Capgemini has published a report entitled “Reimagining finance for the digital age” (registration required). The report is based on a survey of more than 500 senior finance executives in large (€2 billion plus) organisations in the US and Europe.
The sample was evenly split across five industries: retail, financial services, manufacturing, and media and entertainment. The research was supplemented by ten qualitative interviews as well.
The report looks at what companies are automating. How they are approaching the process of automation and what the challenges are.
Its not all about the bottom line
While the focus on transformation is about automation of financial processes some of the leading companies are seeing additional benefits to customer experience. The respondents were at different stages and also had different approaches to automation. Capgemini split the respondents into two broad categories, Digital Master who are more advanced in their transformation process and Novices.
65% of Digital Masters say that automation is more advanced in finance than in other areas of the business. Additionally, 54% believe that finance should play a leading role in driving automation throughout the business. IT department should also be involved in but not leading the transformation as this is a business not a technology transformation. Though it uses technology to achieve the goals.
Is finance transforming?
It’s a good question and depends on the definition of transforming. What finance teams are doing is automating their existing processes. More than 65% believe that five processes will be automated or nearly fully automated within three years. The five processes are
- Accounts Payable (9%)
- Treasury (65%)
- Financial control (65%
- Record to cash (65%)
- Order to cash (65%)
One area that will see change in department is robotics. Violet Desilets, vice-president of financial services and systems at US office products retailer Staples said: “It’s a way to free up time and effect change very quickly. And it’s exciting for the people who are working with robots because they can focus more of their effort on areas where they can really make a difference. Nobody wants to sit and do repetitive tasks.”
The report lets itself down slightly as this is almost certainly more about RPA (Robotic Process Automation) rather than the adoption of robot workers. What the report seems to draw out is that through automation the actual work of the finance office can transform to something better. 43% of respondents agreed with this view.
Are challenges diminishing?
Unfortunately the report does not refer back to previous years statistics. It is therefore impossible to answer this question. The list of challenges faced by companies, both Masters and Novices are all in a similar range of 24%-31%. Top of Digital Masters challenges are the burden of legacy infrastructure (29%). By this, one assumes respondents means legacy ERP and finance solutions rather than hardware.
Lack of skills features several times on both lists and is clearly a concern. A lack of understanding about the tools and approaches (31%) for novices is the highest concern. Perhaps surprisingly security and data privacy concerns only appear on the Digital Masters list (28%). Though that might be a reflection that novices have not made any changes that might incur such as risk.
What does this mean
This is an interesting and insightful report. It delivers six take aways for finance leaders to ponder on. In our view the two important ones are:
- Think automation first
- Automate at your own pace, but not in isolation
What is clear that companies are at different stages on their transformation journey. Finance Leaders should also loo to the IT function to support that journey, but not to lead it. In the wider context the Digital Masters demonstrate that to automate faster transformation should be the strategic choice for the business and not a departmental one.
Automation is also only the first step and it seems that finance leaders are unsure of what the next stage is. It almost certainly revolves around delivering better insights to the business with more data that is to hand, but no company stood out as having achieved that yet. Katja Hinojosa, Finance Transformation Director, Tetra Pak highlights this by saying: ”Robots are helping humans to relinquish what were copy-paste activities and engage in more knowledge work.”
What that knowledge work actually is should perhaps be a focus for next years report.