It’s not uncommon to think of finance operations as part of the back office. Stakeholders regularly get excited about sales forecasts and revenue trends but rarely get as animated about days sales outstanding (DSO) behavior, working capital forecasts and credit risk exposures. Unlike revenue forecasts, finance reports have been inherently complex, difficult to distill and challenging to action without delving into third order details.
But new technologies are opening a new window into the world of finance, and they are coming to market at a time when margin pressures are increasing, capital markets are in deep shock and global liquidity continues to be a large concern. Forward-looking CFOs are catalyzing new ways to manage and run the business, driven off dynamic and easy-to-distill actionable views of the business. And for good measure: an organization’s ability to respond quickly and decisively is becoming fundamental to corporate performance. And agility comes from insights – insights that are too often locked up in data across multiple automation systems strung around the enterprise.
Behind this movement, two key trends are converging and driving the adoption of new software tools now becoming increasingly popular in corporations across the globe. First, cloud computing platform technology has matured to the point that it is now mainstream, and has fundamentally lowered the barriers to scale and made new solutions instantly horizontal and global for enterprise customers.
The other trend is the increasing “consumerization” of enterprise software. The ease of use and flexibility that we are accustomed to with personal consumer applications has now come through to the enterprise. The option of viewing core operational metrics in a tablet-optimized, interactive and rich multimedia application with an almost-addictive user interface is fast replacing the traditional world of reviewing Excel files off a projector. These trends impact how organizations view their technology deployments.
The Quest to Uncover Hidden Trends
Today, new cloud computing-based applications are re-aggregating the intelligence that was lost when business processes were chunked off in bits and pieces and neatly folded into pre-packaged software worlds such as ERP, CRM and HRO. The reality is business processes don’t fold into clean parcels that can be hyphened off into different containers.
An OTC (order to cash) process, for instance, spans CRM to ERP to 3PL to RMS. Dynamic credit analysis at order time can drive bad debt reduction at collections. Predictive analytics of payment performance can help identify high-risk customers. Days past due (DPD) modeling can drive more accurate cash forecasting, and in turn working capital optimization. In each of these cases, the data exists – but is invariably locked away across different and multiple applications such as CRM, ERP, Excel and Outlook.
In the past, trying to pull all this information together in a meaningful fashion has been challenging. To start, the multi-application data spread and the cascading-stack depth of data creates a noise-to-signal ratio problem, and without the right application, makes it difficult to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. In addition, root cause analysis of systemic issues doesn’t follow pre-set and previously known paths, and static representations of enterprise data are useless. The need is for an interactive application that dynamically responds to the changing queries of the user as they uncover hidden trends and seek new intelligence.
Solutions that Tie Relevant Data Together
Another problem is that consumer applications have changed the baseline for user interfaces. We want and expect an insanely intuitive and deeply addictive interface that allows the user to click and drill through to the right information nuggets without having to go through week-long training classes. And for corporate IT teams, the prospect of yet another deeply embedded, maintenance-intensive, complex implementation, on-premise software isn’t exactly a welcome sight. What’s needed instead is a nimble, flexible software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that is easy to onboard, inexpensive to run, and doesn’t require a systems-down upgrade every nine months.
As it turns out, all of this is possible today with nimble cloud computing-based applications for finance. And forward-looking CFOs are moving beyond ERP and the associated segmented data streams to nimble, low IT footprint applications that can tie the relevant data together, distill key actionable intelligence and drive proactive workflow.
In the OTC world, corporations are automatically tracking six-month rolling averages on average payment performance by accounts across business units (and ERP). They are using that intelligence and others like standard deviation in past payment behavior to develop more accurate cash forecasting and drive better business decisions. Entire accounts receivable (AR) portfolios are being broken up into risk-based segments that are based on intelligence and risk criteria that is distilled real-time from the data spread across enterprise systems. As a result, AR departments are now utilizing customer treatment strategies for each segment – and for the first time interacting in new ways with entirely different customers – and reducing revenue leakage, decreasing DSO and optimizing working capital performance.
The timing couldn’t be better. As the first wave of large ERP-centric automations are nearly complete across global corporations, the low hanging fruit is mostly off the tree. That clears the path to the next layer of value drivers, and the focus is shifting from pure automation to leveraging the significant amount of data that now exists in the various automation systems in a corporation and distilling actionable insights that can drive increases in shareholder value. More and more corporations are now turning to new cloud computing based-technologies, and it is changing the face of the finance function.
Sanjay Srivastava is president & CEO of Akritiv Technologies, a Genpact company. He leads the overall direction and management of the company, and brings to Akritiv a diverse set of experiences across enterprise applications and the cloud computing stack.