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Bridging the automation gap: How to create a culture of automation

Mar. 3 2021 by Leslie Cant, Product Marketing Director - CCH Tagetik

Performance Management

In our last post in this series, we discussed how COVID-19 exposed shortcomings in corporate financial processes revealing an urgent need for automation.  

Yet, while automation would balm many financial process wounds, FSN found that automation still isn’t ranking high on the priority scale for many of us. In fact, for almost half of the companies FSN surveyed in their recent study, automation failed to form part of the regular agenda. 

Where is automation buy-in falling short? 

small 9% minority of finance executives proactively review opportunities for automation every three years — a good plan, we think!  

But most of us don’t have an automation evaluation mandate that is that scheduled. In fact, a quarter of CFOs and senior finance executives only consider automation when a system comes up for replacement. Raise your hand if this sounds familiar? It’s the classic “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to technologyWe’re too stuck in the mud of our daily responsibilities to add “major automation overhaul” onto our task lists. FSN writes, 

because the finance cycle is so tightly bound to monthly and annual budgeting and reporting, there isn’t ever a ‘good’ time to implement the systems overhaul required for effective automation. 

 

The issue is, in the interim, you retain your legacy system — and the inefficacies that come along with that old, outdated system 

By failing to regularly evaluate your processes and available technology, you’re setting yourself up to fall behind. Why? Because:

  • You don’t know what’s available or how technology has progressed
  • You don’t know what additional features you should have access to for the money you’re paying
  • You don’t know how new automation could change the way you operate or your ability to incite positive change 

As FSN says, “Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also be a costly oversight. 

 

Why are some automation programs failing? 

Now, many of you might be thinking, “we DID try automation. And you know what? It wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.” 

This is a fair justification for lagging automation efforts. FSN found that many companies choose not to proceed with automation projects because their previous automation efforts didn’t link process change with the promised advantageous outcomes. 

Disappointingly, 43% of survey respondents said they made limited or no process change during automation projects, and 60% said their projects either failed to meet or only partially met their automation expectations. 

 

While at first glance these results don’t bode well for automation, the failure of these projects was not the technology but the approachby taking an incomplete approach to automationgaps in processes and data hamstrung these projects from the start.  

Reasons for failed automation projects: 

  1. Single process automation: 73% of companies that don’t have a business-wide approach to process change. As a result, automation projects haven’t engaged all the necessary people and processes across the organization. This limits their effectiveness.   

  1. Data management: If data hasn’t been prepared — centralized, normalized, accessible, and transformable — no amount of automation will improve the effectiveness of finance processes. For finance, your automation is only as good as your data management.  

  1. Pressured implementation: Some automation projects were reduced in effectiveness purely because finance executives inevitably lack the time to implement meaningful change within the finance function. Half-baked efforts do not produce satisfying results.  

The automation gap caused by these shortcomings can be solved with by creating a culture of automation that underpins every financial process. 

How to bridge the automation gap 

Bridging the automation gap isn’t about implementing one automated solution here and another there. It’s about creating a culture of automation from the bottom up.  

By using automation for all back-office activities, you inherently connect finance processes to operations, to collaborators, and to a central source of data.  

 

Here are four ways to build a successful culture of automation — quickly and painlessly: 

  1. Combine automation and data management: Your finance automation platform and data management system should be one and the same. A centralized data model that uses in-memory technology is the only way for modern enterprises to transform, standardize, and process large volumes of data. 

  1. Select a comprehensive platform that automates all processes, not just one: To roll out a culture of automation, it helps if you’re using one software for all your needs or one that can easily integrate with applications and data sources out of its scope. For example, your financial management platform should manage financial processes, like closeconsolidationplanning and reporting, but also integrate with your CRM.  

  1. Choose a pre-built — but configurable — platformPre-built functionality that configures to your unique needs without customization is critical for a speedy implementation. It also shows you the vendor knows what the finance function wants but understands where your specific requirements will vary. 

  1. Choose an experienced vendor: The vendor you choose can make or break your processes. Select one that focuses on: 

  • Educating your finance team to be self-sufficient in the platform but still provides product experts for ad hoc troubleshooting. 
  • A long-term roadmap that includes technology that seems ahead of your time, like artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. This shows you the vendor is thinking of your needs ahead of time and will have a solution ready for you when you’re ready.

It’s only when automation permeates financial management from end-to-end that organizations can truly achieve their objectives, whether that’s agility, eliminating manual work, improving speed to insight, cost savings, or upskilling staff.  

Learn more about how your peers bridge the automation gap in FSN’s report: The Future of Automation in the Finance Function: Global Survey 2020.

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