Will Human has worked as a Financial Director for multinational groups, trading in complex, high volume and low margin industries. Due to the nature of the business, finance had to be efficient and effective, which led to multiple finance transformation programs.
“In our search for optimum efficiency, we discovered ‘Intelligent Automation’ which was a game changer. I was surprised by how much you can automate, how quickly you can go and the low risk involved,” Will says.
“If you implement a new ERP system, you’re spending millions upfront, and you’re waiting a long time to get a payback. Whereas these technologies are implemented through short sprints that require a low upfront investment, delivering benefits almost immediately after the implementation.”
Having developed a passion for the potential of these digital technologies, Will founded Quartus Gain, a finance transformation consultancy firm, in March this year.
“If you share the view that finance’s purpose is to create value, then you would be, as I am, very excited about the future of finance. We now have the tools that can liberate us from the mundane repetitive tasks, so we can shift our focus from explaining the past to predicting the future.”
The role of finance has evolved
How finance adds value has evolved over the past 20 years, he explains.
“It’s transitioned from reporting accurate numbers to collaboration and business partnering, to advising and influencing business decisions. We’ve now reached the stage where business expects the finance function to predict what will happen and help to implement changes that have a positive impact on business performance”, Will says.
“We live in a connected society where change is fast-paced, constant and very unpredictable. In this environment speed and agility really do matter, which challenges traditional means of how we used to get things done.”
“To address these challenges, we need to create capacity to build capability.”
“This means reducing the cost and time we spend on processing transactions and doing reporting through automation so we can build more analytics and supporting capabilities,” Will explains.
“What is important to realise, is that new digital technologies can automate large elements of what we’ve done in the past, which is increasing by the day. Instead of accepting a diminished role, we need to take this opportunity to continue to build on the skills we already have which will enable us to play an even more influential role in the future. I think we are well placed to do just that.”
Re-evaluate your purpose
With the scale and pace of change we’ve seen, pause for a moment to take stock of the situation, irrespective of your view of finance transformation. “Take a holistic approach, which includes the five pillars of finance: people, process, systems, data and mindset”, he advises.
“Start by assessing whether the purpose of the finance function is still aligned with the goals of the business, he says. “What role does the business need finance to play and how can finance help the organisation achieve its overall goals?”
“Understand the art of the possible to help shape the vision of the role finance could play in future”, says Will.
“Research what other finance functions are currently doing. Once you understand where you would like to be, look at where you are now. Use that as a foundation to design your future target operating model and a roadmap to get you there.”
“This will generate a series of projects that will make up the transformation program. This is where you determine the speed at which you want to drive the change, which will be influenced by the business situation as well as the readiness and capability of the people in the team.”
Mindset is key
It is critical that you bring people with you on the journey.
“If you don’t, you’ll fail. Your people need to understand the reasons for the change and buy into it. They need to understand the impacts it will have on them and the role they will be required to play in the future”, he explains.
“It is about changing the mindset that finance is here to help the business to improve results, not just explaining past performance. To embed this, you need a growth mindset – a willingness to learn and unlearn, to take the right risks and create an environment where it is okay to learn from mistakes.”
To make this happen, you need strong leadership. Get people across your organisation that act as role models and ‘live the vision’, so others can come onboard. “One person does not equate to a culture.”
“All of this may sound very daunting, but just take one step at a time. What’s important is understanding where you would like to be and then taking small steps to make that a reality. Think big but start small.”