Three ways to embrace a modern finance landscape
The growth-at-all-costs mentality for software and technology companies has waned for investors. For private and public companies, both markets and investors are now emphasizing strong revenue growth, but with a roadmap to becoming cash flow positive and ultimately, profitability.
In order to adapt to changing conditions, organizations need to use the right tools to modernize finance and remain agile enough to shift and bend with stakeholder goals. While you're thinking about what it will take for your organization to accept a modern finance strategy, consider these three important concepts. For an in-depth look at technology for modern finance teams, download this white paper.
Concept #1: Importance of modern finance to business strategy
While pushing top-line growth and market share is still essential, operating costs are a growing concern. Businesses must now be scaled through M&A, debt financing, and capital markets, instead of just by organic business growth. Macroeconomic factors and external influences are also a concern—from worldwide economic health, market volatility, and low oil prices to the value of equity markets and changing views on acquiring debt.
Cybersecurity concerns permeate the finance function as finance leaders consider the financial impact of a breach, along with the security of the organization’s financial and proprietary data.
Due to the changing landscape of policies, regulations, and enforcement, CFOs are now spending more time on regulatory affairs. Key changes include: Fair Labor Standards Act, Financial Accounting Standards Board revenue recognition, fair value measurements, lease accounting, and the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act.
Because of the uncertainty of the macroeconomic and regulatory environment, transformative initiatves will be critical to adding value across the business and to being a better business partner. Some of these transformation initiatives include reengineering finance processes, improving performance management capabilities, performance-based risk management, IPO readiness and "getting your house in order," as well as general business process improvements.
Concept #2: Current software landscape
While financial data typically originates in financial and operational transaction systems, such as a general ledger or consolidation applications, it inevitably ends up in Microsoft® Excel to augment the system and to conduct ad hoc analysis or data aggregation across unstructured data ecosystems. Once in Excel, the data is available for anyone with access to make changes to the data, charts, and underlying formulas.
A 2013 survey on planning and forecasting revealed that 93 percent of finance managers globally say that they are drowning in desktop spreadsheets. This was especially true in the area of financial planning and budget control, with 75 percent of respondents indicating they used spreadsheets in this area and 74 percent using them in financial reporting and analysis.
While Excel is an excellent tool for individual tactical projects, even the most sophisticated users struggle to perform robust planning and management reporting within a group or across departments. Without a comprehensive audit trail, every user who accesses a spreadsheet represents a potential risk to the integrity of the data it contains and the numbers cannot be trusted. At this point, the entire process becomes contaminated and called into question.
A modern finance platform for performance reporting must provide a data experience and a repeatable reporting framework combining numbers and narrative, improved control of processes to mitigate corporate risk, and a secure, cloud-based platform for finance, internal controls, and risk.
Concept #3: How to modernize finance
It is key that modern finance applications be delivered in the cloud to provide instant and easy access to individuals in any division or company, residing anywhere around the globe. The same type of access is extremely cumbersome and expensive to achieve with on-premise systems that require a complex network and VPN (virtual private network) infrastructure and firewall configurations maintained by large IT staffs.
Companies should look for systems that are designed for business users and don’t require IT involvement, including system administration. These types of user-friendly solutions are more readily adopted, have higher customer satisfaction ratings, and reduce IT overhead for maintenance, changes, and upgrades. Analysts predict that complex on-premise solutions such ERP systems will migrate to the cloud more aggressively due to some of these constraints.
A primary requirement for achieving the promise of transforming finance processes is a data experience platform. A data experience platform is designed to handle both structured system data and unstructured data and provides a single source of the truth for all as-reported data, or said another way, data that is smart.
In order to support modern finance, there are critical functional requirements that a data experience platform must meet. These include a scalable, high performance datastore for a single source of truth, a data collection subsystem for collecting and organizing unstructured data, and smart documents with flexible linking and query connections for connecting narrative and numerical data.
Take these three concepts and use the ideas within them as a guide to modernize your finance team. By focusing on business strategy, the software that you're currently using, and the requirements of the future, you'll be on the cutting edge of finance.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on FEI Daily, Oct. 31, 2016.
About the Author
Mike Rost is a key contributor to product strategy at Workiva and works with business leaders in the areas of financial reporting and compliance. With more than 25 years of experience assisting organizations using technology to optimize business processes, Mike has an extensive background in finance and accounting, corporate performance management, and GRC technology. Mike was a founding member of XBRL International with involvement in the XBRL initiative dating back to 1999. He has also been active in industry associations, including the Open Compliance and Ethics Group (OCEG) and the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Mike has a bachelor's degree in economics and an MBA in marketing and finance from the University of Minnesota.