Digital Transformation » Finance failing corporate digital aspirations

Most finance teams do not think they have the skills they need to support their organisation’s digital ambitions, says a new report from the AICPA&CIMA and Oracle.

The report said companies could therefore be missing out on huge growth potential, as the research shows that organisations with positive revenue growth are more likely to have digitally savvy finance teams. When asked about revenue growth over the previous 12 months, close to half of digital finance leaders (46%) had achieved growth; this drops to less than a third (29%) for non-leaders.

The study of 700 global finance professionals, titled ‘Agile Finance Unleashed’, also shows that the most significant barrier to finance teams playing an influential role in digital strategy is the need to focus their efforts on core finance responsibilities such as compliance and control. This leaves little time for digital strategy, with more than a third (37%) saying they spend more time collecting data than analysing it.

Furthermore, organisations that have seen revenue growth are more likely to be deploying artificial intelligence compared to those where revenues are flat or declining. However, only 11 percent of finance leaders surveyed have implemented artificial intelligence in the finance function, and 90 percent say their finance team does not have skills to support enterprise digital transformation.

“For me, robotic process automation, advanced analytics, and machine learning are three legs of the same stool,” said John Merino, chief accounting officer at FedEx. “The combination of those technologies and the ability to deliver them in an agile manner without long lead times and extensive interface complexities creates a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on some really big efficiency gains in virtually every staff function. The big win for us is to liberate that time and move finance up the value chain in what it delivers to the organization.”

“Businesses are missing out on huge growth potential by failing to give finance teams the tools and training they need to make better corporate decisions,” said Andrew Harding, chief executive of management accounting at the AICPA&CIMA. “Cloud and emerging technologies like AI and blockchain drive efficiency and improve insight and accuracy, enabling finance leaders to step into a more strategic role in the business and improve the organization’s data-driven decision making. To make the most of these new technologies, finance teams need to simultaneously evolve the competencies of their staff in areas such as analytical thinking, decision-making and business partnering.”

Tech-savvy finance

The report identified three common traits of tech-savvy finance teams:

  • Modern Business Processes: According to the report, tech-savvy finance leaders use advanced technologies and establish ‘operational excellence’. For example, 86 percent of Digital Finance Leaders have a digital-first and cloud-first mindset, which gives them greater access to intelligent process automation and technologies such as artificial intelligence and Blockchain, which are commonly delivered via the cloud. Additionally, 73 percent centralize finance subject matter expertise in a global ‘Center of Excellence.’
  • Data Insights: Leading finance teams are able to connect data that was previously in disparate applications to uncover new insights. They are increasingly relying on AI to uncover hidden patterns, make recommendations, and learn continually from the non-stop flow of business data. The report shows that organisations that have seen positive revenue growth are more likely to be deploying AI compared to those where revenues are flat or have declined.
  • Business Influence: Leading finance teams have been able to move beyond reporting and are using data-driven insights to influence the direction of the business. With reduced time spent on manual reporting processes and armed with accurate and timely data, finance leaders are empowered to partner with the business, recommend new courses of action and influence business strategy.

“The cloud has significantly reduced the barrier to emerging technologies and is enabling organisations to introduce new business models and unique customer experiences that drive additional revenue streams,” said Kimberly Ellison-Taylor global strategy leader, Cloud Business Group, Oracle and former chair of the Association and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). “Common benefits that our customers experience once in the cloud include reduced costs and improved efficiency, increased security, real-time and accurate reporting, deeper business insight and better decision-making. The confluence of benefits enables organisations to spend less time on low-value, time-intensive reporting and innovate faster than their competitors.”