Thanks to COVID-19 and the ensuing economic challenges, many organizations were forced to downsize and slash budgets. In this Q&A, VP of Finance Transformation Andy Jones shares his insights about the year-end close, 2021 planning and why now is the time for transformation.
What should business leaders be focused on as they head into year-end planning?
Almost every business executive needs to look at least annually at how they’re doing work and how their environment’s changed. And try to look over the horizon of what’s coming up. I mean, let’s face it. Everybody needs to be more productive than they were the year before. And this year, I think it’s even more important because many organizations are hoping to come out of the pandemic strong, but they may have fewer people doing exactly the same amount of work that they had a year ago.
So they’ve got to figure out ways to do that work more efficiently and more effectively—and leverage automation tools to do that. That means streamlining processes and setting them up so they can be automated. That enables you to free up your people from doing the repetitive, transactional work and get them into providing business insight. That’s what we all want. Right? Tell me where I should invest my money. Tell me what products or services that I sell are the most profitable or more likely to be profitable in next year’s market, based on forecasting.
You’ve said that now is the time for transformation. Why?
We should always challenge ourselves and challenge the status quo. How can I be better? Because of the pandemic, I think this year presents a unique time to evaluate what’s really important. How do I get rid of the transactional work and automate wherever possible and free my people up to really provide the value? Some organizations are operating at a lower level of work right now. Revenue may be down, transaction volume may be down. So this is a time to reflect. Take advantage of this little bit of downtime to figure out how you’re going to compete.
Who in the organization should be thinking about this?
The reality is that everybody should be looking at some form of digital transformation. And that’s not limited to finance and accounting. It could be HR. It could be supply chain. Just about every functional leader needs to be looking at how they can be more effective and asking, “How can I get more stuff done with the same or fewer number of people—reduce my cycle time, improve productivity, and gain better insights into the business as opposed to doing monotonous work?”
Besides downsizing, what are other reasons companies might be looking to automate their processes?
Really, we always want to try and improve our productivity, regardless of the current situation. We want to be better next year than we were this past year. We can take days out of our financial close, we can improve our order-to-cash cycle, we can improve the efficiency of our procure-to-pay cycle. And any time we can do that quicker, better, faster, and with fewer errors, it means our workforce has more time to do value-added work, like providing insight.
For example, I had one chief information security officer who didn’t want to reduce headcount. He just wanted to free people to do the work they were hired to do. He had four highly educated security analysts who were supposed to be doing threat identification, threat prevention, looking for vulnerabilities. But instead, they were spending most of their day granting and revoking privileges to new or terminated employees. Automation means we’re going to be able to completely offload that part of their job to digital workers, so they can get back to threat analysis and prevention. And that’s so cool.
Where’s the best place to start?
Focus on a work stream. Focus on a functional area. Focus on a process. Look at every one of the functional areas of what you do, from hire to retire. And if you start to compartmentalize like that, you can break things into bite-size chunks. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary. It can be evolutionary as long as you keep your eye on what it is you’re trying to achieve. I love to set short-term targets and knock them down and then move on to the next one on a multi-year roadmap. So it doesn’t have to be, “Oh, we’ll wait till the end of five years and hope we end up with success. Let’s get success 90 days out. Let’s come up with projects that can give us an immediate return. Then the next project and the next one.
How long does it take to get an automation solution in place?
I know some global corporations are undergoing multi-year transformation efforts, for sure, but others are just setting up short-range targets, knocking off things one at a time that will provide benefit back to the business. Shorten some cycle times. Improve productivity. And sometimes those kinds of solutions can be put in place literally within weeks or months, as opposed to talking about multi-year transformations.
And that’s the exciting thing about it. We can meet a client wherever they are. If they’re limited by their ability to execute, if they’re limited by investment, we can work up a plan that gets them to where they’re better off than they are today without requiring a complete overhaul of the organization. But if you’re looking to transform in a revolutionary way, we can help guide clients through that as well.
If someone were to start planning now, when could they expect to start seeing real results?
I’ve literally seen clients who recognize that they’ve got an issue, figure out that, maybe, it’s something that could be automated relatively quickly. And we’ve designed, developed and deployed solutions within a month that have provided real, tangible returns back to the client inside a month or two—which is just unheard of, but really exciting.
It’s transformational, because it generates enthusiasm and sets the stage for spin-off projects. Other people in the organization say, well, why can’t I do that? If you could automate this, you could probably automate that. And the next thing you know, you get a groundswell.
Delve deeper into why Andy says now is the time for finance transformation. And whether you want help creating your vision and plan for 2021 or just need extra support to finish the year strong, RGP is here to help.
Ready to finish the year strong? Let’s Talk.