Overcoming challenges around integration across data sets, departments & geographies

The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need, and opportunity, for many organisations to review their financial systems.

As both an experienced digital transformation specialist and former Group Financial Controller, I fully understand the frustration and concern I hear from accountants about the barriers to change that inadequate data management and a lack of integration creates.

It’s highly likely new ways of remote working are here to stay, so it’s therefore paramount that organisations adopt fit for purpose finance software that can easily harness and interrogate data from across the organisation.

Maintaining the ‘old normal’ when it comes to data is likely to hinder agility during the recovery.

Data is your greatest asset

It’s not uncommon for legacy systems to become increasingly overwrought, creating pockets of valuable data that is not immediately visible, hard to maintain and difficult to examine.

This runs counter to the view that ‘data is the new oil’ and should be considered one of your most valuable strategic assets.

The common challenges many financial professionals tell me about include:

  • A lack of consistent, accurate data across the organisation.
  • Siloed data sets in individual departments.
  • Proliferation of ‘shadow’ spreadsheets that are controlled and understood by a limited number of people.
  • Data being downloaded and shared via email, creating version control issues and security risks.
  • A lack of automation creating deep inefficiencies, with employees spending time on manual, repetitive keying and processing tasks.
  • An inability to interrogate the granularity of data and quickly transform into higher level strategic insights.

Unifying your organisation’s data

Managing data sets across departments and geographies can be made simpler by introducing cloud-based ERP systems, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance.

These typically perform better and cost less than on-premise solutions whilst providing greater accessibility and flexibility.

A real step-change in quality can be achieved through a cloud finance platform that:

  • Standardises and simplifies the capture of key information using simple forms and automated processes.
  • Creates a transparent ‘single source of truth’ with data flowing from across the organisation in a consistent format to a central online database.
  • Incorporates machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities to interrogate insights contained within unstructured and high volumes of data.
  • Provides advanced analytics and automated reporting that can meet the demands of management, C-suite and regulators.
  • Is easy to configure, provides the opportunity for quick and simple tailored development and can flex up and down based on requirements.
  • Can be configured entirely remotely, lowering adoption costs and ensuring the system can be put in place despite ongoing restrictions.

Using software to transform divergent financial processes, standards and procedures into a consolidated and harmonised approach can play a huge role in allowing organisations to reap the benefit of resulting efficiencies and can also provide the foundation for wider business success.

 Unleashing your data’s maximum potential

Whilst the future holds a degree of uncertainty for all of us, organisations that harness data to work faster and smarter can give themselves a greater chance of spotting new opportunities or threats.

Rather than purely focussing on day-to-day profit and loss or risk functions, the ability to identify emerging trends by linking departmental data from across the organisation will be vital.

Business Intelligence software, such as Microsoft’s Power BI, can help in identifying customer behaviour, enabling you to make smarter, real time, decisions based on a holistic view of factors influencing your success.

The benefits of securing a single, consistent and multidimensional view of your organisation will also become increasingly important for those organisations seeking funding, credit or investment.

With the current pace and scale of change overcoming previous resistance to new technology adoption, now might be the optimal time to upgrade to a cloud-based finance system that will unleash the full potential of your data.

Richard Baxter is a former Group Financial Controller and qualified Accountant. He is now Financial Applications Director at technology consultancy and certified Microsoft Gold Partner, Tisski

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