A New Era of Finance

A New Era of Finance

By Francoise Merit, Global Chief Financial Officer, Aurecon Group

Francoise Merit, Global Chief Financial Officer, Aurecon Group

At Aurecon we’re known for bringing ideas to life, every day. Through embracing digital technology and innovation, Aurecon has a client-centric business model that gives us the agility to deliver a full range of services globally. We have earned a global reputation for delivering high-end designs and engineering solutions, especially in large infrastructure, civil projects, and technology implementations and exploiting new digital technology such as machine learning, AI, robotics, virtual reality, advanced sensors, and spatial technologies that include 3D imaging.

Aurecon has also been utilizing its engineering and technical expertise to transform its finance function by finding more innovative ways to ensure process efficiency, insights that inform better decision-making and influence business strategy. Like any organization, Aurecon needs to show a return on capital. For us, capital is tied-up in employees and complex work-in-progress scenarios, where not only our client but many other stakeholders are in the mix. It creates the potential for complexity when our leaders need clarity.

One of the ways we have addressed this is by bringing the finance function out of the ‘back office’ to ‘front office’ where a mix of metrics, insights, and tools are used by our leaders for better decision-making and improved efficiencies.

This involves changing finance from the historical ‘accounting’ role and making the numbers a more contemporary intelligence tool for our leaders. Rather than holding back the figures for monthly or quarterly reports, why not have the information at the leaders’ fingertips, on their own devices, when they need them?

In remaking our finance function our approach was a single ‘source of truth’ for financials across the group; we needed faster processing and distribution of meaningful data and metrics; and we wanted the ability to glimpse into the future—what is called predictive analytics.

During 2018, we committed to a digital reporting tool we call ‘the Source,’ the single source of financial truth which distributes the latest financial information and project metrics to all of our leaders in one single platform. In many organizations the financials and metrics are ‘walled gardens’ according to the business units and the projects. Our culture of innovation, collaboration, creativity, and ‘partnering’ at Aurecon, meant we rose to the challenge to provide real-time insights to support decision-making in the business. One of the benefits of the Source has been a greatly streamline review process for our ongoing projects and engagements. It promotes transparency, a consistent way in measuring performance, and saves time by reducing manual processes.

In line with the improved efficiency of financial data, we used our engineering expertise to automate our accounts payable section. We use internally-enhanced developed robots “Andy” and “Abby” to read invoices from email attachments to automatically capture the data into our Enterprise Reporting Program for invoice processing.

The robots and associated systems can do basic cross-referrals of project numbers, dates, amounts and invoice numbers and we manage a small number (20 percent ) of exceptions manually, giving back time to the finance team to spend on more strategic priorities.

Robot processing automation (RPA) technology was introduced in 2018 and since January of this year, we’ve been expanding the financial robotics program to bank reconciliations and accounts receivable. We expect these functions to be automated with robotics and digital applications by the end of 2019. We are now extending our RPA use cases outside of Finance.

"Our culture of innovation, collaboration, creativity, and ‘partnering’ at Aurecon, meant we rose to the challenge to provide real-time insights to support decision-making in the business"

Bringing all of this together is our new cloud-based ERP system that removes legacy layers of applications and enables a real-time, automated finance function with the latest digital applications— truly unlocking value through an integrated People, Project and Finance platform. The aim is the ‘One Block’ approach where users can have a unified view of accounting, P/L, balance sheet, cash statements and project team costs, and progress of projects. As it is tightly integrated with the HR function, we are able to join the dots in decision making around workforce planning, resourcing on future projects based on an employee’s career aspirations, talents allocations skills, locations, and abilities.

Machine learning will be automatically embedded in our new ERP across all functions. Through our machine learning approach and AI functions running across the finance data, real-time inferences can be deduced about the future based on past and current parameters and margins. These inferences can predict a range of outcomes based on past dynamics and can enable future decision-making.

It helps the senior managers set proper targets and allows them to catch issues in their infancy, rather than when they are fully developed.

This is an Aurecon wide initiative to unlock value across the organization, rather than simply a change at the finance department. Aurecon is a collaborative and innovative firm in which we break down traditional silos and challenge traditional ways of working where our people are at the center, working in diverse teams across the globe.

The Aurecon of tomorrow is to re-invent the role of a line manager—they will be mentors, coaches, resource managers, and communicators. They will orchestrate rather than order, and they will need the most accurate and up-to-date financials and also a sense of where current trends will lead to. In this new era, where our capital base is human resource, Finance will continue to evolve, influencing business strategy and operational priorities, helping us bring ideas to life through innovation.

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