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How AI and machine learning can benefit finance teams

Finance teams are integral and essential to the smooth running of any business. It’s no longer as simple as responsibility over regulatory compliance, financial reporting, payroll, and public interest – but so much more. The role of the finance team is beginning to increase in scope, and this means that finance professionals are beginning to be concerned about what they can’t see or control.

Finance teams of the past have left the company’s decisions around implementing new technology to others, seeing it as beyond their remit. If the IT was not broken, then the finance team was certainly not looking for a way to fix it. Now, however, the situation has changed. As finance teams need greater insight into the way everything is running across the organisation, making sure they have access to the latest, most innovative technologies should be a pressing issue.  

Indeed, in many of the conversations we have with businesses, a common theme is the rapid pace of change fuelled by technology. A recent survey of global finance leaders found that when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), 89% of 700 finance professionals have yet to use it in their work. The survey also showed that only 11% of finance professionals have implemented AI at scale across the finance function, while 56% are not deploying AI at all at this stage.

Yet the report also notes that organisations that reported growing revenue are more likely to be using AI than those with flat or declining revenue. This means there is a strategic business imperative to adopt and adapt to new technologies such as AI. It is for this reason that AI – and more specifically machine learning – is already taking off in customer service, energy, health care, manufacturing and other industries.

Technology that lives up to expectations

From Alexa to Siri to Cortana, we have gotten used to chatbots, enhanced with machine learning, guiding us through everyday tasks. Anything from online banking, booking hotels, finding the cheapest airfares to looking for jobs can be done by asking our virtual assistants. As a result, our expectations for technology are incredibly high – and that expectation transfers into our business lives. It means employees, customers, clients and business partners are expecting more than clunky, slow, outdated legacy systems. Business customers vote with their wallets, as we know only too well from a number of high-profile organisations that are no longer here.

So how do we get the right technologies into the business? The foundational technologies, such as ERP software, need to be flexible and agile, so that emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning can be embedded into the foundations. This is why the cloud is vital: in the most modern Cloud ERP systems, AI and machine learning are already embedded, creating the best possible system for the job, and a cloud infrastructure fit for the future. This is now going one step further as emerging tech such as blockchain, the Internet of Things, and cybersecurity technologies are also built into cloud ERP systems.

But how exactly are these technologies benefitting finance? Cloud ERP technologies with added AI and machine learning means finance professionals can reduce the amount of manual transactions posted, close their books faster, and reduce the cost of regulatory compliance. With these tasks taken care of, they’re free to work on more strategic projects for their organisation. And often, the outputs from more strategic work are stronger. After all, being strategic means making use of data; data that machine learning capabilities can collect, analyse and spot anomalies and patterns within at faster and more accurate rates than humans ever could.  

As the data pool increases over time, the system will not only report what’s happening now, but make better predictions of what will happen in the future based on past performance and any number of other factors. Imagine the possibilities when it comes to financial fraud detection, process improvement and integrated reporting. Finance, as we know it, as well as auditing, tax and advisory services, will evolve dramatically, so standing still is not an option.

Forging ahead

So how do we move into a world where finance teams can benefit from AI and machine learning? To get the most from these solutions, we must be comfortable with being uncomfortable, unleashing our natural curiosity and skepticism to analyse and review emerging technologies that will enhance the finance team’s partnership and influence within the business.

Finance teams are in a great place to have a broad perspective on a business’ historic trends, but the possibilities of taking this perspective and using it to become true co-pilots of the organisation – are endless.

Christophe Eouzan, Chief Accounting Officer at Telcom operator Orange, needed a way to free up both his and the wider corporate finance team’s time so they could focus on higher-level work – work that would be more valuable in supporting a company-wide transformation initiative. Turning to an ERP Cloud solution to take care of time-consuming, non-strategic tasks like requisitions, purchase orders, and vendor invoices, Orange has been able to free up finance back-office personnel. Now Eouzan and his team have more time in their day to focus on more important, value-added tasks, such as forecasting, supplier transaction transparency and building a digital working environment. Immediate benefits aside, this also enabled Eouzan to look to the future by attracting a new digitally enabled workforce.

Finance and other leaders in the business can work together to develop new growth opportunities, products, and offerings that will minimise disruption and increase customer and client satisfaction. But for that to happen, we need finance professionals to take a seat at the table and become partners in making key decisions about where the business is headed. This approach is not only about tech skills. For financial professionals to succeed in their expanded roles, they will need strong communications skills to be able to tell a compelling story when providing a recommendation or reviewing a report. The next generation of finance leaders will need people, leadership and communication skills, as well as analytical skills, to influence decisions and create value for the business.

This will be no mean feat for finance. There is no silver bullet to achieving the future finance department – and these skills won’t come overnight. One thing, though, is certain: bringing technology into the everyday life of the finance department, and marrying this with strategy and finance itself, is crucial.

 

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Debbie Green

Debbie Green

VP of Applications

Oracle

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London

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Finance 2.0

A community for discussing the application of Web 2.0 technologies to financial services.


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