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The Big Idea - how finance leaders are solving the agility problem

Terrance Wampler Profile picture for user Terrance Wampler August 23, 2022
In the second of this three-part series exploring some of the biggest challenges facing today’s finance organizations, Terrance Wampler of Workday outlines how an adaptable architecture with flexible, secure processes is essential to support change.

Team solving finance agility problem © KFifa - shutterstock
(© KFifa - shutterstock)

Change is now a constant, but the pace at which we are now required to adapt has accelerated rapidly in recent years. Pandemics, rising inflation, economic crises, supply chain disruption: these are just some of the factors increasing the need for rapid change.

For businesses to survive and thrive in today’s world, operating at scale with agility is a necessity. Companies have to be flexible and agile enough so they can shift operations immediately as a changing need arises, whether caused by M&A activity, a disruptive event like a pandemic or even a regulatory change.

Despite the well-publicized pressure on companies to produce quarterly results, most investors are in it for the long term. They want companies that can survive and thrive in a sustainable ecosystem — able to pivot when times are tough, without compromising their ability to capitalize on opportunities when the times are good.

But most organizations find themselves held back by rigid architectures, processes and data models, which slow down their capacity to adapt. Yesterday’s ERP systems weren’t designed to meet the needs of a rapidly changing business environment, especially ones anchored by a fixed code block. A future-proof business needs to run on a system built for change.

An adaptable architecture is one that’s able to support people wherever they work, in or out of the office. It makes it easy to introduce new processes or modify existing workflows without having to rewrite the underlying software code. It provides a trusted source of up-to-date data from across the business, coupled with the analytics power to quickly surface insights to inform decision-making. Here are some examples of how Workday customers have adapted to change by adopting such an architecture.

Adapting to a virtual close at Netflix

The Covid-19 pandemic led to mammoth change across the world. Organizations needed to adapt their operations immediately to stay afloat, with many going from an office-based culture to remote working overnight.

When the pandemic hit, Netflix was fortunately set up for virtual working already, with many staff used to working from home on a regular basis. For the finance team, this was enabled by cloud-based payroll and financials technology from Workday. Robertjan Dekker, Director of International Finance at Netflix, explains:

The company has always supported people working from different places, giving them, to a certain extent, the flexibility to design their own days and weeks.

However, what Netflix was not familiar with was performing its quarter close virtually. Adapting finance processes away from the traditional office-based monthly and quarter close to fully virtual was not always easy, but now a virtual close almost feels normal, according to Dekker.

Dekker expects Workday will continue to support Netflix when it comes to adapting to future disruption, as the platform is flexible enough for the streaming service to make changes itself. He notes:

Internally we can pivot and change things that we need without needing big groups of implementation consultants for certain changes.

It helps the team in adapting to new challenges, new reporting requirements, new realities in the countries we are in.

Flexible processes at Bill Gosling

To ensure organizations can nimbly and quickly respond to any changes, major or minor, businesses need a technology foundation which offers flexible and secure processes that easily support change and the power to adapt.

This is something that Bill Gosling Outsourcing was seeking when it chose to upgrade its finance and HR systems. The contact center solutions provider was keen to enable a faster response to changing client requests and make finance processes more efficient through automation, while also improving its people management processes.

Partnering with Workday enabled Bill Gosling Outsourcing to automate many routine processes, reduce turnover and improve reporting. The company is now able to perform predictive analytics and meet clients’ changing needs proactively.

The latest analytical tools, along with finance and HR capabilities, offer much more insight into how the business is performing and potential process improvements. Managers are using Workday to improve labor cost forecasting, and the finance team can see and control margins anytime, rather than having to wait until the end of the month. This makes it easier for Bill Gosling Outsourcing to adapt the business quickly to deal with change.

Real-time KPIs at Designit

Firms with established structures and processes in place are much more likely to require a new system or a major IT project to support change. Their legacy systems often lack the flexibility to easily add a new reporting dimension or digital business model, amend existing reports and business processes, or support regulatory changes.

As a relatively young company, Designit prides itself on being able to move swiftly with the market. Unlike organizations founded 40, 50 or more years ago, which have built up significant technical debt related to their legacy infrastructure over the decades, the design firm founded in 1991 was not so burdened by rigid structures making it difficult to respond quickly to change.

However, Designit still found itself hampered by unreliable, incomplete and outdated data, which was stored across disparate systems, making reporting tricky and time-consuming.

In order for the finance department to evolve its role into a true partner for the business, Designit needed a more modern technology foundation. The company looked for a platform that could easily integrate its data into a single system, providing essential information for better decision-making and enabling the business to be more efficient in responding to changing market conditions.

Designit opted for Workday finance and HR technology, and now benefits from a transparent and flexible system, which allows the company to operate in a more agile way. Analytics and dashboards offer the most important KPIs and insights to managers in real time, making it much easier to respond to change. Michael Sylva, global head of Finance and Operations at Designit, comments:

Now if I look at a profit and loss statement and I want to see the distribution cost by codes, operating expense, or any other financial or business dimension, I can get it immediately. In the past, I had to wait weeks.

From tracking to creating value

The ability to access crucial data right now means the business can be nimble and get ahead of market fluctuations, rather than responding weeks later.

Organizations need to be ready to adapt their operations at a moment’s notice; those that do not have an adaptable architecture with flexible and secure processes in place that easily supports change will find it increasingly difficult to thrive in the future.

Netflix, Bill Gosling Outsourcing and Designit are all examples of how the right finance platform can give companies the power to adapt. With the right technology, finance can evolve from tracking value to creating it.

Our final article in this three-part series will explore how to solve the talent problem by offering a modern experience. We have already outlined how to solve the insight problem by building a trusted source of data.

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