How Finance Can Accelerate Digital Transformation—Even in Complex ERP Environments

Digital transformation comes in different forms, and for many organizations, “rip and replace” isn’t an option. Barbara Larson explains how Workday’s enterprise finance solution empowers finance teams to deliver business insights and strategic planning within multi-system environments.

A business leader’s ability to successfully navigate change is a requirement for the job—but no one could have predicted the level of disruption and uncertainty leaders have faced in 2020 with the global pandemic. 

Yet even before the pandemic, a variety of technological, societal, economical, and political factors were already percolating and creating a perfect storm for disruption. These forces continue to challenge the way organizations think about doing business, raising many questions about what the new normal will look like when the storm settles.

And, with new ways of working and a reliance on remote access and mobile technology, there’s likely to be additional scrutiny on how organizations manage risk. Even under more normal circumstances, agility is a defining characteristic of businesses that are better than most in their ability to anticipate what’s coming, act quickly when faced with change, and decisively respond to the demands of customers, market shifts, and competitive threats. 

Today, more than ever, agility is the safest harbor of all.  

The Many Shades of Transformation

Becoming an agile organization is often a work in progress, but in today’s world, digital transformation is key. And, business leaders are focusing their digital transformation efforts on creating a cloud- and digitally-enabled finance organization. 

However, many finance teams, particularly in large conglomerates, are saddled with multiple systems consisting of rigid data models, disparate architectures, and static siloed data. They’re struggling to respond to change or any sort of disruption—increasing risk at a time when they need agility the most. 

For example, many manufacturing and supply chain systems have yet to achieve necessary maturity in the cloud, and CFOs and CIOs in conglomerates must still rely on their existing operational enterprise resource planning (ERP) investments, forcing finance teams to make the best of rigid on-premises systems.  

Over the last few years, I’ve spoken to many executives from conglomerates in this position. While each customer’s Workday deployment is certainly unique, there are three common scenarios where they’ve been able to leverage our enterprise finance solution to transform their organizations:

Create a corporate finance layer. Many organizations have accrued a vast array of operational ERP systems, business processes, and operating models. The desired goal may be a single, consolidated ERP system, but the complexity and diversification of the business may make this goal unachievable, at least for the short term. In this scenario, the Workday enterprise finance solution acts as a layer on top of the operational ERP and connecting systems, helping our customers take advantage of agile planning and forecasting, real-time financial consolidation, and advanced reporting and analytics. This solution can also support the requirements of the corporate entity for processes like miscellaneous receivables, asset management, and indirect procurement.

Centralize finance and accounting. For many companies, retaining operational ERPs for industry-specific processes, such as logistics, merchandising, supply chain, manufacturing, and revenue management is key. These organizations still have the goal of creating a modern environment for financial management, in addition to enterprise planning and management reporting. In this scenario, the Workday enterprise finance solution is used to standardize and centralize some or all of the planning and accounting processes. Customers can consolidate their disparate planning and accounting systems and choose to retire these. 

Support complex mergers and acquisitions and divestitures. An organization may spin up a new business unit to take advantage of emerging opportunities, make acquisitions to solidify its position in a consolidating industry, or choose to divest a non-core business to maximize shareholder value. In these scenarios, the Workday enterprise finance solution delivers a native cloud financial platform that can be deployed to meet shared targets with an improved time-to-implement in stark contrast to the delivery of many traditional legacy solutions currently being deployed today. 

“We've democratized and decentralized access to data with the financial data model in Workday. ” 

Ray Alwani Director, Business Systems Process and Strategy ENMAX

Enterprise Finance and the Path to Agility

Regardless of the complexity of their IT infrastructure, the finance leaders I speak to are increasingly being asked for the data that’s going to help steer their enterprises through the current storm. 

For finance, that means having complete visibility and meaningful insight across the entire enterprise. It means having the ability to create forecasts and models with varying degrees of scale and complexity. On another level it means consolidating and closing lines of business in one place and with rich dimensionality for all reporting. Last, but certainly not least, it’s about having access to people, financial, and operational data to make fast, accurate decisions.

ENMAX, a Canadian utilities company, was able to benefit from Workday’s cloud-based financial management, planning, and analytics applications to strengthen the agility, security, compliance, and controls, and eliminate the need for server maintenance. Retaining existing investments in operational systems but moving from an outdated back-office finance system, the company has been able to reduce the time spent performing the quarterly close by 33%, reduce ledger accounts from 1,500 to almost 329, and increase the strategic work delivered by finance teams by 30%.

Ray Alwani, director, business systems process and strategy at ENMAX, explains: “We've democratized and decentralized access to data with the financial data model in Workday. We've learned over time that we weren't just purchasing a finance system or a planning system; we were purchasing a different way of working. The continuous optimization of the data has really changed the way that we organize ourselves.”

As Workday continues our rapid growth into different industries, we speak to leaders who want many different things from their technology and its provider, but all are united in their need for good quality data to make better, faster decisions. 

Shaking off the shackles of legacy technology is tough, but shifting to an enterprise finance solution that was built for the cloud and designed for analysis can truly transform your finance function in a world where change is increasingly inevitable.

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