By Jan Arendtsz, CEO, Celigo
To achieve digital transformation and advance operational excellence, companies are automating processes and integrating data. Businesses aim to take data out of operating unit silos and ensure the free flow of information across the organisation, which is essential to the success of any organisation. But for accountancy professionals, there are added incentives: integration in finance accelerates the time to close the books, improve data quality, and free highly trained and skilled finance professionals to focus on strategy and analysis instead of wrangling data.
With the explosion of SaaS applications in every business, there is no shortage of data created in each department. Because accounting and finance is one of the most important functions of any organisation, every department has some dependency on them to be able to do their jobs, and vice versa, from quotes, invoices, expenses, payroll, and beyond. But without systems that connect the applications, there is an increased dependency on manual processes, such as email and spreadsheets to get information from one team to another.
Overreliance on spreadsheets adds to the data silo problem and can introduce errors from manual data entry. Now is the time to not only integrate all the data from these tools across departments, but to also kick the overreliance on spreadsheets once and for all.
The problem with spreadsheets
Accountants love their spreadsheets and they are an integral part of any accountant’s job, with powerful features and capabilities like VLOOKUP, pivot tables, graphs, what-ifs, condition formatting, and much more. But while spreadsheets are extremely useful, they are often a substitute for broken processes, requiring long hours from expensive resources to do the repeatable work to populate data, week after week. But manual processes associated with spreadsheets are incredibly time-consuming and prone to costly human errors, in addition to posing audit difficulties.
The ability to close the books quickly is a reflection of operational excellence. There will always be a place for spreadsheets in the accounting department, but repeatable, low-level manual data entry is often one of the main opportunities for automation through integration. For some companies, integrating multiple systems across the organisation can save them hundreds of hours every year, as it allows everyone in the company to have the right data in the right place when they need it to be able to do their work – without depending on manual processes to move the data from one place to the next.
The path to integration
There are multiple ways to connect with different applications. In some cases, the cloud solutions have native integration features that allow users to connect with other applications easily. The problem is that while vendor-built integrations often handle popular use cases, they typically lack flexibility or customisation capabilities outside the most popular use cases. For example, if your ERP is very customised for your organisation, the native integration from your expense reporting application may not work.
Third-party point-to-point (P2P) connectors have a similar problem: they’re usually affordable and convenient out of the box, but they often aren’t flexible enough to accommodate larger, more complex business processes. As departments add more cloud apps, it can be challenging to develop the individual P2P connections needed to address each use case. Finally, you are now in a position to need to manage multiple vendors and technologies, leading to an overhead that can be particularly problematic for an accounting team who needs to understand the compliance capabilities of each connector.
For important use cases that can’t be addressed via P2P or native app capabilities, finance departments sometimes request an integration build from IT. The problem with the latter approach is that it can involve lengthy development time, and even after the project is done, finance must rely on IT to maintain the integration when processes change. It’s expensive and not scalable.
Over the last several years, finance departments have seen the growth in the adoption of another type of solution: Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS).
Finding a future-proof integration solution
Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) solutions standardise how applications are integrated, and that makes it simpler for organisations to automate business processes. iPaaS also allows the free flow of data across applications and simplifies how companies monitor, maintain and update procedures. Simply put, iPaaS makes it unnecessary to reinvent the wheel with a custom project every time a new application is added.
While the concept of cloud integration has been around for years and iPaaS solutions have grown in popularity, next generation iPaaS is now democratising integration in a new way by allowing business users to handle integrations and maintenance without involving IT.
As 2020 gets underway in earnest, with tax considerations and new regulations on the horizon, now is the time for the finance department to formulate and implement an integration strategy. A robust next generation iPaaS solution can help accountancy professionals kick the spreadsheet habit while eliminating manual processes, breaking down data silos, improving quality, and accelerating the time to close.
Digital transformation and business automation are the future of any organisation, and integration is an essential element of any automation strategy. The finance department has a key role to play. Still, dependence on spreadsheets and limited access to data mean accountancy professionals currently spend too much time on manual data entry and manipulation and too little on strategy and analysis. That’s why finance integration should be top-of-mind in 2020.