Automation – a change in priorities is required to deliver expected growth

Guest post by Adrian Leer – MD Triad Group

As part of the insight and development work we did while creating our new Intelligent Automation practice at Triad, we talked to a number of leading CFO’s about the role of finance and intelligent automation.

What we found was that most finance departments have started on their automation journey. It was also illuminating to discover their insights into what has gone well and which challenges were slowing down automation.

The research covers quantitative research conducted with over 40 finance leaders from established UK businesses. We hope that these insights will help other finance leaders (and business leaders generally) understand, embrace and drive successful process improvements with an intelligent application of automation across their department.

So, what did our research with finance leaders tell us about automation?

● 93% of the respondents expect automation to increase in the next three years

● The main areas that automation is being used within finance departments is to reduce the manual elements of repetitive tasks, such as in reporting or accounts payable – this was selected by 78% of the finance leaders surveyed

● 71% say the automation agenda is held back by other priorities taking precedence rather than a lack of budget (37%)

● Unfortunately, 34% of finance leaders also believed that their businesses lack the required knowledge to automate more processes

● We also found that while 95% of finance departments are using some level of automation, only 20% have started to automate multiple, complex processes.

Why should finance departments care about automation?

“Reducing manual intervention can save thousands of euros that are spent handling miscommunications between systems. If we can address these issues automatically, this frees up resources for other tasks,” says Marco Torrente, CFO at WebBeds Europe, the world’s second largest accommodation supplier to the travel industry.

My view is that I never want to hire anyone again purely to move data from one spreadsheet to another

Rod Meade, Carter Jonas

When asked our finance leaders to select the top three capability benefits that automation delivers they ranked the following most highly; ‘fully automating repetitive manual tasks and processes’ (63%) and ‘reducing admin tasks to free up finance heads for more strategic work’ (61%) were significantly ahead of the next two benefits ‘improving data quality and dashboards’ (32%) and ‘reducing human error’ (29%).

Rod Meade the Financial Director at Carter Jonas one of the UK’s largest estate agent and property consultant groups is aligned to these findings: “My view is that I never want to hire anyone again purely to move data from one spreadsheet to another.”

At the other end of the scale, only 7% of finance leaders that completed the survey believed that a capability benefit of automation was as an innovation, for example enabling AI.

What’s holding automation in finance departments back?

Nearly 71% say that other priorities take precedence, then lack of budget (37%) closely followed by lack of automation knowledge with the finance department or wider business (34%).

“It is a challenge to find the right skills, but we need less accounting-focused talent and more strategic thinkers who can handle finance talk and combine this with digitisation,” believes Uta Molnar, Finance Director at Siemens AG, the German multinational conglomerate company and largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe.

So, it’s not surprising that the automation trend is building with 93% of survey respondents expecting automation to increase in the next three years.

Personally, I think the finance function is a great place for an organisation to exploit Intelligent Automation. The benefits not only include workflow improvements, cost savings and more fulfilling roles for the finance team; Intelligent Automation also delivers significant capacity to CFOs allowing them to adopt a greater leadership role within the organisation.

To increase the chances of successful automation, finance teams need to ensure processes are properly and fully understood before being automated and that you bring your CTO and CEO on board.

When considering the use of Intelligent Automation, we advise that business cases encompass more than simple financial metrics, such as capacity created and labour saved

Damon Harding, Digital Works Group

The CTO will add vital technical expertise, while other executives’ support will help to drive new working practices. And finally, all finance organisations will likely be transformed by automation. So, organisations should start planning early for the staff and skills profile that their departments will need in the future.

One partner we work closely with at Triad is Damon Harding, Strategy, Leadership and Innovation partner at Digital Works Group he believes “When considering the use of Intelligent Automation, we advise that business cases encompass more than simple financial metrics, such as “capacity created” and “labour saved”.

Using value drivers instead, which can include things like ‘improving customer experience’, ‘enabling digital capability’ or ‘reducing risk’ improves the selection of which processes to automate.

This research also supports our experience that the key value driver of reduced administrative burden, which allows staff to focus on more strategic work, is a key benefit to finance departments in particular.”