decisions are properly informed versus just a guess.

I’m not saying that the people creating these reports wish to act as “puppet masters” at all, just that they have to make do with what’s at their disposal in terms of technology.

Innovation enables GRC to deliver information and insights

This is where we must be innovative. Technology has moved forward and in some cases is more advanced than what’s being used. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that most risk and compliance departments have truly embraced this change. Far from being disruptive, this change helps remove the manual consolidation and analysis steps that take so much time.

Instead of providing data, risk and compliance departments should focus on delivering information, which is much more valuable, as it means illuminating the potential issue in its full context and, when possible, with a recommended solution.

If they fully leverage technology, risk and compliance departments can then move away from quarterly meetings with executive-type engagements and start a continuous dialog, because the information is available to all, at any time, when necessary. However, let’s hope the story ends better for the teams who fully leverage the new options than for the characters in Plato’s cave,  and that other executives also decide that it’s far better to see real data than just an “impression.”

Do you already leverage technology to deliver continuous risk and compliance insights to your executives? If so, what has been their feedback?

I look forward to reading your thoughts and comments either on this blog or on Twitter: @TFrenehard

Learn more

For more on GRC-related topics, be sure to follow and read the GRC Tuesday series.

This article, GRC Tuesdays: What Do GRC Reports and Plato Have in Common? It’s All an Impression, originally appeared on the SAP BusinessObjects Analytics blog and has been republished with permission.

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter)  | LinkedIn | FacebookYouTube

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5 RPA Myths Exposed

Nicole Sharon Schultz

With all of the buzz around robotic process automation (RPA), it can be hard to sift through fact and fiction. One thing is clear – changes are coming to finance and accounting, and it’s important to understand exactly what those changes mean. The meaning of RPA can be unclear, so let’s explore what RPA is and what it isn’t.

1. Myth: RPA will replace humans

There’s always the fear that humans will be replaced whenever technology makes an advancement, and RPA is no exception. The reality is that while finance and accounting are changing, they will continue to rely on humans.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the finance industry is one of the most overworked industries and one of the few industries that is continuing to increase hours worked per week. Finance departments are wasting valuable time and resources by forcing their employees to do manual, repetitive, and mindless work.

These tasks are better suited for RPA because robots can work tirelessly and continuously without making errors. RPA shifts the daily workload away from mundane, repetitive tasks to work that is managerial and communication-based, opening up new opportunities for highly skilled accountants to add value to the entire organization.

2. Myth: RPA is only about cost reduction

While cost reduction is definitely a benefit of RPA, it’s not in the top three reasons for why businesses choose to implement RPA. According to a recent HfS study, the top reasons businesses choose to implement RPA include:

  • Driving more predictability and higher process quality
  • Speeding up the time it takes to complete the processes
  • Freeing up staff to move to different projects

So, while businesses will experience the benefit of cost reduction, they will also gain many additional benefits, such as the ability to scale for growth.

Scalability is an invaluable benefit. Some industry experts like Leslie Willcocks, professor of technology, work, and globalization at the London School of Economics’ department of management, expect demands and workload to increase exponentially in the coming years.

3. Myth: RPA is expensive

Compared to traditional options such as business process remodeling or offshore/onshore manual processing, RPA is quickly becoming the preferred choice because of its relatively low cost and easy implementation.

RPA significantly reduces costs, increases efficiency, provides a superior customer experience, and dramatically reduces errors all within very short timeframes.

According to a PwC Global Operations Survey, RPA not only delivers benefits quickly, but ROIs of between 300% and 800% are common. While RPA does have initial implementation costs, it also provides rapid internal cost reduction and significant increases in ROI, making it a very appealing option for many companies.

4. Myth: All RPA platforms are created equal

Some RPA platforms are simply better than others. When searching for an RPA platform, it’s essential to ask two key things:

  • How does this RPA platform work with my ERP system?
  • Does this RPA platform enhance my record-to-report (R2R) processes?

As everyone knows, it can be tricky to add new software to ERP systems. Make sure that an RPA platform is not only compatible with your ERP system but can embed within that ERP system itself – this not only makes adopting the platform smooth but also significantly increases security.

Once you’ve found an RPA platform that will embed within your ERP system, make sure it also enhances your R2R processes. An RPA system should first optimize your processes in order for your company to realize the true value inherent in RPA.

5. Myth: RPA is a temporary trend

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the RPA trend will die. RPA is here to stay. Today, RPA is rules-based, and good RPA software will have exception management to minimize human intervention for issue resolution.

The future of RPA is intelligent automation with cognitive algorithms and machine learning. While strong RPA software available today can adapt to complex situations and independently correct errors, the intelligent automation of the future will be able to apply judgment and learning.

For more on this topic, read “The Hidden Value Of RPA For Finance.”

This article originally appeared in BlackLine Magazine and is republished by permission.

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Nicole Sharon Schultz

About Nicole Sharon Schultz

Nicole Sharon Schultz is a specialist in robotic process automation (RPA) at BlackLine. She has been immersed in RPA since moving from the Midwest to The Netherlands almost three years ago. She was responsible for creating and building the user resource platform for BlackLine Smart Close, which embeds RPA into record-to-report activities in SAP software. As an American working in Europe, Nicole sees RPA in action from a unique perspective: as a way for finance to work smarter, bridging the gap between the aspirations of the C-Suite and what can actually be accomplished, given the limitations placed on most finance departments. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

The Insider’s Guide To Improving Payments And Cash Flow, Part 1

Alan Cohen and Scott Pezza

Part 1 of a 12-part series. Read our introductory blog.

The first topic we will address in this 12-part series is the importance of organizational will and alignment. Whether you are just starting a payment or cash-flow improvement initiative, in the middle of deployment, or scaling an existing program, organizational will and alignment are vital to success.

Organizational will can be summed up in three parts:

Commitment to success. Your leadership must never accept the status quo and must always be willing to collaborate with stakeholders from various lines of business to transform “old school” processes and thinking to promote better business outcomes. Effective collaboration requires enterprise-wide commitment across procurement, treasury, and shared services.

Defined goals. There needs to be a clear mandate of how success is measured over a specific period. This could mean an increase in the number of payments automated, suppliers participating, cash flow gained, discounts earned, or other quantitative metrics.

Clear prioritization. Your payments or cash flow initiative must rise above the fray as an umbrella priority that is not limited by competing objectives or hampered by disparate key performance indicators (KPIs).

Organizational alignment requires procurement, treasury, and shared services to break out of their silos. To be truly successful, you must:

Secure a CFO mandate.
In most cases, the corporate functions mentioned above report to the CFO. While the best-case scenario is to have these leaders align, it may be necessary for the CFO to set and communicate clear business objectives for the company, and align leadership stakeholders when determining how objectives will be achieved.

Align KPIs across groups.
If procurement is measured on price reduction, shared services are measured on efficiency, and treasury is measured on discounts earned, your organization is not working toward a cohesive payments and cash flow strategy. Moving these groups to common, shared metrics like economic value added (with price reductions and discounts earned given equal credit) will ensure that teams are aligned and your initiative is set up for success.

Identify a strong project lead. Your project can succeed or fail based on the person leading it. With that in mind, your project lead should have credibility within the organization, institutional knowledge of company operations, existing internal cross-functional relationships, and the ability to build relationships and trust.

Put it in writing

No matter where you are in your payment processing and cash-flow management journey, leaders in procurement, treasury, and shared services must write down their goals and timelines and compare them to the goals set out by your CFO. If they are aligned (or even close to it), you are on the right track. If not, everyone must immediately come to the table to understand where the groups differ and how they can support a common goal.

How we can help

To help you get started, we offer a meeting agenda and template that highlights the advantages of better payment processing and cash flow management for your company and each of its stakeholders. It also offers recommendations on how to get aligned. To request these resources, send an email to SAP_improve-cashflow@sap.com.

Click here for more information about payments and cash flow solutions from SAP Ariba.

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter)  | LinkedIn | FacebookYouTube

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Alan Cohen

About Alan Cohen

Alan Cohen is VP Payments & Financing Strategy, SAP Ariba. Alan has over 20 years of payments and working capital experience as a practitioner, consultant, and banker. In his current role, he leads the payments and financing strategy for SAP Ariba to help clients achieve improved business outcomes. Previously, at Coca-Cola Enterprises, Alan led the procure-to-pay transformation that encompassed sourcing, procurement, and payables automation, and the company became one of the first to benefit from dynamic discounting. Alan holds a supply chain management degree from Arizona State University. In 2015, he was part of a team that won SAP’s Hasso Plattner Founders Award for an innovative approach to B2B payments. Alan lives in Atlanta with his wife and 2 daughters. He has served on the board of the Weinstein School since 2007 and actively participates in 2nd Helpings, a nonprofit to rescue and deliver surplus food.

Scott Pezza

About Scott Pezza

As part of SAP Ariba's Nework Value Organization Center of Excellence, Scott researches, compiles, and shares best-practice information to help customers get the most out of their investments. With a focus on the financial supply chain (invoice management, payments, discounting, and supply chain finance), his research helps inform strategic planning, performance measurement, and program execution. He has spent the past 15 years in the B2B technology space, in roles ranging from software development and support to research and consulting. Scott earned his BA in English and Philosophy from Clark University, his MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and his JD from Boston University School of Law, where he served on the Executive Board of the Annual Review of Banking and Financial Law.

Running Future Cities on Blockchain

Dan Wellers , Raimund Gross and Ulrich Scholl

Building on the Blockchain Framework

Some experts say these seemingly far-future speculations about the possibilities of combining technologies using blockchain are actually both inevitable and imminent:


Democratizing design and manufacturing by enabling individuals and small businesses to buy, sell, share, and digitally remix products affordably while protecting intellectual property rights.
Decentralizing warehousing and logistics by combining autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and smart contracts to optimize delivery of products and materials, and even to create them on site as needed.
Distributing commerce by mixing virtual reality, 3D scanning and printing, self-driving vehicles, and artificial intelligence into immersive, personalized, on-demand shopping experiences that still protect buyers’ personal and proprietary data.

The City of the Future

Imagine that every agency, building, office, residence, and piece of infrastructure has an entry on a blockchain used as a city’s digital ledger. This “digital twin” could transform the delivery of city services.

For example:

  • Property owners could easily monetize assets by renting rooms, selling solar power back to the grid, and more.
  • Utilities could use customer data and AIs to make energy-saving recommendations, and smart contracts to automatically adjust power usage for greater efficiency.
  • Embedded sensors could sense problems (like a water main break) and alert an AI to send a technician with the right parts, tools, and training.
  • Autonomous vehicles could route themselves to open parking spaces or charging stations, and pay for services safely and automatically.
  • Cities could improve traffic monitoring and routing, saving commuters’ time and fuel while increasing productivity.

Every interaction would be transparent and verifiable, providing more data to analyze for future improvements.


Welcome to the Next Industrial Revolution

When exponential technologies intersect and combine, transformation happens on a massive scale. It’s time to start thinking through outcomes in a disciplined, proactive way to prepare for a future we’re only just beginning to imagine.

Download the executive brief Running Future Cities on Blockchain.


Read the full article Pulling Cities Into The Future With Blockchain

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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Raimund Gross

About Raimund Gross

Raimund Gross is a solution architect and futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network, where he evaluates emerging technologies and trends to address the challenges of businesses arising from digitization. He is currently evaluating the impact of blockchain for SAP and our enterprise customers.

Ulrich Scholl

About Ulrich Scholl

Ulrich Scholl is Vice President of Industry Cloud and Custom Development at SAP. In this role, Ulrich discovers and implements best practices to help further the understanding and adoption of the SAP portfolio of industry cloud innovations.

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4 Traits Set Digital Leaders Apart From 97% Of The Competition

Vivek Bapat

Like the classic parable of the blind man and the elephant, it seems everyone has a unique take on digital transformation. Some equate digital transformation with emerging technologies, placing their bets on as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Others see it as a way to increase efficiencies and change business processes to accelerate product to market. Some others think of it is a means of strategic differentiation, innovating new business models for serving and engaging their customers. Despite the range of viewpoints, many businesses are still challenged with pragmatically evolving digital in ways that are meaningful, industry-disruptive, and market-leading.

According to a recent study of more than 3,000 senior executives across 17 countries and regions, only a paltry three percent of businesses worldwide have successfully completed enterprise-wide digital transformation initiatives, even though 84% of C-level executives ranks such efforts as “critically important” to the fundamental sustenance of their business.

The most comprehensive global study of its kind, the SAP Center for Business Insight report “SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study: 4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart,” in collaboration with Oxford Economics, identified the challenges, opportunities, value, and key technologies driving digital transformation. The findings specifically analyzed the performance of “digital leaders” – those who are connecting people, things, and businesses more intelligently, more effectively, and creating punctuated change faster than their less advanced rivals.

After analyzing the data, it was eye-opening to see that only three percent of companies (top 100) are successfully realizing their full potential through digital transformation. However, even more remarkable was that these leaders have four fundamental traits in common, regardless of their region of operation, their size, their organizational structure, or their industry.

We distilled these traits in the hope that others in the early stages of transformation or that are still struggling to find their bearings can embrace these principles in order to succeed. Ultimately I see these leaders as true ambidextrous organizations, managing evolutionary and revolutionary change simultaneously, willing to embrace innovation – not just on the edges of their business, but firmly into their core.

Here are the four traits that set these leaders apart from the rest:

Trait #1: They see digital transformation as truly transformational

An overwhelming majority (96%) of digital leaders view digital transformation as a core business goal that requires a unified digital mindset across the entire enterprise. But instead of allowing individual functions to change at their own pace, digital leaders prefer to evolve the organization to help ensure the success of their digital strategies.

The study found that 56% of these businesses regularly shift their organizational structure, which includes processes, partners, suppliers, and customers, compared to 10% of remaining companies. Plus, 70% actively bring lines of business together through cross-functional processes and technologies.

By creating a firm foundation for transformation, digital leaders are further widening the gap between themselves and their less advanced competitors as they innovate business models that can mitigate emerging risks and seize new opportunities quickly.

Trait #2: They focus on transforming customer-facing functions first

Although most companies believe technology, the pace of change, and growing global competition are the key global trends that will affect everything for years to come, digital leaders are expanding their frame of mind to consider the influence of customer empowerment. Executives who build a momentum of breakthrough innovation and industry transformation are the ones that are moving beyond the high stakes of the market to the activation of complete, end-to-end customer experiences.

In fact, 92% of digital leaders have established sophisticated digital transformation strategies and processes to drive transformational change in customer satisfaction and engagement, compared to 22% of their less mature counterparts. As a result, 70% have realized significant or transformational value from these efforts.

Trait #3: They create a virtuous cycle of digital talent

There’s little doubt that the competition for qualified talent is fierce. But for nearly three-quarters of companies that demonstrate digital-transformation leadership, it is easier to attract and retain talent because they are five times more likely to leverage digitization to change their talent management efforts.

The impact of their efforts goes beyond empowering recruiters to identify best-fit candidates, highlight risk factors and hiring errors, and predict long-term talent needs. Nearly half (48%) of digital leaders understand that they must invest heavily in the development of digital skills and technology to drive revenue, retain productive employees, and create new roles to keep up with their digital maturity over the next two years, compared to 30% of all surveyed executives.

Trait #4: They invest in next-generation technology using a bimodal architecture

A couple years ago, Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president at Gartner and global head of research, observed that “CIOs can’t transform their old IT organization into a digital startup, but they can turn it into a bi-modal IT organization. Forty-five percent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we predict that 75% of IT organizations will be bimodal in some way by 2017.”

Based on the results of the SAP Center for Business Insight study, Sondergaard’s prediction was spot on. As digital leaders dive into advanced technologies, 72% are using a digital twin of the conventional IT organization to operate efficiently without disruption while refining innovative scenarios to resolve business challenges and integrate them to stay ahead of the competition. Unfortunately, only 30% of less advanced businesses embrace this view.

Working within this bimodal architecture is emboldening digital leaders to take on incredibly progressive technology. For example, the study found that 50% of these firms are using artificial intelligence and machine learning, compared to seven percent of all respondents. They are also leading the adoption curve of Big Data solutions and analytics (94% vs. 60%) and the Internet of Things (76% vs. 52%).

Digital leadership is a practice of balance, not pure digitization

Most executives understand that digital transformation is a critical driver of revenue growth, profitability, and business expansion. However, as digital leaders are proving, digital strategies must deliver a balance of organizational flexibility, forward-looking technology adoption, and bold change. And clearly, this approach is paying dividends for them. They are growing market share, increasing customer satisfaction, improving employee engagement, and, perhaps more important, achieving more profitability than ever before.

For any company looking to catch up to digital leaders, the conversation around digital transformation needs to change immediately to combat three deadly sins: Stop investing in one-off, isolated projects hidden in a single organization. Stop viewing IT as an enabler instead of a strategic partner. Stop walling off the rest of the business from siloed digital successes.

As our study shows, companies that treat their digital transformation as an all-encompassing, all-sharing, and all-knowing business imperative will be the ones that disrupt the competitive landscape and stay ahead of a constantly evolving economy.

Follow me on twitter @vivek_bapat 

For more insight on digital leaders, check out the SAP Center for Business Insight report, conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics,SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study: 4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart.”

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About Vivek Bapat

Vivek Bapat is the Senior Vice President, Global Head of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership, at SAP. He leads SAP's Global Marketing Strategy, Messaging, Positioning and related Thought Leadership initiatives.