Embracing Automation in Finance: A Q&A With Limelight’s Professional Services Team
Limelight Software is a web-based platform that empowers the Office of Finance to automate their planning, forecasting and reporting. Our professional services team combines its technical and accounting skills sets to deliver automated solutions to finance and accounting teams every day.
We spoke with several senior members of Limelight’s Professional Services Team, some with CPA designation, to collect their thoughts.
Read what they have to say about Sage Intacct’s e-book CFO 3.0 – Digital Transformation Beyond Financial Management.
Where would you categorize the CFOs you have worked with at Limelight?
Most of the CFOs we have encountered are either of the 1.0 or 2.0 variety. We primarily work with organizations that want to automate manual, low-value tasks and are coming out of the manual world of Excel. Increasingly, however, we are working more with executives that have worked with technology in the past, and understand the value of using technology to improve efficiency and accuracy and increase their team’s productivity.
These CFOs are really proficient in all areas of the business. They are not only good with accounting, but they are also good with business counseling, business acumen, and they know the industry. Based on their evolving business needs, they understand there is a need for Limelight to improve their current processes and inefficiencies.
We have not encountered too many that would be classified as 3.0 (Yet!)
Why do you think they are in this category versus others?
We think a lot of it comes from the traditional role of the CFO in an organization, which is at its core running the finances of a business. Many CFOs started out as analysts, directors or as CPA/CMAs and have used the traditional tools of accountants—namely spreadsheets.
The CFO category they are in may also depend on their industry, industry trends, where they are in their career, their past experiences with software as well as how open they are to adopting new technology.
As technology has grown in all aspects of business, it's natural for the finance function to begin getting more exposure to how technology can make their lives easier.
How can CFOs address any digital skills gaps in their department or team?
It's an obvious answer to say "training" here, but that is not correct in our opinion—at least not in a general sense. Training is a good first introduction to a new concept, technology or function but it has to be applicable to a team member's role and preferably can be put into practice immediately.
This is also related to change management, communication and educating the team on the benefits of adopting technology given today’s evolving business needs. Identifying if there is any manual work that is taking up a considerable amount of time. Next is to identify automation tools to see if they can alleviate some or all of these manual processes. The tools should be something easy for the team to adopt. Nothing overly complicated or else no one will like or want to use it and eventually revert back to manual tasks, wasting more time.
What happens if your organization is not quite ready to address the digital skills gap, or you don’t have buy-in from higher-ups?
One of the single major causes of project failure is a lack of executive buy-in, the reason being that many projects have Change Management as one of their requirements. Organizations have inertia, or resistance to change, sometimes because of complacency and sometimes risk aversion. Simply adding a new piece of software to an organization will not improve efficiency if the underlying process itself is deficient.
If you know a certain team will be executing most of the tasks using the software, you can empower them to have a voice in the selection process. Consult with them, engage them, and involve them in the assessment phase where you are collecting and comparing software.
As leaders of the organization, it is up to the CFO and upper management to address these gaps and promote the change. Buy-in starts at the top and without the proper support from upper management, the rest of the organization cannot move forward and close these gaps. Meeting other similar organizations to hear how much automation helps to close these gaps will let team members realize the benefits.
How can CFOs engage both the younger and older generation of professionals to embrace automation?
The best way to do this is to show how these innovations can make their jobs easier, and allow them to be more productive. There are a lot of overly-qualified accounting teams doing manual work in Excel, which is not a good use of their skills. However, that's how they learned to do their work, and it's natural for people to fear the ramifications of significant parts of their day to day work being automated.
On the other hand, if automation is making the finance team’s lives easier and simpler, then younger and older generations of professionals will eventually embrace it. If the automation tools are easy to use and don't require a long learning curve, then normal human behaviour is to adopt it. Everyone tends to reject changes at first but if the change can immediately help address pain points, then people will quickly like it. Once they embrace this change and leverage the benefits, they will realize how their roles will evolve to support the business in a positive way.
What would you say to those finance leaders who are apprehensive about automated technology?
In the 1990s and 2000s, many organizations grappled with the concept of outsourcing. Historically, the idea of entire functions being done outside the four walls of a company was unthinkable. Today, outsourcing is the norm rather than the exception.
Automation is an inevitable march forward - and organizations that don't evaluate its potential are going to fall behind the competition. That doesn't mean that every latest buzzword is applicable to your business or your specific challenges, and it's something a forward-looking leader needs to evaluate as part of their role.
It all comes down to how you want to use your time. Generating a report in the office could take hours, while automated technology could complete the task in seconds. Automation can help finance teams spend time on higher priorities.
What is your advice for finance leaders who want to move to CFO 3.0?
You don't need to be a tech expert or software developer to move to CFO 3.0. The question a leader should always be asking when facing a business problem or process is "Surely, there must be a better way to do this..." rather than "Well ... this is how we've always done it." Being incurious about how things can be improved is how organizations stagnate.
We encourage CFOs to be open to change, talk to others and learn from their stories and experiences. Go to conferences and look to other finance leaders who are considered CFO 3.0s, and ask how they got there. Learning from others is a great way to fast-track knowledge.
Anything else you wanted to add?
Change is hard for everyone in the beginning. Adding automation to the role of the CFO can seem daunting, after all, their primary responsibility is to ensure the organization's finances are handled properly. That is true, but it is also the job of the CFO and all management to ensure their company is well-positioned to be competitive in the future.
Learn more about how Limelight is helping finance teams automate their planning and reporting here.
Madonna Dennis is the Digital Marketing Content Coordinator at Limelight. She is responsible for content that helps the Office of Finance discover the benefits of automating their FP&A process