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The disruption of 2020 has presented CFOs and their teams with a rare opportunity in 2021: to seize the momentum for change. Armed with the right tools and knowledge, finance functions can transform to deliver great value to their organisations.
One of the most exciting things about digitising finance functions is the opportunity to guide, influence and contribute to their organisations’ strategy. Finance professionals understand what makes their business tick. They interact with colleagues and analyse data across the entire organisation. And they know how to assess return on investment in the new capabilities, technology and tools required for digital transformation.
At the first of the G100 and PwC Australia Digitising Finance - Future of the Profession sessions recently, we identified 5 key takeaways that can help you be successful in your digitisation journey.
1. Start with what you know
Beginning any stage of a finance transformation can be daunting; this is heightened by today’s extreme market volatility. With everything so uncertain, how can anyone know what a future finance function should look like?
A good place to start is to clarify what you do know - your organisation’s strategic plan and your finance function. With the right people, processes and tools you can play a leading role in delivering that strategy.
You also know the immediate challenges your finance team faces. The team may be:
Being clear about where your organisation wants to go, how finance can help steer the organisation on that journey – and what the obstacles might be – will help your digital transformation get off on the right foot.
2. Enhance your governance structure
When digitisation is done well, you’re removing manual activity which is inherently prone to risk. And you’re connecting data sources and transaction flows in a seamless, automated manner. But in doing so, you mustn’t lose the ability to monitor that activity and identify errors or inaccuracies.
Finance teams need to ensure they understand why a process is being digitised. Only with the right governance in place can the desired benefits be achieved. It doesn't need to be overly bureaucratic but it does need to be fit for purpose.
The same goes for licensing. With modern technology and data platforms, it’s very easy for individuals to license technology. But if you don’t have governance around this, individuals and departments can collectively run up significant OPEX without sharing the tools or scaling them to maximise their benefit for the business.
3. You’re futureproofing not only finance, but also people’s careers
For us, one of the most rewarding aspects of digitising our firm is the process doesn’t just benefit the business – it benefits our people too. Remember, automation replaces tasks, not people. So, our job as leaders is to sell the digital vision to our people, and bring them with us.
Digitisation should be a win-win for both employer and employee. If we continue to focus on upskilling our people and giving them skills to remain relevant in the future, they will continue to do more value-adding work for the business.
At PwC, our digitisation journey started with the introduction of our Digital Fitness Assessment app. It’s purpose is for people to quantify their level of digital fluency, identify gaps, and then access tailored tips, insights and e-learning. From there, they attended a Virtual Digital Academy which focuses on upskilling people in areas such as data, automation, machine learning and innovation. (More than 70% of our people at PwC have attended these to date.) And our Digital Accelerators program provided intensive training for digital champions in our business, who were then tasked with sharing and applying their learnings with other teams as well as applying those in all their client engagements. Our view is that this is an investment in people regardless of where their career is heading and our people right across our business embraced it. As well, it created some healthy competition!
4. Finance transformation - continuous innovation through doing
Training people on new tools and new ways of working won’t drive digital transformation on its own. What they learn in hands-on training sessions has to be applied in their everyday activities and when better ways of doing things are developed, those are shared so that innovations can be scaled across finance and the wider business. You need to put the right tools into the hands of finance teams in a safe environment so that they can test these out and work out how they can improve processes and structures.
One example at PwC is where we created a secure data platform called Workbench, where our people could apply new AI, machine learning and data tools to real business problems. We also created an innovation marketplace so that people have a place to share innovation across their teams and the whole PwC network. This gave visibility to others across the business, and we incentivised people to collaborate and contribute to these platforms.
Many of the tools our people use have removed low-value, high volume tasks. And the results speak for themselves. We've had about 7,000 downloads and re-use of these tools and we've saved about 50,000 hours of time spent on repetitive tasks (and that saving is growing daily).
Our people have felt the difference too. Just 18 months ago, 70% of our people felt confident about the tools and technologies that were at their disposal. That figure is now 90% and rising.
5. This is finance leaders’ time to shine
Judging from the discussions during and after the recent webcast, there’s a lot of enthusiasm about the potential impact that finance can deliver with increased digitisation.
While some finance professionals are inherently conservative and cautious, finance leaders can support and empower all their people to take risks and keep moving at the same pace as the rest of their organisations. Leaders should monitor progress, check-in with internal stakeholders across the business and, wherever possible, report on the commercial benefits that finance is achieving.
When it comes to digitisation, finance is ideally placed to lead by example. Instead of waiting for others to disrupt your workflow, now’s the time to forge ahead to transform your finance function by embracing new technologies, leveraging data and embedding new ways of working.
National Leader, CFO Advisory, Melbourne, PwC Australia
Tel: +61 401 814 721
Chief Digital & Information Officer, PwC Australia
Tel: +61 2 8266 1580