How Data Will Techify Finance Teams of the Future

How Data Will Techify Finance Teams of the Future

By Mia Barry, Chief Financial Officer, THE ICONIC

Mia Barry, Chief Financial Officer, THE ICONIC

The finance function has been under constant transformation over the past few decades. I recall when I commenced as a Trainee Accountant in the late 90s at KPMG, we were sharing laptops (which built up my upper body strength) and using paper and pencils in auditing processes. When doing audits on internal controls, I faced the constant safety hazard of losing a finger via 1000 paper cuts. Fast forward to 2019, and I rarely use paper, and if I happen to print out a document rather than read it virtually it is frowned upon–I get a look of horror from all the millennials in the office.

This rapid transformation has been the result of multiple technological and business advancements, starting initially with the basics of spreadsheets increasing the efficiency and accuracy of modeling and reporting. We have also moved into automation of the core processes of ERP systems to radically improve the end-to-end processes such as procure to pay, order to cash, and data to report. This has allowed the finance function to move away from number crunching and financial reporting to be a Finance Business Partner that provides valuable insights to support critical decisions by various teams/departments, and help drive the direction of the overall organization.

As a finance business partner, our vision is to enable business scalability and enhanced profitability, which is often made possible by leveraging technological advancements. This is achieved by automating transactional and highly repetitive processes, providing ubiquitous self-service and on demand reporting, reducing time and increasing the accuracy of financial forecasts/models, as well as driving value through advanced analytics. Our goal is to automate process and reporting where we can in order to truly support our key stakeholders through applying our understanding of the business to optimize the business economic model.

Data governance underpins achieving this goal. We need reliable and accurate data and seamless data flows throughout core process. This means controls on data access, data definitions and an in-depth understanding of all inputs in the end-to-end process. This also requires alignment throughout various departments with data being generated and residing in different places. Traditionally, if a finance team member has to input every manual adjustment or journal means that there has been a breakdown further up the process chain., which the Finance team will be required to fix.

Therefore, once we have clean, accurate data and seamless process flows, it is only then that we can truly engage with and take advantage of technological advancements. This is something that cannot be overlooked because it is the true foundation that everything is built on. How could we begin to consider the benefits of Distributed Ledger or AI if we have not spent the time standardizing, cleansing and normalizing the information that is core to powering future solutions? By knowing the power of data and actively striving to drive value in new ways, we can optimize our ERP systems and use robotics to automate process by standardizing reporting and removing friction in the purchase and sales processes. Additionally, user friendly and easily understood financial reports can be generated using data visualizations across multiple systems at the touch of a few buttons, which can be viewed anytime on your mobile. We also know that advanced algorithms and machine learning can improve the accuracy of financial forecasts and reduce the time taken to close the books at the end of the month. It is vital the partnership between finance and technology continues to strengthen in order for us to achieve this vision.

"We need reliable and accurate data and seamless data flows throughout core process. This means controls on data access, data definitions and an in-depth understanding of all inputs in the end-to-end process"

At THE ICONIC, we work very closely with our finance internal product team to clearly align on priorities and help bring our plans for the ‘Finance team of the Future’ to life. We define and refine our priorities together every quarter, which enables us to move quickly and focus on the areas of biggest impact. Unsurprisingly we have found that finance is quite complex, so a dedicated product manager with a strong Finance background has joined our team to develop and understand the agile methodologies to bridge the gap between the finance and technology. We also have a dedicated tech internal product team to support finance. Together, we are working to develop the finance roadmap that will inevitably drive huge benefits to THE ICONIC.

The benefits of having a strong relationship between the tech and finance teams are significant. By removing friction in certain processes, we enhance the internal customer experience through removal of non-value add tasks, allowing teams to focus on enhancing the external customer journey while improving employee engagement through more meaningful work. The access to real-time information that helps to support better decision making at every level in an easily understood way is the key to removing the complexity in finance reporting and improving commercial acumen across the business. Ultimately, by leveraging technological advancements and working together to apply this across departments, we can optimize employee experience and drive business profitability.

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