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Finance automation – back to basics

Blog: Capgemini CTO Blog

Another day, another dollar. You arrive at work one morning with a to-do list. But you’re called in unexpectedly to present at a meeting; replying to one of your mails means you have to do some historical transaction research; one of your team needs a private one-on-one; a client calls, needing help on an issue; and you hear rumors of a new business opportunity that needs checking out.

You handle it all, but as the day ends, you realize you didn’t get too far with that to-do list. It’s not the case that you didn’t work hard; it’s not the case, either, that all those unforeseen demands on your time were unimportant. It’s simply that circumstances can sometimes sidetrack us from our purpose.

Legacies and layers

What’s true for you is true also for entire organizations. They can lose sight of their core processes beneath those many, many other layers of tasks and issues.

I mention this because in our recent study, “Reimagining Finance for the Digital Age,” we look at finance automation, at the progress many enterprises are making, and at the benefits they are experiencing. Many organizations are taking the lead of the “Masters” we identified – but one of the first and most pressing issues they need to address is that of their legacy technologies supporting legacy processes. When you’re embarking on digital transformation, no one starts with a greenfield site. Not even Masters.

Every enterprise has gradually accrued layer upon layer of technology and processes in its finance function, all of them serving a purpose, but tending to obscure the engine – the to-do list – at their core. These technology layers have created silos and disconnects, and most of them were and are people-driven.

Core processes

Moving towards finance automation demands a rethink – where we reimage process fundamentals optimized for automation. It’s almost a philosophical point: “We do many things – but what is it that defines us? What do we do that makes us who we are?” It’s only when we move through the legacy technology layers to our core systems that we can start to remove the obstacles on our path to digital transformation.

So, the first step to finance in the Digital Age is reimagine. The second is to think strategically about change, recognizing there is significant opportunity to operate differently. Digitally transforming finance enables you to interact with core systems without intruding upon them. The processes you’re adding don’t detract from them, but automate them, and instead of people-driven layers, we have an enhanced core function, with people acting as exception-handlers. The binding agent is the new process – without this as the driving force, automation efforts are likely to be piecemeal that will quickly hit a benefits ceiling.

Thinking about benefits

The third stage is to think about desirable outcomes, and to say: “We know the essence of what we do. How can automation deliver improvements?”

Capgemini’s “Five Senses of Intelligent Automation” analogy provides a robust framework in this regard, because the automation and cognitive solutions we are looking to introduce can enhance process execution while optimizing processes to maximize benefits.

“Watching,” or monitoring, is about making best use of the increased amounts of data you gather as a result of digital transformation, for example picking up on signals that trigger an exception in month end close. “Talking and listening,” or interacting, is about engaging with customers and internal audiences in a crisper fashion. “Acting,” or servicing, means channeling work to automated engines for  processing . “Thinking,” or analyzing, is about applying artificial intelligence techniques to identify inefficiencies, trends, and exceptions requiring human intervention. Finally, “remembering,” or knowledge, is about building a corporate memory of process and transaction data from which the system can learn, identify potential improvements as well as answering questions from employees, customers and suppliers alike. 

Unity of purpose

By stepping back and considering these steps before taking action on automation, senior finance executives can approach their legacy technology and process hurdles with much more optimism about their ability to overcome them. They can remove layers to reveal the essence of their function, and then create a new, holistic, process-driven model that isn’t patched and obscured.

It’s a reimagined model in which everything works towards finance’s principal purpose – and in which the focus is firmly (and finally!) on the to-do list.

Read the full “Reimagining Finance for the Digital Age” report. 

To learn more about how Capgemini’s intelligent automation can deliver enhanced value to your finance function, contact: lee.beardmore@capgemini.com 

Learn more about how Capgemini’s Finance Powered by Intelligent Automation offering helps you navigate the myriad of products, tools and services, enabling your business to benefit from an intelligent solution that combines automation, digital platforms, know-how and insight. 

Lee Beardmore has spent over two decades advising clients on best strategies for technology adoption. More recently, he has been leading the push in AI and intelligent automation for Capgemini’s Business Services. Lee is a computer scientist by education, a technologist at heart, and has a wealth of cross-industry experience.

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