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Using Automation to Supercharge FP&A Teams

Using Automation to Supercharge FP&A Teams

Automated systems for finance and accounting teams can take repetitive and time and resource-intensive tasks and put them on autopilot, freeing up work hours and bandwidth.

Determining whether automation is the next step for your business may mean you’re already behind. The pandemic has caused workers and businesses to adapt and automation tools can help get firms up to speed.

Automation tools aren’t designed to replace employees, but rather augment them, supercharge their productivity and output, and ultimately lead to better decision-making.

In a new world where workforces are decentralized and processes are scattered, time is an organization’s most valuable resource. Businesses can’t afford to overlook the potential benefits automation offers.

Over the next several years, the new technologies available to finance and accounting teams will do more to advance the field than anything has in decades. We’re on the precipice of a big evolution.

Teams now have payroll, business intelligence, inventory management, and financial planning and analysis (FP&A) technology that can employ robotic processing, artificial intelligence, and automation to save businesses significant resources. Since these technologies and tools are often delivered using a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, there’s less hardware to invest in and fewer IT staff to employ.

Many businesses may have tools available to them that can provide tremendous benefits, but they may not yet realize it.

Getting started

How do you know if your company actually needs or stands to benefit from automation? If your team is over-reliant on spreadsheets, spends hours manually entering data, and has trouble processing and disseminating that data to decision-makers, you could be a prime candidate.

Luckily, the framework for getting started toward automated solutions can be fairly simple:

  1. Identify pain points in your processes and what needs to be fixed.
  2. Review the available options, including features and pricing, and see what others in your industry are using.
  3. Establish your top choices, create a budget, and get funding for the transition.
  4. Select an implementation partner.

There are myriad options out there for cloud-based automation solutions, no matter the size of your business.

Automating accounting

The month-end close process for accounting teams is one area that’s ripe for automation. While teams traditionally rely on Excel to facilitate their processes, new tools are on the market and stand to make a big difference in how effective and efficient they can be.

While accounting teams are typically slammed at the end of every month, automated solutions can make accounting an ongoing process — booking entries as they occur, smoothing workflows, and minimizing pressure on employees. Tools can automate key elements of the month-end close process to eliminate reliance on spreadsheets, provide management with greater control and visibility, and increase productivity by eliminating tedious or useless steps. These benefits help ensure there is less room for manual error and higher quality financial information.

Even so, research from Robert Half finds less than half (48%) of companies don’t use automation tools for general ledger reconciliations, potentially impacting bottom lines. As processes such as account reconciliation can eat up tons of time, some teams find that they’re scrambling to get to the analysis and reporting portion of their workflows. This is where new tools and tech can help to standardize and automate journal entries, identify bottlenecks in existing processes, and improve reporting methods.

Leveraging CPMs

Analysis and reporting, commonly among the last steps of the “record-to-report” assembly line process, is another area where automation tools can provide a productivity boost.

FP&A teams often struggle with the data consolidation processes, data inconsistencies, a lack of data security, and being in a constant state of financial planning. A majority of executives overseeing these systems say these processes are time-draining, labor-intensive, and unintuitive.

This is where a corporate performance management (CPM) system enters the fray. CPM refers to the metrics and processes used to manage the operational performance of a business and can become a powerful tool for consolidating, planning, and reporting. A CPM tool can bring a disciplined approach to data management and decentralize planning and reporting.

The basic features of a CPM tool typically include the ability to develop “what-if scenarios” to foresee future issues, standardize financial and operational planning, plan and budget for workforce needs or changes, and create custom reporting tools and dashboards.

The business world has changed and utilizing a new generation of powerful technologies and tools will be paramount to finding success in a post-pandemic economy.

 

Written by Michael Poveda. This article was originally published by CFO.com.

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