Author: Matt Goss
Every organisation is being told to transform or die. Most organisations are in the midst of a digital transformation that aims to deliver streamlined processes, increased competitiveness, and, ultimately, fatter bottom lines.
Digital transformation, far from being just another empty business buzzword, is essential for businesses to weed out the old, manual, time-consuming, expensive processes and replace them with automated workflows that free up valuable staff to focus on strategic activities that drive growth. Nowhere is the potential greater than in the finance team.
Finance teams have long been frustrated by the amount of manual work required to manage compliance and daily finance functions. Some of the barriers to efficiency include manually-maintained spreadsheets, siloed information, and a lack of real-time visibility into financial matters. These teams are ripe for digital transformation.
To transform successfully, CIOs and CFOs must work together to identify and provide the tools needed to simplify finance processes and reporting, moving towards the real-time insights that can drive the business forward.
For most organisations, travel and expense management is a key target for digital transformation because it directly impacts revenues. True transformation can’t really be achieved by just automating existing processes. It requires people to purposefully use new technologies in a way that fundamentally changes how things are done to achieve valuable results.
To contribute meaningfully to the finance function, CIOs need to be aware of existing systems, their bottlenecks and benefits, and how they need to change to deliver more value. Modernising travel and expense processes and systems can deliver significant benefits.
However, one of the perennial frustrations of any change program is the unwillingness of employees to embrace the change and get on board with using the new technology.
A key way to overcome this apathy (or even antipathy) is to get some quick wins on the board to demonstrate the very real value of the new system. When employees can clearly see how the new technology works, the benefits it delivers, and, most importantly, how it makes their lives easier, they are more likely to become enthusiastic supporters of the new systems. The most enthusiastic of those can even become project ambassadors, either officially or unofficially, and help their less-willing colleagues to understand and accept the new system.
When users embrace new systems to their full capacity, businesses can achieve a higher return on investment faster.
There are three key questions CIOs should ask their teams to help get a quick win:
1. Is the organisation’s current expense solution unnecessarily using IT resources or outdated technology?
Maintaining and supporting legacy systems can drain IT resources or rack up costs from system integrators. When using legacy systems, it’s important to check if there is a backlog of enhancement requests or report creation requests from the users that can’t be addressed in a reasonable amount of time as this could be a sign the system may no longer be viable. Similarly, if the vendor announces an end-of-life strategy for the product or it’s in maintenance-only mode, it could be time to find a new solution.
Using free modules in existing ERP solutions isn’t necessarily the answer, since ERP providers focus on innovating in other areas of finance functionality rather than the expense module. To get the win, businesses should, instead, adopt solutions that focus on travel and expense management, delivering a positive end-user experience and integrating travel data to give the company an overarching view of spend through insightful, visual reports.
2. Do existing solutions make the end-user experience an administrative nightmare?
Automation and policy enforcement are critical factors in choosing a solution but user experience is equally important. Savvy companies view all three factors equally, especially when they realise that the demographically-changing workforce demands consumerised enterprise apps. For example, highly-rated apps and the ability to manage expenses on the go are expected in today’s workforce, rather than completing expenses using a spreadsheet. Delivering according to these expectations can yield quick wins.
3. Can the business capture all employee spend data in one place?
Without one platform to capture and aggregate all employee spend, companies risk not being compliant with government or industry regulations, and increase their chances of falling victim to fraud. Also, finance and other departments lose control and visibility into the details of where and how company dollars are being spent. While this spend eventually makes its way into the ledger, the ability to proactively monitor, report, and analyse this spend gets lost.
For example, many employees book directly with airlines and other travel suppliers, and still get reimbursed despite strict corporate policies. A ‘leakage’ issue exists in most companies. The right technology can help companies capture this spend without disrupting the employee experience. For a quick win, they can then reconcile the information so companies can use it when negotiating with suppliers, resulting in better prices and terms.
Asking these questions and taking appropriate action can help CIOs and CFOs achieve a successful transformation and, potentially, become heroes as a result of the measurable cost savings that eventuate as a result. Crucially, gaining widespread acceptance of automated processes can free up talented finance staff to innovate and find new ways to drive the company forward, while also potentially leading to stronger supplier relationships that yield ongoing cost savings.
* Matt Goss is managing director ANZ, Concur.
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