The Finance Leadership Playbook Part 2: Stepping Up Automation To Drive Efficiency

Michael Diehl

Part 2 of the The Finance Leadership Playbook series

Finance teams are experiencing significant stress across their spectrum of responsibility. Customer expectations, channel proliferation, constant disruption, cost reduction, and volatile economic and political outlooks are adding more risk and uncertainty to an already high-volume, complex workload. With one decision or innovation, anyone from the CFO to the payables specialist can impact how the business navigates a fast-changing world while delivering on its commitments and operating competitively.

The spotlight on finance as the business’ top strategic partner shines brighter every day. However, the pressure to perform general activities—including budgeting, forecasting, planning and analysis, invoice processing, accounting of operating expenses, payroll administration, and internal and external reporting—continues to grow as available resources to execute them dwindle.

To refocus finance’s attention on strategic tasks without neglecting daily routines, activities need to be streamlined and organized more efficiently. The Oxford Economics study How Finance Leadership Pays Off – Efficiency Helps CFOs Stay Ahead of the Pack,” sponsored by SAP, recently revealed that automation is a key enabler of this shift. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of surveyed finance executives agree that automation is improving efficiency within their organization and throughout the company, freeing bandwidth for more strategic tasks.

The value of process automation

Although process automation is not a new concept, the potential for mechanizing the majority of finance’s work is gaining significant attention. The function is reaching a turning point where emerging automation technology offers an opportunity to improve efficiency and strengthen its reputation in the C-suite. For years, organizations have moved transactional tasks to shared service centers to increase scalability and take advantage of lower labor costs. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence are now opening the door for another quantum leap in efficiency gains.

Take, for example, Zalando. To complete its transformation into Europe’s leading online fashion platform for women, men, and children, the company created new products and services that allow all suppliers and buyers to interact with one another and benefit from high-performance billing and provisioning capabilities. With a smart data and automation strategy, Zalando is now equipped to process at least 10 times its previous maximum transaction volume. In turn, it has significantly accelerated all financial processes—from invoice processing and dunning to closing activities—with much more confidence.

The real-time actual-to-plan cash system

The ability to accurately predict cash and liquidity needs is certainly an important aspect of finance’s role. No other activity can have a greater influence on the efficiency of use of capital, reduction of expenditures, and mitigation of emerging risk in a world where globalization, financial complexity, and extensive regulations are a constant threat of disruption.

Bundesdruckerei GmbH, an electronic identity management solutions provider, is a prime example of how to automate financial forecasting. After establishing a single view of the truth with a secure unified data platform, the company accelerated processes, such as generation of profitability analysis reports, by 40%, on average. At the same time, it dramatically improved profitability analysis with reports delivered at unprecedented speed. This powerful solution for enabling future business models is providing decision-makers with the information they need instantly and eliminating the manual work to process and analyze data to derive real-time insights.

Management of evolving regulatory change and risk

If asked what keeps them up at night, most CFOs would say that risk mitigation and compliance are top of mind. In fact, the Oxford Economics study revealed that, for 68% of participating finance leaders, these two topics are prioritized higher than any other business objective. And nearly all respondents (93%) are given decision-making authority to enforce policies for adherence to regulatory requirements.

As demonstrated by Wheels India, this stressful aspect of every finance team’s day can be streamlined to the point where risk is minimal. The steel wheel manufacturer faced an ever-growing demand for improved flexibility and transparency. In response, the company invested in a solution for governance and reduced risk of improper user access.

This implementation transformed Wheels India into a more transparent environment with:

  • 60% fewer segregation of duties violations
  • 50% faster identification, categorization, mitigation, monitoring, and reporting of risks within business processes

Securing in-the-moment action with efficiency and flexible growth

Automation technology can not only liberate finance teams from straightforward, repetitive tasks, but also more complex activities such as collections and report-writing and analysis. Leading companies like these are connecting the dots between efficiency and performance with these forms of automation. They are the ones that can take immediate action on the latest market opportunities and risks by quickly reaching conclusions and developing context-sensitive behaviors.

Further explore the benefits of each of these pillars and the technologies that support them. Check for new installments to our blog series “The Finance Leadership Playbook” and read the Oxford Economics study “How Finance Leadership Pays Off: Efficiency Helps CFOs Stay Ahead of the Pack,” sponsored by SAP.

Learn how organizations are gaining instant financial insights and using them to make better decisions—both now and in the future. Register now for the 2017 Financial Excellence Forum, Oct. 10-11 in New York City.

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Michael Diehl

About Michael Diehl

Michael Diehl is a senior director of Global Finance Audience Marketing at SAP, where he lead messaging and customer insights. With 16+ years of experience at SAP, he has a strong track record in technology innovations. His specialties include finance, machine learning, thought leadership, go-to-market strategy, digital marketing, messaging, and positioning.