With business evolving at a breathtaking pace, finance leaders are under increasing pressure to optimize operations and deliver valuable business insights. See why automation is becoming a must-have tool for today’s CFO in this conversation with our VP of Finance Transformation, Andy Jones.
Andy recently spoke about the future of finance with Paula P. Carneiro, Director of Partner Relations at WonderBotz, our strategic alliance partner that’s putting robots to work for intelligent automation and robotic process automation (RPA).
“CFOs are expected to be trusted business advisors that provide insight into what’s driving the profitability of the business.”
(Paula) Thank you so much for your time, Andy. I’m so glad we were able to connect on this topic. I think there’s a lot of change fatigue as most organizations seem to be in “transformation mode” every year; I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on how this is evolving within organizations…also curious to see if you agree with some of my assertions about the changing role of the CFO.
(Andy) I think we’re approaching this conversation and brainstorming how to help our CFO community at the right time. The role of the CFO is already changing. CEOs expect more from their CFOs than in prior years. The C-suite and business unit heads look to their CFOs to help guide their business. They’re not just people who control spend or investment. CFOs are now expected to be trusted business advisors that provide insight into what’s driving the profitability of the business, what products or services need to be tweaked or retired, and where the business should be investing.
(Paula) Exactly. A CFO is no longer simply a tenured CPA; strategy and insight is exactly what their CEOs and shareholders (or investors) are looking to them for. This segues nicely, Andy, because one of the “new normals” for the FP&A community is to be a proficient storyteller using Tableau or Power BI as Business Intelligence tools for analytics. This is key to the evolution in finance. Let’s back up a second and get your macro view. How do you envision Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) technology changing the way the finance organization operates in the next five years?
(Andy) I believe within the next five years most organizations will have automated their transactional processing [in the finance department] via IPA and other technologies—those that don’t probably won’t be around, as they won’t be able to compete. And, by “competing,” I’m talking about competition in the traditional sense—firms that manually process transactions will be at a significant cost disadvantage to their peers that have deployed automation.
Also, and perhaps just as important, firms that don’t adopt automation technology won’t be able to compete for talent—as accountants will resist working in the drudgery of “traditional” accounting.
“Within the next five years most organizations will have automated their transactional processing. Those that don’t probably won’t be around.”
(Paula) Yes, it’s what I have seen across the board, too. I would add, however, that I don’t think the burden of change is only on the organization. I believe individuals in finance functions who have been in the role for a long period of time can also help move the needle by upskilling. In your view, what are the most important three skills for finance professionals to obtain in order to stay relevant? Is that of importance in your estimation?
(Andy) Research shows that millennials aren’t going into F&A as much as their predecessors, partly because they’re seeking work that has a meaningful impact–so those that are going into F&A are seeking innovative companies that offload the mundane tasks to bots so that the humans can make a difference.
But you are right, Paula, the individuals have options to upskill too. Studies show that critical thinking and analytic skills are of paramount importance in the new economy–and that doesn’t just apply to finance. Add a digital mindset to that, and I think you have the makings of tomorrow’s professional.
I’m a big believer in the “automation first” mentality. Businesses that are being created today certainly have hurdles to overcome, but they also have the advantage of being able to build automation into their business blueprint from Day 1.
(Paula) Well I’m so glad you agree! I have been on the ground with executive finance leaders for over a year talking about how the role of the CFO as we knew it no longer exists. This fact implies that traditional ways of recruiting and grooming F&A talent no longer work. Or, at the very least, must be modified. Okay, so in the spirit of simplification: as you talk about automating transactional processes in the finance department, where do your clients typically start?
(Andy) Heavy transactional processes are the easily identified processes. So, let’s take period-end close and account reconciliations. Nearly every business–at least ones with multiple subledgers and operating systems–spends way too much time on account recs and most close their books every single month. We’ve tackled this solution with your organization when we built ReconBotz, a solution that automates the overwhelming majority of this work. The payback is staggering.
(Paula) I have just a couple more questions for you that I think will resonate with our Rookie Intelligent Automation folks as well as those who are looking to broaden their IA program and scale. Deal?
(Andy) Absolutely, shoot.
(Paula) What are some of the biggest misconceptions circling the topic of “Robotic Process Automation” as it evolves today?
(Andy) As RPA is becoming a known acronym, some of the additions to existing RPA platforms have had me thinking lately. For example, I wrestle with the concept of the “citizen developer” that’s bandied about when it comes to RPA. Can anyone learn to build automations? Sure. Should organizations depend on barely-trained rank-and-file workers to automate their businesses? I don’t think so.
I’m not discounting the idea that each of us can (and perhaps should) be empowered to automate some of our desktop procedures–but that’s not really transformational in a big-picture sense. I believe that citizen developers can only get you so far–and can actually jade an organization’s view of automation as a whole, because they won’t think big enough. Or their automations will be too costly to maintain because they don’t have the training and experience to design robust automation.
“The more an organization needs to scale, the more it needs to embrace intelligent automation.”
(Paula) I understand that completely. The concept of a citizen developer is getting a lot of coverage in this space; it is actually a classic sociological riddle. How much power do you give to individuals while still hoping for a cohesive outcome? Even still, we can agree that automation is a tool that organizations must consider for transformation, right?
Last question, Andy. Do you view Intelligent Process Automation as a nice-to-have or business critical, and why?
(Andy) Any attorney or consultant will always reply “It depends” to a question such as this. And, I think that’s true to some extent. The more an organization needs to scale, the more it needs to embrace intelligent automation. For them, it’s business critical–automate or die. The temptation is to say that a one-person organization–say, a self-employed pool service-doesn’t need to worry about IPA.
That said, if the pool guy can automate the invoice process or reorder supplies, his/her productivity increases, enabling more of their time to get invested in the revenue-generating side of the business: servicing pools. So, maybe it doesn’t depend–maybe it’s business critical.
(Paula) I think we can agree that it is business critical. If not for any other reason than your example about competition; it’s automate or perish from what I have seen. Andy, thanks a million for your time and perspective, I am looking forward to many more conversations and collaborations between our teams.
(Andy) Thanks, Paula.
RPA is just the latest step in a digital transformation journey that is changing the way businesses operate. How is your organization rising to meet this challenge? Drop us a note.
WonderBotz is a premier provider of intelligent automation solutions, services, training and software. They make it easy for the brightest brands to transform how they get work done in accounting, operations and more.
Paula P. Carneiro, Director of Partner Relations, assists in leading the marketing strategy, events management, outbound messaging and the aggregation of WonderBotz’ Success Storytelling. Prior to joining WonderBotz, Paula worked in a variety of operational improvement roles at companies dedicated to solving mission-critical problems in both the public and private sectors.