In 2018, Deloitte published a series of predictions about how automation, artificial intelligence, and other digital technologies would reshape the finance function. The report was focused on potential outcomes in 2025 — but many of its predictions are already coming true, according to finance leaders.
"What I'm seeing and what I'm hearing is that 2025 is already here in many ways," Ash Noah, CPA, FCMA, CGMA, a former CFO and now vice-president and managing director of Learning, Education and Development for AICPA & CIMA, said in a recent webcast.
Noah will join several speakers in another upcoming AICPA webcast to discuss Deloitte's predictions and the evolving role of ERP platforms in finance. The webcast, which is the second in a series, is titled "Beyond Continuous Planning: Driving Decision to Value" and will air 30 November at 10am ET.
Also speaking will be Mike Danitz, a principal for the finance and enterprise performance practice at Deloitte, and two representatives for the business software platform Workday: Mike Magaro, senior vice-president of finance and investor relations, and Kinnari Desai, vice-president of finance.
In the first edition of the webcast, speakers focused on how to speed up the "data to decision" process. Specifically, they addressed how to create a "frictionless" finance function using the power of data and technology. Doing so enables finance to ingest and query the myriad sources of data sets — both financial and nonfinancial, internal and external — and make rapid decisions to create competitive advantage for their organisations.
"There's a significant acceleration toward automation and delivering more efficiency within finance and improving business insights," Danitz said at the time.
Progress amid obstacles
A recent report from Deloitte found that automation still faces obstacles, such as a lack of standardised processes, but is "proceeding apace", with the focus moving from discrete activities to more complex processes.
In that first webcast, Danitz talked about the creation of the "finance factory": In the past, most tasks would be completed manually, but a modern factory might have just a few employees monitoring a set of robotic machines, "looking for errors and issues that may be coming up".
With the need for human processing drastically reduced in the traditional areas, what is the new role for finance personnel?
The second webcast describes how to turn insight into value generation, and how finance can move beyond the curation of reports and insights and towards value partnering.
Instead of tallying and validating numbers, this new role is meant to focus on finding the narrative within the numbers and helping leaders understand the effects of their decisions.
"It's not all just about technology and data. We want to be addressing some of the cultural aspects that we should be paying attention to as finance leaders to enable finance to really leverage this automation and also the data model ownership," Noah said during the first webcast.
From insight to action
Meanwhile, organisations are demanding more insights that enable execution. That may push finance leaders away from quarterly schedules and towards the provision of insights in a real-time approach.
For example, Workday now is targeting a "zero-day close" and continuous delivery of planning information. The company now holds quarterly strategic planning syncs with rolling three-year forecasts, allowing leadership to track objectives in the short and long term, a change that its representatives will explain during the upcoming webcast.
Workday also is embracing cloud technology and self-service dashboards to push data and insights throughout the organisation.
Additionally, the panel will discuss how finance can meet the new staffing needs that will result from these changes.
"Talent is the topic du jour, obviously," Danitz said in the first webcast.
According to the recent Deloitte report, finance teams "must be both an importer and exporter of top talent across the enterprise. This will shorten the life cycle of team members in some roles, but it will also expand Finance's influence and ability to pull in resources to fix problems."
At Workday, finance staff are put on rotations that can include drastically different roles over just a few years — an experience that can be challenging but educational. Ultimately, the finance experts say that they are searching for staff with a combination of finance aptitude, technical data skills, and communication or storytelling ability.
Part 2 of the webcast will be worth one CPE credit and will include a question-and-answer period.
— Andrew Kenney is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, FM magazine's editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.