So you’ve successfully made your digital business case, and you’re about to start transforming your finance function. There’s a wealth of amazing technologies available to you that could eliminate the issues your team has to deal with on a daily basis. Now you need to choose the right ones.
And you need to proceed with caution. If you run in all guns blazing, trying to solve a long list of issues, you risk choosing your solutions poorly. You could end up with a ridiculous number of point solutions that become difficult and costly to maintain.
That said, you won’t find a single solution that can handle everything. As Chris says, “We don’t believe in unicorns, who can do everything for everyone.”
You need to find the right balance of technologies, covering a range of activities, from journal automation and expense processing to data visualisation and machine learning. So where do you start?
A ‘core’ system
You should already have some Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software in place at your organisation – if you don’t, you aren’t ready to take the step towards truly digital finance. ERP systems take all the core processes a company requires, from HR to logistics to accounts, and integrates them into one platform.
However, they are never conceived to be or built to support joined up, complicated processes and require a lot of manual entry. As a result, they tend to be big clunky systems, lacking focus on automation, controls over data entry and any useful organisation of that data.
Many are augmenting their “core” to include machine learning and AI to deliver greater efficiency and more information to aid decision making. With a system such as this in place, with or without new add-ons, you have a great foundation from which you can build the rest of your software package.
Controls systems allow you to manage and regulate certain processes. They have become popular because they fix some of the challenges with ERP systems – namely the lack of automation and control over crucial transactions. This is particularly useful for procure-to-pay (P2P) functions or tasks such as expenses.
If we take expenses as an example: with the right software, you can implement flags and controls to keep spending in check, with receipt scanning to automate data capture, even AI to cross-check internal policy and advise on spending trends and where policy needs tightening. SAP Concur is a good example of an expense management control system, that sits on top of a traditional ERP.
For processes such as P2P and expenses, which are reasonably similar across different organisations, off the shelf, cloud-based solutions are a good bet. These are simple to put in place and can usually integrate directly back into your ERP.
A single platform for everything else
Once you have your controls software managing and automating your actual business transactions, you have data you can trust to be accurate and up-to-date. You can now capitalise on that data asset by bringing in something with a few more bells and whistles to enhance those systems, and look to provide a much better user experience and much more valuable information to its users. This platform is another layer but is needed to bridge the data and information gap.
You can use your ERP data and other sources of data and enhance your performance management on a single platform that can deliver planning, budgeting, forecasting and reporting on a single view of your corporate data.
Where you need controls over processes with no off-the-shelf option, that same platform can be used to manage bespoke workflows and a unique solution. Ideally, this should use the cost-effective cloud, to avoid the need for expensive servers and ensure the platform stays up-to-date. It should also be intuitive – it should be easy enough to use that applications can be built within it by the finance team – more about that later in this article series.
Anaplan is a popular choice for this system, due to its ability to connect planning across the organisation, integrated with your core ERP system. It’s also scalable, so it can grow along with the organisation.
How it works in practice
Fidenda is working with a company that wants to improve controls across the business. They have off-the-shelf solutions for P2P and Expenses in place, and have integrated these with their core ERP. These implementations all had a solid ROI business case that justified investment in ‘point solutions’.
It also needed to automate and streamline controls for IFRS 16 and group tax consolidation, however, more about compliance than ROI. Adopting point solutions for these processes would have been costly from a TCO (total cost of ownership) point of view.
The company decided to invest in Anaplan as its strategic controls platform for processes where a point solution was either unavailable or not cost beneficial. As a result, it has a set of controls that fit its requirements exactly, all on a single platform and maintained by the finance team.
The company is now looking at Anaplan as a potential solution to roll out connected planning across the business, starting with supply and operations planning.
This blog is co-authored by Christopher Argent of Generation CFO and Tristan Colgate of Fidenda. Join Fidenda at the Anaplan CPX London at Central Hall Westminster, 30 September-1 October. Sign up here.