How to Make Finance Transformation Work for You

A successful finance transformation reduces reliance on manual, outdated, and low-value processes, empowering FP&A teams to focus on strategic finance initiatives.

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If digital transformation for finance still strikes you as a “someday” initiative, recent survey data suggests that your someday should probably come sooner rather than later—assuming, that is, you want to remain competitive against your peers.

According to industry experts, most CFOs are investing in digital transformation. They plan to implement cloud and analytics solutions—two hallmarks of modern finance environments aimed at enabling not just a more agile finance function but also a more responsive and data-driven enterprise.

Poised to Be a Partner

Digital transformation is a lynchpin in CFO’s efforts to become a more active and valued partner to the business. Finance stands at the center of the business, a digital clearinghouse for operational and transactional data and a strategic hub for driving business decisions and shaping investment priorities. If finance can make better, more insightful use of all that data, then the business wins. It becomes more agile and responsive. What’s more, pandemic disruption exposed business vulnerabilities that previously may have been hidden or at least ignored, making agility a business imperative.

Are You a Candidate for Transformation?

With CFOs prioritizing digital transformation as a near-term investment priority, chances are you have been considering it already. But to make the move—and to convince other C-level execs that the effort is worth it—look for some key indicators signaling that the time for digital evolution is right, such as:

  • Lagging performance. What does this look like? Late nights, working weekends, long waits for ad hoc reports, and lengthy closes. Time for a change.
  • Disconnect between finance and the business. Siloed systems and processes often lead to a finance team that’s out of touch with the day-to-day business, resulting in departments keeping their own rogue budgets.
  • Changes in the business. Divestiture, mergers, acquisitions, and changes in leadership often are disruptive on their own, yet they often provide opportunities for transformation.
  • Skills gaps. The skills you hired for just a few years ago (prowess with Excel, anyone?) are giving way to new skills such as data analysis and strategic business planning.
  • Outdated technology and manual processes. Legacy systems were designed when business was more predictable, and the processes built around them just can’t keep up with today’s pace of change.
  • GAAP changes, regulatory updates, and governance problems. Sometimes it takes change imposed externally to get everyone onboard.

Start Where It Makes Sense

But where to begin? Change is always a challenge, even when stakeholders know their current processes are inefficient, costing the business time and money. But the experience of Workday Adaptive Planning customers has proven that you can roll out finance transformation on your own terms by making improvements that allow you to work the way your business works. In fact, successful transformations often begin by focusing on contained, achievable goals that can be implemented with minimal disruption to ongoing processes.

The goals can appear more near-term, such as cutting close and forecasting cycles down to a day or setting up self-service reporting for non-finance stakeholders. Others might seem further off: integrating and analyzing information in real time and achieving instant insights, for instance. Or, transacting events as they occur.

In a transformed environment, however, all those goals can be similarly achievable because a modern finance environment is built to support all of them. The idea is deceptively straightforward: Once you implement a finance transformation—with a single source of truth, a continuous planning workflow, and the ability to extend financial and operational planning to the edges of the business—all those levers are at your disposal. Then it becomes a matter of choosing how you prioritize your improvements.

Top-Down and Bottom-Up Transformation

Transformation is most effective when it’s the result of both top-down and bottom-up initiatives. Enterprise-led (or top-down) initiatives usually focus on targeting big, definable opportunities enabled by a culture of innovation. For this, enterprise leaders need to create the technology and data environment necessary for stakeholders to fully participate in and benefit from transformation. When orchestrated by finance, this effort can also ensure that activities at all levels support the corporate plan.

Once you implement a finance transformation—with a single source of truth, a continuous planning workflow, and the ability to extend financial and operational planning to the edges of the business—all those levers are at your disposal.

“Citizen-led” (or bottom-up) initiatives involve innovations driven by stakeholders beyond finance who participate actively in planning, budgeting, and forecasting using processes they help shape to conform to how their piece of the business works. No one knows better where opportunities exist for streamlining than the individuals whose day is impacted by planning and its implications. Working with finance, these stakeholders can help identify use cases with achievable priorities, including:

  • Automating processes. Data is the currency of agility but consolidating, processing, and analyzing it takes far more time than it should. Finance transformation requires automating repeatable tasks that tie up talent and prevent finance professionals from spending more time analyzing data to develop confident forecasts, modeling what-if scenarios to understand the implications of potential decisions, and generating reports from real-time data to give decision-makers up-to-the-minute views of business performance. This can’t be achieved by slight tweaks to calcified processes; rather, it requires a full slate of modern technologies including advanced visualization and machine learning.
  • Cost savings. By reducing or eliminating cycles that don’t add strategic value, organizations can carve costs out of their operations and give business stakeholders more time to do their “day jobs.”
  • Upskilling the workforce. New technologies demand new skills, and incentivizing workers to learn digital skills will help create a culture of innovation that will pay dividends long into the future.
  • Broad adoption. Score early wins by bringing more participants into key financial processes, especially those that end users (the aforementioned citizens) have helped define themselves. This breeds ownership and accountability for the numbers, and that in turn leads to a more agile and responsive finance function.

Your Transformation, Your Terms

Where and how you choose to implement your own finance transformation depends on the unique characteristics of your business. It also depends on the solutions you deploy. Modern, cloud-based finance solutions are designed to ease the switch from old, inefficient finance work to new, data-driven planning, forecasting, budgeting, and reporting. The best of them enable a predictive planning environment that helps decision-makers anticipate what’s next, releasing resources to engage in more strategic activities and empowering CFOs to achieve their goal of serving as a valued partner to the business.

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