Cloud Software Provider BlackLine’s Senior Vice President of Asia Pacific & Japan Terry Smagh shares his thoughts on why true automation is the only way to drive future growth in any organisation.
By Terry Smagh
Healthy organisations regularly evaluate the risks associated with changes in process, technology, and people. Assessing timing, effort, cost and return on investment is all part of robust risk management.
However, how often does an organisation evaluate the risk of not changing?
Rarely is sticking with the status quo still seen as the lower risk approach. Doing things “the way they’ve always been done” may be cumbersome, slow, or frustrating, but it’s a safe bet—with a (usually) known outcome. And many accounting professionals take pride in their effort and output.
Change, on the other hand, is the great unknown and therefore inherently risky.
In Singapore, the primary changes in the accounting sector are pertinent to the country’s vision to become the leading global accountancy hub by 2020, hence the establishment of related government and industry bodies, in addition to the implementation of a number of policies to support the progress. Among these is the Accountancy Roadmap. It targets an annual growth of 5.6% to reach SGD 2.03 billion in nominal value-add, and create 2000 new PMET jobs.
Taking that into account, technology is surely becoming an essential factor in Singapore’s ability to accomplish the goal. It is helping the shift into accounting automation and creating the opportunity for accountants to play a larger role.
Change is the New Norm
Change itself is the new normal, and avoiding change exposes organisations to more risk—not less.
Doing things the way they’ve always been done is no longer a formula for success, but a surefire strategy for falling behind. And this has never been truer than for today’s accounting and finance professionals, who are needed for their strategic—not their spreadsheet—skills and capabilities.
Status Quo Cripples Execution
While innovation and creative thinking may drive the front office, the status quo still often rules the back office. The result is a crippling disconnect between the ideal and the reality, between strategy and execution.
To stay both competitive and compliant, modern organisations must have real-time insight from data—and that starts with an agile finance function. However, accounting and finance professionals are still mired in manual work and legacy processes that leave little time for the analysis that is so desperately needed.
The Risks of Legacy
So what really happens when accounting professionals use legacy, manual processes to support a growing, changing business? Manual accounting processes, which rely on human accuracy, are prone to error. And gathering the right information to close books or in the event of an audit, takes longer without systems that easily provide the right information.
According to Deloitte, Finance’s most important role today is “driving business decisions and preparing the organisation for future growth.” Manual, status quo processes hamper the very transparency, efficiency, and access to data that finance must have to provide analytics and drive strategy.
For instance, manual processes guarantee that accountants spend their days searching for discrepancies and entering data, instead of analysing that data to drive the business forward. Limited time for analysis can also result in late or unexpected adjustments.
From Fear to Readiness
In the face of resistance, how can accounting and finance organisations transform the fear of change to readiness? The accounting professionals can be better prepared in embracing change when organisations consider implementing these practical ways:
- Invite people to change— don’t impose it—and involve them in the process. Communicate early and often about what is being proposed. Buy-in is easier to gain if stakeholders have time to ask questions, offer feedback, and participate in how and when the change is implemented.
- Use data and KPIs to convey the benefits. Help those most affected by the change understand how it will benefit them directly. Demonstrate how much time accountants will save, how the change will enable more analysis or other value-added work, and other concrete and tangible benefits.
- Reassure accountants that they will still be relevant. Emphasize that technology is changing and elevating accounting and finance roles, not eliminating them. Highlight the fact that instead of spending days on data entry and manual tasks, accountants will have more time for meaningful work—around strategy, analysis, and other key business activities.
- Create champions for change. Find those excited about the change and involve them in implementation and rollout. Make it easy for these champions to share their enthusiasm with the rest of the organisation
- Provide training early. Champions for change drive interest and excitement. When training is provided for everyone, it nurtures buy-in and adoption across the organisation. It’s more of cascading adoption nurture—start with a few, build out to the others with training.
- Design an achievable implementation and rollout plan. Mitigate internal disruption by streamlining implementation. Take the time to design a well-thought-out plan with achievable milestones. Engage a cross-functional internal team to ensure configuration and rollout works for the entire organisation.
- Emphasize the necessity of change. The reward for sticking with the status quo isn’t success or longevity. It’s irrelevance. A lack of visibility, efficiency, and accuracy, plus little access to real-time data will impede growth, increase the likelihood of undiscovered fraud, and elevate the risk of business failure.
Change Creates Creative Solutions
For accounting professionals, change offers the chance to be more creative, come up with new solutions, and grow both personally and professionally. For organizations, change necessitates agility and flexibility, qualities crucial to thriving in the future economy.
Transitioning from a traditional, labor-intensive, record-to-report process to tools that enable Continuous Accounting is useful to both the business and accountants. Organisations benefit from increased visibility, real-time data that drives smart (and timely) decisions, improved analysis and insight, and a clear ROI, with less burnout and turnover.
Moving beyond the manual and transactional enables accountants to spend more time on meaningful work. Instead of entering and aggregating data, accounting professionals can finally elevate their roles within the organisation.
They become trusted business partners that are looked to for more than just last month’s data. They have a ‘seat at the table,’ and are known as capable analysts, forecasters, and subject matter experts, helping the entire business succeed, now and into the future.