The pressures facing financial directors seem to grow on a daily basis and with these pressures come extra responsibilities. Today, FDs play a greater role in the strategic direction of their businesses, while still needing to manage everyday financial tasks that take up so much of their time.
However, whether providing guidance on entering new markets, helping to introduce new products or identifying a new subset of customers, time is a precious commodity that FDs never seem to have enough of. As such, finding ways to increase the efficiency of financial processes and create extra capacity for this ever-expanding array of tasks is crucial.
How to ascertain accurate financial information – and climb up the career ladder
It is my experience that if you are able to streamline your financial information gathering you will also have a firm grasp on delivering strategic value to your organisation. However reporting clear financial information is not always easy with many FDs having to rely on multiple, disparate sources of information. By moving to a centralised hub that includes all of a business’ data, including financial records, sales activity and customer interactions, you can build a clear picture of how your business is performing. This will enable you to make educated decisions that can ultimately help steer your business in the right direction.
The personal growth opportunity is not one to ignore. It’s long been acknowledged that the FD or CFO is increasingly directing the business in close cooperation with the rest of the C-Suite. Indeed, the last annual FTSE 100 CEO Tracker found that more than half of CEOs in the FTSE 100 are from a financial background, which goes to show the success achieved when FDs simultaneously focus on being the provider of financial information and contributing to hitting key business goals.
Three steps to streamline everyday processes
It’s all very well saying FDs need to become more strategic and do more with the information available, but how should you actually go about it? The essence lies in effectively automating much of the ‘task-led’ work and thus freeing up time to concentrate on the strategic elements of driving your business forward.
Here are my three suggested key factors to making everyday processes and requests easier to handle:
1. Consolidate, standardise, and automate core processes
It’s critical that everyday finance processes run smoothly to maximise staff productivity. The more you can consolidate, standardise and automate these, the more efficient your finance organisation will be. Your staff will also spend less time on correcting human errors, repeating manual processes etc.
2. Improve processes and reduce costs - continuously
Your finance department should be an environment full of small, but continuous improvements to processes. Regular assessment of your department and activities will show you what can be improved upon through new systems or procedural shifts, and will keep you (and your department) on your toes.
3. Use technology to help the business grow
Wasting time searching and reconciling information on disparate systems can be frustrating, but most worryingly it can cause the wrong decisions to be made – using one, integrated system tailored to the needs of the business can prevent this. By making use of the information that has already been gathered, you can focus on making better decisions rather than gathering the information that will help you to grow your business in a more effective way. This helps you to drive corporate strategies for growth.
How technology can save your business money
Let’s take a closer look at the third point. By putting the right integrated technology solution in place, FDs can support core business processes and make a crucial contribution to a company’s profitable growth. For example, real-time information and up to date analysis of business processes should not be tasks which you as an FD have to do yourself, either manually or by searching for the data. Once automated, these processes will become more readily available for everybody, from a project manager to executive management. This is a far more streamlined and cost-effective way of working, especially when applied across the company, and through all day-to-day tasks. It will save you time and the business money, and brings information to where it is needed.
The value of generating precise data
But it’s not just about cost savings. Solutions such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software allow your business to make critical business decisions based on more precise, real-time data and intelligence. Integrated systems eliminate silos of information and data, which opens up the ability to share information more effectively across your business. With real-time insight readily available to share with colleagues, you can help your organisation to make better strategic decisions and ultimately deliver longer term profitability. Further to that, during mergers, IPOs or other major business transformations, it is vital that you have correct and precise real-time data available in order to meet information requests from regulatory bodies and other key stakeholders. By having a central repository of real-time data, you can deal with the requests promptly and as importantly, accurately.
I believe that being a strategic FD is all about finding innovative ways to enable fast and accurate strategic decision making for the whole organisation. In the quest to make your operational processes more efficient, an investment in technology to help maximise productivity could play a crucial role in your firm’s success and continued growth. Not only that, but in doing so, you’re underpinning your own career growth – outsource your tasks to ERP, and concentrate on what you do best: strategy.
Onno van der Valk is the financial director at Deltek UK.
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