The financial close process and other month-end reporting processes have long been critical components of business operations. From data entry to invoice processing to reconciliations, accounts payable and more, there are many financial tasks well suited for automation. Today, automation technology is transitioning from trendy tech to mainstream necessity, and as such, businesses everywhere are accelerating plans for digital transformation.
A recent survey of 500 global CFOs suggests that automation is not only a huge force in business right now, but lack of it is preventing efficient financial closing for organizations around the world. In an article published online at CFO Dive, the magazine breaks down some of the survey’s biggest takeaways. Among them were a few stats that stood out to us as indicators for where the industry might be headed—and how CFOs and controllers should begin to think about the road ahead.
Lasting Challenges From Temporary Disruption
When asked about their biggest challenge in the last 12 months, the top two responses were “remote work” and “meeting deadline pressures.” While deadlines are nothing new to finance and accounting teams, there were certainly more to consider in the last 12 months, thanks to unanticipated needs and insights that were critical for responding to global disruption. Moreover, remote work became almost instantaneously necessary for many companies, leaving organizations to scramble to meet the demands of a new off-site resource network.
The business world responded with remarkable ingenuity, of course, and the evidence is everywhere that many of the innovative solutions worked. While things are definitely improving in most places, many things will not be going back to the way they were. It was a fundamental change that’s going to last.
Remote work, for example, was a particularly big shift, and many businesses are expecting it will be a permanent one, at least in some capacity. A change of this magnitude requires a tech stack that runs as a well-oiled machine. Automation does just that, injecting efficiencies enterprise-wide and compounding ROI.
Responding To Extreme Change With Permanent Solutions
A late 2020 report by McKinsey showed executives responded to the pandemic disruption with technology, almost universally. When asked about how the pandemic impacted businesses, the study authors learned that the biggest increase—”more than increases in costs, the number of people in technology roles, and the number of customers”—was in funding for digital initiatives.
A lack of investment in automation at this stage in the game has the potential to be more costly than any other decisions you’re facing right now.
The question CFOs should be asking around RPA and intelligent automation is no longer simply what kind of ROI might we expect? You need to also consider the cost of not implementing it.
We’ve reached a point in time that automation is an integral part of business. Even if you implement some automations, without an end-to-end solution for managing them, you are in a constant mode of addressing the most urgent problem. It’s an inadvertent case of enterprise-level whack-a-mole—with much higher stakes.
Driving Adoption Through Key Stakeholder Buy-in
The implementation of robotic process automation (RPA) and other automation technologies can be an uphill endeavor, especially when you fail to secure buy-in and support from top management. To make matters worse, if you focus solely on tactical functionality instead of the strategic purpose, it can be very difficult to realize value quickly, let alone scale your efforts. In the CFO survey, 78% of respondents who were in the early stages of transformation faced bigger challenges than those who were in more mature phases of digital transformation. Of those 78%, some 45% called their automation efforts “still very basic.”
This kind of stall-out might seem at first glance like a sign to proceed with caution when getting into automation. But, from another perspective, the cautionary approach itself is the problem. This tepid audition of sorts into the world of RPA and business process management draws on resources and returns limited value. This becomes a compounding problem, leaving you in so-called “pilot purgatory” — an endless “stuck” phase with unclear direction for next steps.
While there are some modest gains, task-level automations can require tedious management, because nothing is orchestrated. Some things are automated, yes. But, without a deliberate effort to connect everything, all you’ve done is automate one leg of a manual journey and still left the entirety of it disconnected. Again, we find ourselves in a situation of whack-a-mole—addressing the most urgent needs of the moment with some of them being automated and some of them being manual. This provides little real progress on the road ahead, and no transformation.
Instead of addressing problems as they pop up, CFOs and other business leaders should look for a cohesive, strategic approach to digital transformation. Create internal stakeholders who will not only support the roll-out of RPA, AI and orchestrated intelligent automation, but who will also champion it to the rest of the organization. Work with IT teams well ahead of implementation, so that they can speak into the company’s needs from a technical point of view, and prepare to scale the rest of your tech stack. And most importantly, demonstrate to all teams—from the executive suite to the data entry clerk—how the technology will empower, support and enhance the work they do every day.
With EZFlow, digital transformation is thoughtfully implemented and scalable. The platform uses process intelligence to identify the best opportunities for automation based on real data, and then allows you to create a cycle of continuous improvement. This prevents the compounding whack-a-mole problem by illuminating the process start to finish, preventing problems before they happen. And with EZFlow’s Control Center, you coordinate and connect every aspect of every workflow. Instead of compounding problems, you compound your efficiencies. EZFlow was also specifically designed to work with other technologies, even other RPA providers, making it the only platform you need for complete end-to-end automation.
Getting Started With Automation
To learn more about the hybrid workforce, solving problems with automation technology or scaling with digital transformation, explore our website Resources, where you can download white papers on everything from getting started with RPA to calculating ROI, building your roadmap to implementation and more. To talk more about your organization and your goals for automation, schedule a free consultation.