How to build the finance function of the future

Mark Newton Profile picture for user MarkNewton July 24, 2018
Leaders who embrace the right technology are better equipped to anticipate and predict what comes next, argues Oracle's Mark Newton.

Eye in blue close-up with finance concept © Daniele Depascale -
The vision and role of finance is expanding. Today, it’s not enough for CFOs to be the co-pilot. Finance leaders must also be the change agent of the organization—innovating today, predicting tomorrow, and shaping the future.

Imagine you’re a CFO on a morning run, listening to your favourite podcast on your phone. Suddenly, you receive an urgent alert: a last-minute competing bid could short-circuit an acquisition your company wants to close on today. You stop in the middle of your run; this could derail everything. A million questions run through your mind: Can we increase our bid? By how much? If we do, will the deal still be profitable?

Machine learning, voice interactions, intelligent automation and more should work with your finance systems to give you the answers you need within minutes—so that the all important deal doesn’t fall apart.

Before you can be this CFO, you need to become the aforementioned change agent. The technology you’ve relied on to date has served your business well. Yet with new technologies and use cases emerging every day, yesterday’s ERP can’t keep up.

The Data Dilemma

Tomorrow’s ERP—built on machine learning—can automate day-to-day operations today, so your team can focus on guiding the business, instead of processing transactions and running reports. As companies produce and receive a seemingly unending amount of data from internal and external sources, it’s finance specialists who are best positioned to radically improve productivity, and connect historical and predictive insights to strategic planning and goals.

Cloud-based ERP applications with built-in machine learning capabilities are critical to this reset of the finance function. Not only do they continuously execute labor-intensive tasks in the background, they learn as they do, continually finding new ways to improve efficiency. At the same time, they feed rapid-fire responses to “what-if” questions posed through chatbots, rich-context dashboards, and other tools at your fingertips.

Getting Ahead of Change

Continuing to do things the same way as yesterday is risky. Uncertainty is the new normal and managing amid uncertainty is a must. It’s no longer enough to be quick-to-change; competitive companies must also have reliable insight into how potential future scenarios could impact performance.

Already, almost half (49%) of agile businesses have evolved their business models. We see organizations moving away from:

  • A single-target operating model with end-state goals, to the adoption of multiple, simultaneous, dynamic business models.
  • Labor-intensive transaction processing, to the relentless automation of routine processes—freeing up finance professionals to focus on strategic activities.
  • Copying agile models, to building agile business systems that enable anticipation of and response to change.
  • Managing stores of data, to creating and sharing meaningful insights with leadership across the organization.
  • Siloed, inflexible technology solutions to a single, connected cloud that is always up-to-date, costs less, and is easier to manage.

Think about traditional 12-month sales forecasts that roll over without critical evaluation. Intelligent cloud applications let businesses update their forecasts in real time, drawing on deep contextual data to make smart adjustments daily. This is one of the reasons we are seeing a resurgence in practices like zero-based budgeting, which embed ongoing review and re-adjustment in asset planning and management based on current data.

Equipping Finance Teams for the Future

Yesterday’s ERP often requires expensive and lengthy reimplementation to upgrade—meaning that the organization enjoys the benefit of upgraded software only every two to five years (or more). The cloud eliminates all that with:

It’s the last upgrade you will ever need. The cloud is always up-to-date with the latest features, as well as legislative and regulatory requirements in your market. This is true continuous innovation, rolling out new modern best practices and capabilities on a regular basis. With a trusted innovation partner acting as your cloud provider (and technology expert), finance teams are unleashed to become the strategic contributors the organization of tomorrow needs. And of course, in the war for top talent—especially in finance—providing opportunities to help mould the future of an organization (rather than just manage numbers) offers a huge advantage.

When finance leaders become change agents, embracing the continuous innovation of cloud ERP, they can:

  • Drive greater business insight.
  • Better meet regulatory requirements.
  • Automate for management-by-exception as a standard practice.
  • Use flexible hierarchies, dynamic reporting and scenario analysis/testing.
  • Gain greater understanding around investment for agile and robust cost control.

Cloud ERP is the Future of Finance

Technology is driving the next wave of business productivity and finance leaders have a unique opportunity to lead this change. Traditional, on-premises ERP simply no longer equips finance leaders or their teams with the capabilities they need for success—today or tomorrow. Leaders who embrace the right technology are better equipped to anticipate and predict what comes next—becoming the change agent, and leader that every business needs to succeed.

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