“All together now in no man’s land, together!”
– The Farm, 1991
When I talk to our community about automation in accounting and finance there are two very distinct groups of people.
Firstly, there are the champions of change, broadly supportive of automation, the removal of the transactional workload and excited by the prospect of new ways of working using new technology with their newly created time. (It’s worth noting that this optimism isn’t always based on experience or fact, but sometimes just a belief in technology and the benefits it can bring.)
Secondly, there are the more cautious leaders, who are wary of change, aware of the risks of trying new things and see automation as an unproven technology that is “not for them”, but for the earlier adopters, the risk-takers. (It’s also worth noting that this pessimism isn’t always based on experience or fact and seems to come from a fear of the unknown and the negative media and press around automation redundancy risk within the profession.)
At the moment, no one is right or wrong.
Whilst these two groups are wildly opposed, neither points of view are fully right or wrong. And as a community leader, I do not try to change their minds or try to correct them and their views but I encourage them to talk. Talk to each other, talk to technology vendors and talk their way towards a more constructive middle ground.
My aim is to bring the automation champion with a potentially overly optimistic view, and the automation detractor with the potentially overly pessimistic view, to the middle ground of a “benevolent automation movement” that promotes awareness, understanding and ultimately management.
That said, a benevolent automation movement does not mean that we have clearly decided that automation is wholly good and we should crack on, it means we are looking at both good and bad points of view and talking as a community to make sure we take conscious decisions about automation and help guide the inevitable wave of automation down the best road for our teams, organisations and profession.
At times, it will feel like we are “all together now in no man’s land”, but at least we are together. That is why I believe peer communities are so important, why peer learning is so valuable and why I want to highlight three amazing communities that I have been part of over the last month.
CFO Automation Experience
In April this year, I ran a Deep Dive Live webinar on scaled automation with the NHS and UiPath. It was a look at the NHS shared services during the pandemic and how they adapted and automated to survive and thrive during their busiest year ever. They went on to win the “Team of the Year” at our Digital Finance Function Awards. So, I was proud to see this webinar become part of the “CFO Automation Experience” round table archive, a great resource for automation leaders.
The CFO Automation Experience or CFO AX is a peer community focused on automation and an international series of CFO Round Tables providing peer learning and information. We need these types of initiatives to move to the middle ground and ultimately benefits from the growing opportunities in automation, but awareness and understanding is the start. That’s where CFO AX can help.
Led by Armand Angeli, President of the International Group of the French CFO Organization (DFCG) and the former President Europe, Middle-East and Africa for the International Association of Financial Executives Institutes (IAFEI). He is a recognised expert in shared services and outsourcing, international business development and finance & digital transformation. Being an expert and influencer in his field, he is an excellent leader of this EU wide community.
ACCA Ignite Series
Over the last two weeks, the ACCA has brought together its corporate community to spark debate (I mean, ignite debate) and discuss the megatrend of digital transformation in accountancy.
I was lucky enough to be a facilitator of this 90 minute round table of senior ACCA members and draw on my latest digital transformation research (co-authored by me, the ACCA and CAANZ) on transformational journeys in accounting and finance.
During the round table, I could identify the utopians and the pessimists but what was wonderful was I could start to identify the pragmatic leaders who understood the demand to change and the benefit of changing and who were making transformations within their teams. These leaders had found the middle way and a clear way through the no man’s land!
They were balancing full-fat business cases and one-off R&D spending to fund opportunities that were not fully understood at inception and going with the grey that comes with most transformation projects. They were also acknowledging that use cases needed to start small, then scale so that they could be tested and adopted before scaling. They also knew that delivery methods were neither completely agile nor watertight, but somewhere in between depending on your business culture and talent.
They also understood that due to a significant skills gap in the labour force and the profession, they needed to collaborate and partner to make change rather than do it all themselves which may have been been a more traditional approach. They understood that accountants needed to be more tech-savvy, that the finance team would be made up of accountants and technologists, and that leaders would need to lead transformation and technical change and all of this will require new learning and new collaborations with IT and technology vendors, so organisational design and job specifications would need to be rewritten.
Not bad for a 90-minute investment of your time, and clearly a value peer learning session for ACCA members.
Generation CFO’s FiMIND
And last but not least I’d like to highlight our own community.
If you are reading this I’m sure you were aware of our editorial and thought leadership on the digital finance function which covers CFO leading strategy, planning, analysis and execution of data analytics, data visualisation, automation and related governance.
But you may not be aware of our regular community events and our online community called FiMind (short for “Finance Mastermind”, pronounced Phi-mind).
FiMIND is focused on getting you answers to your digital and data questions. FiMIND includes forums and groups covering the major trends and topics around talent and technology change in the accounting and finance profession, including niche groups for Enterprise, SME and Growth companies, plus special interest groups for research participants, supports of diversity and women in digital transformation in accounting and finance.
FiMIND is members only and small. Whilst we have an impressive LinkedIn and social media following, FiMIND is where the more or constructive conversations can start in a small selected group of like-minded finance leaders who enjoy sharing their knowledge and are enthusiastic about the digital opportunity.
Talking is just the starting point
I encourage you to start talking about automation, about building your awareness of what automation is and specifically how it will impact the CFO and the accounting and finance profession.
I encourage you to understand more about automation use cases in the profession and in your own industry and understand and the processes, capabilities and technologies that can support your automation transformation.
I’ve highlighted three inspirational ways to start talking about automation (which will not be going away any time soon), and whether it’s CFO AX, ACCA Ignite or our own FiMIND, I applaud you for taking that first step on your automation journey.
See you on the other side, together!
This article is supported by CFO Automation Experience.