The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a seismic shift in the way the world operates, and businesses have found themselves needing to adapt or face irrelevance. Finance leaders are at the forefront of this change. They are under immense pressure from boards and shareholders alike to ensure their businesses are on the fast track to digital transformation.
CFOs must be visionary leaders, offering strategic advice based on real-time data and presenting actionable insights that will allow the business to thrive.
As part of the Sage Power Sessions, experts recently came together to talk about the future of finance and the reinventing of the finance leadership role for sustainable success in a changeable world.
Digital reform – What’s driving the change?
Gerhard Hartman, Vice President for Medium Business at Sage Africa, Middle East, and Asia, noted that digital transformation is one of the biggest drivers of change in the finance role. He adds that finance leaders realise they need expertise they do not yet possess to meet the demands of their ever-growing portfolios. In fact, 63% of surveyed leaders stated that they needed access to outside expertise to facilitate digital transformation.
The roles of finance leaders suddenly became a lot broader during the pandemic, says Hartman.
“They were brought into the business, they needed to streamline processes, and their workload increased massively – because many processes are manual. And that’s where they decided, ‘Let’s be the leader, let’s be the strategic advisor when we want to transform our business processes’, and that’s the role they’re playing. It’s a key role, making sure that every organisation automates and digitalises where needed.”
What does it all mean?
But what does it mean to digitally transform? “Digital transformation is where you take a process that is currently manual, and you add technology to automate and streamline it,” says Hartman. Creating efficiency frees up finance teams’ time, allowing them to focus on other important matters such as reporting or analysing data.
Digital transformation is often seen as a massive process in which everything must be automated at once. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Mohammed Masum, Product Marketing Director at Sage Africa and Middle East, adds that leaders can identify a specific need in the business – which is usually a manual process – and implement an automated workflow. “You can instantaneously see the results and the efficiencies automation brings. Take one concept, automate, learn from that process, and then look at the next process you want to automate. You need to be open to technology. Yes, there is a cost factor involved, but what is the manual cost factor versus the automation and efficiency it brings?”
Productivity vs people?
Many businesses are still held back by the belief that digitisation equates to human redundancy and – by extension – job losses. Masum explains:
“Automation and digital transformation shouldn’t be about driving down costs, and it’s not about making people redundant, either. It’s about enhancing the customer experience with talent retention, and that can’t be done without the humans behind it.”
He adds: “Digital transformation is a partnership between humans and technology; a partnership that brings efficiency and productivity to the environment. It is the automation of mundane tasks so that humans can focus on more strategic information, start to make more strategic decisions, and spend more time understanding what’s happening in the business.”
New narrative, new skills
The pandemic forced many out of their comfort zones, and businesses that had been considering digital transformation suddenly had to kick into gear and implement almost immediately.
“Before the pandemic,” says Hartman, “digital transformation was important, but it was not one of the top priorities of an organisation.” Now, as businesses struggle to recover and regain market share, it has become one of their top three priorities.
“Part of digital transformation is the person driving the process,” says Hartman, and in this instance, that person is the finance leader. Their challenge? Learning new skills.
Finance leaders are now required to analyse data and turn it into a compelling narrative that tells the story of the business now and into the future. They need to look at how they can shift their data to the cloud so that they can become more agile and innovative.
Flip that switch
According to Grant Paul, solution expert for Sage Africa and Middle East, many organisations use systems that don’t allow quick access to real-time data. This means that the data they are basing their decisions on has lost relevancy. “It’s taking them typically one to three weeks after month-end to get their financial reports. So not only are they being reactive, but they’re also basing their decisions on outdated information,” he says.
“If you switch to a data solution like Sage Intacct,” adds Masum, “all your data is in a central repository. We’ve built technologies like AI, which analyse your data on an always-on basis and takes away the time-consuming effort from the CFO or financial controller. AI continuously checks this data, analyses it, and highlights anomalies for you.”
[Webinar] Reinventing the finance leadership role
As part of the Sage Power Sessions, experts came together to talk about the future of finance and the reinventing of the finance leadership role for sustainable success in a changeable world.