To thrive and grow in an environment of disruption and instability, organisations are finding they need to accelerate the pace of digital transformation to stay relevant. And digital finance transformation is key to that success. Delivering successful digital transformation is redefining the roles of finance leaders and their teams — and unlocking their full potential with new digital tools.
Digital transformation comes with huge opportunities. To achieve successful transformation, consider these eight key steps.
Start with a road map
The first step in finance digital transformation is to map your processes and the transformation journey in detail. This includes mapping the gap between where you are now and where you want to get to. So consider current processes and what procedures and software need to change. Also, consider the new required ways of working and who is involved in that. You need to understand what your aims and goals are, and problems and pressure points — and develop strategies that are clear and communicated to all, and that support the organisation's vision.
James Miln, ACMA, CGMA, senior vice-president of Finance and Investor Relations at Yelp, the US-based business review and social networking platform, said a road map provides the vision, which enables clarity from day one about the required output goals. He explained: "Understand the strategy. Think bigger picture. Where do we want to go and what people do we need, with what skills?
"In parallel, think about what can be done to optimise the process. And then think about the tool and what solution that can help facilitate," he added.
Create a digital culture
Successful digital transformation requires a structured and integrated approach — and people are central. Start in one area of the business to get the transformation right, and then you can expand it throughout the organisation. This will provide the environment to build engagement, establish internal champions, enable quick wins, and showcase early success stories.
Think about what is being communicated in those teams. How are you going to engage with them? How do you show them that this change is for the better, that it's a good thing? What's in it for them? For example, employees may learn new skills, which will enable them to be more efficient and effective in their work, and they'll have more or new opportunities as a result to grow, contribute, and innovate. It can also save time, create value, and provide a better quality of life.
"It's not just about choosing a system and implementing it. It's about changing the culture of your finance team to operate in a different way. That's the exciting and transformational part," said chartered accountant Andrea Harrison, head of Finance Transformation at Coventry Building Society, the UK's second largest mutual building society.
Build solid processes
Processes should be streamlined with everyone involved agreeing where and how technology should work throughout the transformation. Processes should also support the strategies and be agile and effective. For example, when building a human resources management platform, the first step should be to standardise jobs — to ensure that you are left with only the jobs you need. This avoids "digitising waste".
"Adopt, don't adapt. Continually challenge yourself as to why the off-the-shelf processes and reports won't work. Understand your pain points and make sure that the new ways of working will address them," said Harrison, who is leading a multimillion-pound programme to transform Coventry Building Society's finance and treasury functions.
Make data analytics standard practice
Finance should have access to real-time data as it enables decision-making and identifies where value can be added.
Miln said accounting and finance professionals can add value by owning data analytics far beyond the financial books. "We need to think about how our skills as finance people can help us have better data and insights in the business to drive decision-making," he said.
Learn from others
Employees should be provided with learning resources and time for professional development. Train each staff member and show them what they need to do. Also, draw on the skills and experience of a wide network of leaders and staff at all levels.
Adopt a continuous improvement mindset to take advantage of the opportunities that technology offers. "We should be open to learn from others, but we can also teach others how transformation comes together to drive value for the organisation," Miln said.
Develop cloud-based tools
Harrison said Coventry Building Society implemented a cloud-based reporting tool for 2021 year-end reporting. "We estimate that we saved over 1,200 hours of effort in an eight-week period. It's relieved significant deadline pressures," she said.
"That's been great for colleagues' wellbeing and development of the team. [The tool] will also allow us to bring our results announcement and publication of full annual report and accounts forward in future."
Moving to cloud technology can reduce system complexity and cost. It also makes it easier to keep up to date with new software releases.
Likewise, investing in automation of controls and removing manual spreadsheets and the risk that goes with them are important. Consider self-serve reporting and use data points that are intuitive and easy to understand, and will make customers more self-sufficient with basic data.
Systems should also have the ability to integrate and connect — for example, it is not practical to have a financial system that does not link with the system that supports procurement.
Creating a digital culture fosters collaboration with others, and giving all participants a voice is essential. Include all required parties from the start, so they are part of the journey. Involve senior staff and business owners in the early stages and then work down to the functions you need, such as accounts payable.
At Coventry Building Society, Harrison mixed employee generations within teams to achieve the best outcomes — including long-serving staff with 30 years' service and graduates of the internal graduate programme with different perspectives. "It's about getting the balance and having the rounded debate. It's really important to have the mix so everyone has a voice," she explained.
IT teams can include a mix of data scientists, engineers, and business analysts. It's useful to tap into the knowledge of tech-savvy junior analysts.
It's important to collaborate with teams and colleagues in areas like procurement and HR, to re-engineer processes and ensure they are as seamless as possible. Lean Six Sigma training creates opportunities for continuous improvement mindsets and culture across the business.
Take an iterative approach
Adopting new technologies and digitising an organisation requires an iterative approach. Learning from the refinements at each stage can ensure digital transformation is optimised.
Miln explained: "As digital transformation is an iterative process, finance leaders have to come back to it again and again. It's part of the job. That's why it needs to become a core competency.
"It must be something that's part of what finance does today, just as we continually improve or refine accounting principles. It should be the same thing," Miln suggested.
"It's exciting for finance because the core skills we have as accountants are very valuable. Combining them with the analytical insights, storytelling, and strategic mindsets will help us evolve beyond chief financial officer towards chief value officer," he added.
— Miti Ampoma is a senior content writer with the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com.
Agile Finance Transformation Certificate Series
Learn how the finance function can leverage technology to deliver faster and more accurate enterprise-wide reporting, deeper business insights, and a superior strategic direction for the business. Each course includes best practice, expert advice, and lessons learned — with certificates awarded upon completion.