by Rohit Gupta, Forbes Councils Member
September 27, 2022, 07:15am ET
With rapid advancements over the past few years, technology has redefined and shifted the business landscape.
Departments across all industries are adopting artificial intelligence (AI), advanced technology and analytics to streamline daily activities and decrease manual labor. From sales to marketing and HR, the large majority of the enterprise has not only adopted advanced analytics and technology solutions to streamline every part of their processes, but they have also utilized the additional time to their advantage to focus on higher-level business priorities.
Technology reduces both wasted time and the occurrence of human error. The addition of advanced technology and analytics by most large enterprises has given employees more time to focus on higher-level business goals. Unfortunately, while many business departments have chosen to integrate software and technology, there are a small number of industries that still lag.
Repetitive Work Is Negatively Impacting Corporate Finance
Accounts payable and accounts receivable (AP/AR) have not always embraced the solutions offered by technology adequately. They often lead the way as having the most manual workload in the finance office.
Manual and repetitive tasks overrun corporate finance, which is often unnecessary when considering existing and available solutions. The number of tasks still performed manually by AP/AR is shocking. According to a survey performed by APQC and reported by CFO.com, at the median, 58% of invoices are still being entered into payment logs manually. In other words, more than half of the recorded payments are being hand typed into a document by humans naturally prone to error. This task is one (of many) that could easily be automated to save time and increase accuracy.
Manual and repetitive tasks are not only vulnerable to mistakes—they use time and talents that can be dedicated to other tasks. Record keeping is another finance activity requiring hours of data extraction and input. This can be a highly arduous task and repetitive, which can potentially lead to mistakes, burnout and lost opportunities.
Time Is Of The Essence
The top objective of most businesses, put simply, is to grow. Growth requires a strategy that takes time to develop and nurture. When employees are tied up with task-based work, higher-level planning suffers.
In addition to automating repetitive and routine tasks, technology and AI can support real-time data collection and analysis. Insights gathered through data analytics can play a critical role in future planning and decision-making. Collecting and comparing data trends manually can take days or even weeks. Often, by the time the data has been collected, analyzed and reported by humans, it is outdated and not as useful.
Challenges Across The Finance Office
Integrating technology into the finance office not only enables more streamlined processes, saves time and reduces errors, but it can also help retain good employees. If left unchecked, professionals can be the first to suffer from stress and burnout from processes left as is.
Motivated employees can be easily discouraged by repetitive work, manual data input and monotonous communication with customers and vendors. These tasks are all essential but may feel like a waste of time and talent.
Automation and AI should be included as a value-add, not a replacement for people. Supporting the core team with digital resources can help empower them and elevate their roles.
Technology performs the same task repeatedly and flawlessly without burnout. It analyzes and reports in real time, allowing businesses to pivot at a moment’s notice. However, technology cannot understand inflections or read human emotions. Today’s business is performed based on personalization, and mainstream technology is not yet there. Technology is a powerful addition to an already strong team—but not a replacement.
Investing the initial time and money to improve business processes will pay off in the long run. Technology should be used to maximize employees’ time by streamlining routine tasks and communications. Technology integration in business processes is now “table stakes” for finance professionals who want to retain talent and stay competitive in a progressive business landscape.
The Time To Embrace Automation
It cannot be overstated—the inefficiencies of the finance back office, due to the delayed integration of technology, can cost companies time and money. We have arrived at a pivotal moment where technology adoption is no longer a choice but often a necessity.
Before you jump into a costly solution though, consider your needs and determine who, within your organization, would benefit the most from automation. While many departments have already embraced technology, those that lag behind will have a big learning curve. Pinpointing the teams to focus on will provide you with a starting place for your digital transformation.
There are also steps that can be taken by your team to implement some level of automation immediately, before investing in complex software. Consider installing chatbots that can respond to basic questions automatically. Set up pre-made email reply templates that can be triggered to respond to generic inquiries. Many software programs offer at least basic automation capabilities.
Who should explore more complex automation and AI systems? Some of the more common contenders that we suggest digital solutions to include CFOs, Controllers, Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, General Ledger teams, Shared Services teams and your IT teams. If any of these departments are not fully digital in your company—consider taking steps to transition them.
The goals of automation range from a reduction in staff, the ability to meet increased demand while maintaining the current staff, organization and storage of digital data, and frictionless processes for increased customer satisfaction. Whatever it is, make sure your goal is well defined before choosing a partner.
Choosing to avoid technology going forward will come at a cost. Keeping employees is challenging—as demonstrated by global events of the past few years. Talented individuals are seeking progressive opportunities where growth and meaningful contributions are valued.
With all of the options available to automate and streamline processes, the bar is set for the future of finance. Automate where appropriate or stagnate—the choice is yours.