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How Automation Is Changing the Function of Finance

It used to be that to make it in finance, you just had to have a head for numbers. But like how paper ledgers gave way to spreadsheets, spreadsheets are starting to give way to a host of automation solutions and trends that will ultimately redefine the function of the finance department — and free finance up for more strategic business thinking.

In fact, for many top finance departments, the future is already here. According to the Agile Finance Revealed report from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and Oracle, agile finance leaders are far more likely than traditional finance leaders to have already implemented cloud-based enterprise performance management (51% vs 17%) and emerging technologies like robotic process automation (44% vs 12%).

The trends driving automation

Why is automation so important to building tomorrow’s finance department? It comes down to time. Finance is being called on more and more by the C-suite and departments like sales, marketing, HR and operations to provide raw data, as well as the sophisticated analysis to make sense of it all. Because of this, finance now has a major role to play in driving the direction of the business.

However, all that data can be overwhelming. Automated ERP and CRM systems provide a wealth of structured data about customers, employees, products and sales, while unstructured data from non-standard sources like social media, search, mobile technologies, apps, the Internet of Things and even partners provide plenty of opportunity for additional insights.

With all this data flooding in by the terabyte, finance teams can struggle to keep up using spreadsheets and manual methods. Without automation, they must spend all their hours collecting data and ensuring data quality, leaving little time left over for analysis, reporting and strategic recommendations.

But automation changes everything. Now these siloed manual finance processes can give way to cloud-based platforms that vastly simplify reporting, planning, forecasting and analytics. Meanwhile, self-service dashboards give other departments access to the data they need instantly without taking up the finance department’s time and resources. Finally, artificial intelligence can find patterns across complex data sets to unearth insights never before possible.

What change looks like

According to Accenture’s Finance 2020 report, automation will eliminate up to 40% of the transactional accounting work the finance department does today. When nearly half your work becomes automated, it will open your team up to creating business value through decision support, predictive analytics and performance management.

In turn, automation may call for a different mix of skill sets and employees. There will still be a need for accountants and analysts, but new technologies will mean the finance department may also add strategists, data scientists, IT professionals, marketers and entrepreneurs to the mix.

Giving finance a seat at the table

Automation and machine learning will replace time-intensive, low-value and backward-looking accounting tasks in the near future. This means your finance team will be spending more of their time on high-value, forward-looking business building — and that your team has the potential to be one of your company’s most important competitive advantages.

While the implementation of automation in accounting in most businesses is still in the early stages, the future is coming faster than you think. The more you can integrate accounting automation now, the better positioned your finance department will be to become a crucial strategic partner for your CEO and business in the days ahead.

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