In this weeks session, we discussed the value of Process Automation. Below I have attempted to summarise our conversation for those who missed out.
As highlighted in a previous session, given the circumstances we find ourselves in currently, there has never been a better time to review your processes and identify those that are bottlenecks in your organisation.
- Look at your whole operation and identify the tasks that are not working and/or suffocating your resources the most.
- Check PEOPLE and PROCESS before you look at TECHNOLOGY to solve the issue. Is it purely a staff training issue or a need to adopt a new process? These are both often cheaper solutions and in almost all cases need to be in place before the technology can help you.
- Does your incumbent finance solution have a feature or upgrade to help? Many people go looking for third party software unaware a feature already exists in their wheelhouse as it has been a recent update or unused feature to date.
- Only implement process automation if it is going to ADD VALUE to your operation. Does it save you more time than it costs? Does it provide a better experience to your (internal/external) customer? Does it improve data accuracy? etc…
- When adopting new technology follows a mantra of ‘CONTINUOUS INCREMENTAL IMPROVEMENT’. Don’t try and solve all your problems at the same time. High-frequency sprints rather than long complex transformational projects.
- Be prepared to fail ….. but when you do, fail at low cost, learn and then go again.
- Don’t dwell on feeling you’re missing out by not having implemented one of the ‘Buss Words’. Identify the problem first and implement the correct solution to solve it. Don’t identify a shiny new innovation you want to implement and then find a use for it!
- Ensure your processes accommodate the technology you are implementing
- Ensure you have good foundations in place first. If you are looking to integrate your new technology into your wider infrastructure, does it have a plugin or open API capabilities?
NOTE: Entry-level Finance Software (Such as Xero) often has a marketplace (App Store) that will list all the available technology that will link to your finance system. These will be pre-determined integrations which may limit what capabilities the integration provides but is far quicker, easier and cheap to implement. Enterprise-grade software will more likely offer an Open API enabling you to integrate with any third-party software and build bespoke integrations to address your specific needs.
Examples of Process Automation
+ REPORTING. This can be split up into 4 areas:
- Financial Reports (Balance Sheet / P&L / Trial Balance etc..)
- Management/ Board Reporting
- Realtime reporting (Self Service Dashboards)
- Data Insight (Predictive analytics rather than reporting historical data)
There are tools to help with all of these stages. Ultimately, generating the data should be instant, enabling you to spend your time analysing. Spending 2 days pulling data from various systems to generate a board pack should be a thing of the past.
Tools discussed included: PowerBI, Sharperlight, Insight Software, OneStream Software, Adaptive Insights, Anaplan, Ancoris’ CFO Lab & Host Analytics
+ WORKFLOWS. Automating workflows can remove a lot of the administrative burden away from finance. Examples include; Procure 2 Pay, Expenses, Timesheets, POs etc… Many Finance systems have workflows built-in. For entry-level products such as Xero, there is a tool called Zapier that can help provide the user more control over integration and workflows with the other tools in the marketplace (App store).
Linked to workflows are two relatively new innovations:
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – RPA is the use of software with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required humans to perform. These tasks can include queries, calculations and maintenance of records and transactions.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – OCR is the electronic or mechanical conversion of images of typed, handwritten or printed text into machine-encoded text, whether from a scanned document, a photo of a document, a scene-photo or from subtitle text superimposed on an image.
Tools discussed included: Receipt Bank, Expensify, Certify, Tipalti Chrome River and Concur
+ AUTOMATIC BANK RECONCILIATIONS -Many finance solutions have auto bank rec built into their core software but there are also third-party tools to help with this. Ultimately, this enables automatic matching by integrating bank feeds into your finance system. It was mentioned that developments in Open Banking over the coming years may provide further benefits in this area.
Tools discussed included: Duco and Kani Payments
+ AUTOMATED CREDIT CONTROL – there are many things you can do to help automate stages of your receivables process. Many are included in your core finance software already. Other third-party tools exist.
- Alert staff when a key activity occurs in finance / ERP systems e.g. customers put on hold, orders waiting for manual release, credit limit change request
- Inform sales teams of daily, weekly, monthly sales
- Distribute news of payments received
- Alert directors of aged debtor reports
- Print debt chasing / credit control letters automatically
- Schedule debt collection phone calls automatically
- Alerts for unallocated invoices
- Notifications for when an invoice is allocated to the wrong nominal code
- Alert if goods are shipped but no invoice is raised
- Automatically print / email monthly statements
- Automate the creation and distribution of key financial reports
- Streamline authorisation processes such as purchase requisitions and purchase orders
- Automate credit referencing of customers via services such as Creditsafe, Experian or D&B
- Publishing key stats to company intranets or automatically distributing them via email (PDF, Excel etc.)
- Automated reminders for annual returns such as tax and VAT
This next phase of innovation in this space is providing automation to predict cashflow and identify periods in the year when it may be harder to collect from certain customers or to highlight when customers payment patterns are changing that might indicate an inability to pay in the months ahead. (We intend to invite a ‘special guest’ into a future session to showcase this type of product)
Tools discussed included: Fluidly, Chaser, KashFlow, ezyCollect, Ancoris’ CFO Lab
+ TAX AUTOMATION – most people will have moved to Making-Tax-Digital by now. some have used bridging software to fill gaps in their incumbent provider capabilities but most software providers are compliant now. Group MTD is of further value should you provider offer it and you operate a group of companies. This enables you to submit one return on behalf of the group rather than individually.
+ ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES – increasingly accepted in business in today’s world. To my knowledge, it is only a few legal documents that still demand a wet signature for legislative reasons but this is likely to change too.
Tools discussed included: Docusign. adobe, esign, signable
+ SHARE OPTIONS – for those looking to provide a share option scheme in their company, software is available to help with this.
Tools discussed included: Vestd (Suited for UK) & Share Works (Suited for USA)
Find out more:
If you have any further questions or wish to speak with me in person, I am more than happy to connect on LinkedIn (Found Here) or you can send me a direct message through the GrowCFO portal.