By Adam Kuritzky, Vice President Sales , Proactis
Covid-19 has forced businesses to adapt, and many have relied heavily on Finance departments to help withstand the challenges and uncertainty. Adjusting to the post-pandemic reality just throws another curve ball for the way Finance teams are evolving. I think we can all agree that to survive a rapid shift of uncontrollable events, agility is the name of the game.
At its simplest, an agile organization is one that doesn’t just cope with pressures, but improves from dealing with them. While being agile is about responding and changing, it’s a mistake to think this means chaos and unpredictability.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, an agile business needs solid foundations. Key parts of the setup must be stable and reliable to give the rest of the business the freedom to make quick changes and decisions to make the most of opportunities or deal with unforeseen challenges.
What does this mean for Finance?
The Finance department is a great example of this combination of solid and flexible foundation. Having a solid grip on finances makes it easier for the rest of the business to respond to changes.
For example, imagine if a supplier loses one of its other customers and has a glut of components. It may offer you first refusal at a heavily reduced price for quick delivery. You not only need to know whether taking up the offer will be profitable, but also how it will affect cash flow, taking into account both the extra/early payment to the supplier and the costs of warehousing and storage. If your Finance department doesn’t have this information readily available, you can’t make an informed decision and you’re left making an impulsive choice whether to take a risk or miss the opportunity.
Working with technology
Part of making a business more agile is harnessing technology. With Finance departments, automation is key, particularly for capturing information. Using the right Accounts Payable solution
means you can not only process AP documents such as invoices and payment approvals more quickly, but you can access the information right away from anywhere - whether in the office, on the move or at home, staff can still handle invoices, POs, and budget requirements.
Switching to project-focused
Technology doesn’t remove the human element from your business: for your business to be agile, your people and teams need to be agile as well. For a Finance department, this can be a challenge at first, particularly if staff are used to repetitive, manual workflows and resistant to change.
An agile workforce is partly about the individuals. You’ll need people who are open to new ideas, willing to embrace technology, and prepared to work in teams where they must trust colleagues to support them.
But being agile is also about structures and the organization of staff. You will need to develop teams with a mix of skills and the flexibility to take on different responsibilities for a particular project.
You may need to refocus your meetings policies so that staff get together more frequently, but for a shorter period with a more specific, narrower agenda covering short-term goals and progress. It’s an approach sometimes described as Scrum teams. You’ll also need to allow more flexibility and autonomy in your teams, with management’s role concentrating on more clearly defining specific tasks and goals, while letting the team have more control over how to achieve them.
Data-centric is an approach where you treat data as your key asset. The key is that everyone that needs access can access and harness the data, without limitations stemming from their physical location, computer platform or software. When done right, it removes administrative barriers, for example the ridiculous scenario of somebody not being able to make an informed decision because “somebody else has the figures.”
Changing the mind-set
Moving to a more agile approach can meet resistance from staff, but the key is to understand what’s really beneath their fears.
For example, arguably the biggest advantage of Accounts Payable Automation
is that it makes the most of your staff. There’s a bit of a myth that any form of automation is about making humans redundant but this is certainly not the case here.
Instead, automation takes care of mundane, repetitive tasks that don’t require any special skills or knowledge. That leaves your staff able to concentrate on tasks that humans do better, for example using interpersonal skills to decide the most effective way to chase up a late payment from a specific client, or spotting patterns in spending that may reveal a problem or potential improvement.
This means you may need to reassure staff that the changes in approach are actually about making better use of their skills rather than trying to replace them.
Similarly, automated invoice management often allows a self-service model where staff and clients can access data about particular transactions and check on the latest status, rather than wait for your Finance team to respond to a query. This can be a challenge to people in your Finance team who’ve developed a “gatekeeper” mentality. The trick here is to concentrate on the talent and ability they’ll bring to their refocused workflow, rather than let them dwell on what they see as their existing signals of status.