Generation CFO’s digital finance gurus Chris Argent and Mark Cracknell tackle this week’s questions: where can you learn? How will KPIs change? And what can you automate?

Where can I learn more about the different ways my team and I can digitalise?

Chris: Most people would have an accountancy body or they’d have some kind of professional institution within finance to refer to. I think most people can start learning by referencing their thought leadership, but it tends to be at a very, very high level. It doesn’t go into how to operationalise it, there aren’t any specifics, that technology so I think if you’re just starting then you can start there.

Then you need to look for conferences and specialist websites to understand how people are taking it to the next level. They’re not trying to push any technology; people share what they’ve done on their transformation digital finance journey. It is also necessary to have a look at the tools themselves and vendors are telling us about their product. Engage with that content and that learning in a slightly more judgmental way because it will be painting a very pretty picture of implementation and what the product can do.

Mark: The vendors have got a lot better over the last couple of years. They’ve realised that they can’t sell optionality; they’ve got to sell leadership. Some of the stuff that they’re producing is a lot better than it was. A lot of them are taking a technology-agnostic view when they’re writing articles. Obviously, there’s always an idea that they’re selling themselves anyway. We did a survey back in August, and that showed us that most people are going to their professional bodies for their information more than anything else.

Chris: All of the institutes have insights and research teams and they do some really good work. I think the difficulty is that they’re not set up to be digital finance transformation research teams – they cover a range of subjects. It’s talking to people who have done it and operationalising it. Most people get that they have to go on this journey and if they read a great thought leadership piece from the institutions, it’s inspiring. But what are the next steps? What do you prioritise? Can you use my current team at all or do you have to upskill them before you even start?

Mark: There are a couple of analysts that do some good stuff. As much as I criticise Gartner, some of the stuff they produce for CFOs is really good. Some stuff from Dresner is fairly good as well. Some of the people do produce some good stuff, too. It’s how they apply it that is the problem.

Chris: Like the institutions, it’s inspiring and a starting point, but actually, we need to know the sort of the what and the how. That’s where I think going deeper into your peer network and specialist content, like GenerationCFO’s, is really valuable. This isn’t just about pushing GenerationCFO, but there’s a reason why it exists; because people want that level of detail.

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Will KPIs and SLAs for finance processes change in the new work environment?

Mark: This is a very interesting one. I’ve kind of seen a different side this week when I’ve been looking at the way RPA software works in terms of looking at processes in detail and almost breaking it down to how much time it takes per transactional for that task and then working out how you can save time by automating it. Before looking at that, I probably wouldn’t have had a detailed answer for this, but I think we’ll be looking at the time taken to perform tasks a lot deeper than we have done before because we need to work out where were the efficiencies are to be had. So certainly KPIs are going to be used a lot more around some of the lower-level tasks, certainly.

Chris: Are we referring to remote working as in the new work environment or a digitised environment? Arguably, they’re one and the same. If we’re looking at remote working as the new work environment, absolutely SLAs have to change. It’s very difficult to manage at a task level in a remote environment. So you have to be more outcome-focused.

If we’re talking about the application of technology and automation, I don’t think the business KPIs change, but you might have new KPIs for a digitised environment. You want to make sure that your bots are running, your data feeds are there and your infrastructure is working. So you might have a more technical set of KPIs for that. Just as you might have KPIs on your people’s performance, you’re going to have KPIs on your digital performance as well.

What is the best route to automation?

Mark: I would sit down and review everything your finance team does and how long it takes to do. From there, work out which tasks are taking up the most time. Ask yourself: can I automate it to make it more efficient? You’re looking for tasks that are repetitive and non-complex, that can be modelled. Then once you’ve got that, then you can start to work out one-to-10 things that you can automate.

Chris: Getting your house in order is definitely a good place to start. But in parallel, you’ve also got the wider business automation to look at. Yes, there’s benefit in, say, automating your accounts payable processes, but there may be something fundamental in terms of the business priority that finance can also champion.

Mark: If you look across the key processes, orders cash, purchase to pay, you’re not only going to cover the finance angle, you’re going to hit the whole process itself. So if you work across those processes and look at how those can be improved. You’ll hit parts of finance and parts of operation as well.

Chris: It’s the bigger end-to-end automation that really creates value. Doing task automation is flashy, and they are good to look at, but there’s a multiplier with larger automation.

Mark: Task automation is also useful to get organisational buy-in. If you can show the wins from those individual tasks, it will encourage leadership to look at the rest of the process.

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