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Step up your back-office setup to get in front

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Streamlining inefficient back-office processes releases finance teams from time-consuming day-to-day tasks, giving them the freedom to drive business strategy instead.

4th May 2022
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Our economy has encountered the perfect storm. As we recover from the disruption of the pandemic, businesses are focusing on re-establishing customer intimacy, re-engaging their workforce, and making supply chains more resilient. Yet they are now also faced with the monster coming over the hill – inflation.

However, after the financial blow of Covid-19, many businesses are unable to absorb rapidly rising costs. With UK inflation accelerating to a 30-year high and interest rates surging, we must look for another way to offset inflation rather than pass this on to the customer.

Choosing where to invest to make the biggest impact can be a challenge for finance teams. Companies are exploring increasingly creative ways to combat inflation, leveraging technology, rethinking job roles, and looking to new business areas to drive efficiencies. 

Holding staff back

Inefficient back-office processes are often holding staff back, making it more difficult to perform day-to-day tasks. Working on outdated systems hosted on-premise, it becomes impossible to evolve quickly.

To respond with agility, businesses must look to cloud technologies that provide a core solution enabling data to be pulled from across financials and procurement, projects, HR, customer experience and supply chain to give a comprehensive and accurate view of their operations. Businesses often have untapped economic value and human capital. Only through having a holistic view across the organisation can data be analysed to identify where this value can be unlocked. This may be through cost savings, or enabling employees to explore how they can improve the value they can bring to the business, while realising their career ambitions. 

Cloud benefits

Investing in cloud is also essential for any form of transformation in traditional back-office services. In the past, companies would buy an on-premise licence, then configure and customise it to make it fit to use. However, this was often at high cost and made it difficult to keep pace with technology-driven innovation, requiring large-scale and costly upgrades every few years. 

Cloud is much more cost-effective as most solutions operate on a pay-per-use basis, and with limited upfront costs. However, the agility that cloud provides, with continuous innovations delivered every three to four months, will help reduce financial pressures.

Automation unlocks staff potential

Right now, businesses are seeing 65% of finance staff effort focused on gathering and manipulating data from multiple sources, cleaning it and providing basic backward-looking information. Automation is key to improving this, taking labour-intensive, repetitive tasks off the plate of finance teams such as expense reporting, managing projects, and compliance. Finance professionals can then spend less time compiling data and more time deriving insights and providing recommendations to decision-makers, thereby bringing more value to their organisations.

Freed up for more value-add tasks, finance functions can then become more strategic, able to specialise in treasury management, data science and forecasting, and using time to react rapidly to market shifts. Machine-learning capabilities can help to identify patterns and anomalies, and even suggest the best course of action, leaving professionals to manage the exceptions. It then becomes easier to discover and launch new business models, to monitor results in real time, and to help teams refine their approach to coping with shifting market demands.

The accountant’s role is evolving

There is a blurring of lines around the definition of a business’ finance function. Increasingly, finance leaders are hiring data scientists, not just finance people. Equally, existing team members’ roles continue to shift and evolve.

Traditionally, finance teams have relied on historical data to inform future decisions, but constant disruptions have made this approach untenable. With rapid and sudden shifts in the economic landscape becoming the norm, we can no longer make reliable assumptions on market behaviour and costs of asset bases.

Accountants are fast being considered more as future-facing strategists, analysing real-time data and safeguarding businesses against volatility. The days of bookkeeping are limited thanks to automation capabilities, so companies are now expecting their finance teams to be more agile, playing an increasingly active role in alleviating inflationary pressures.

New focus for finance

So, the role of the finance team is changing, but what is their focus beyond the balance sheet? It is a move from being accountants to being accountable, with some finance professionals becoming more involved in driving Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and sustainability initiatives.

Reporting on ESG is increasingly required in major markets, and finance leaders must be able to show investors and the public that they are making real, tangible improvements. You must be able to demonstrate change – not just make the right noises. What gets measured, recorded, and reported informs change across the entire company, and the route to net zero depends on accountable functions. Increasingly, data reported on the ESG agenda will be audited, so it must be actioned, showing the pivotal new role for finance teams.

In complex times, finance teams are the lifeblood of organisations. They drive them forward by rebalancing the balance sheet, reacting to new business needs, and feeding data into strategy. Investing in the right technology to support finance teams is vital, giving them the freedom to combat inflation and adapt to market changes.

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