And for most SMEs, the efficiency savings offered by digital processes are more than enough to justify a move away from their old paper-based methods. It’s the basic ability to get tasks done quicker and for a lower cost that makes the switch to digital something of a no-brainer.But there’s a more profound benefit offered by digital data, and it’s something that’s not so immediately obvious. This is the power it provides to start seeing the internal workings of a business in ways never previously possible. It’s the equivalent of switching on a light within an organisation to reveal a whole new business environment – an untapped resource of digital information, allowing SMEs much better ways to monitor performance, track financial metrics and identify future dangers. It gives business leaders the accurate and up-to-date information they need to make informed decisions – to improve their ability to identify those aspects of a company which are helping or hindering its growth A real-world example is the way digital expenses management systems are replacing the traditional manual and paper-based methods of handling employee costs. These systems automatically track and store data on every aspect of an expenses claim. It’s not just who, when and what – it also creates a digital data stamp showing the exact time and location of each claim. If it’s a mileage expense, the information collected will include details of the precise route and distance of the journey. The systems are also continually monitoring for claims that breach set levels or fall outside of company policy. When these are identified an alert is automatically triggered, letting an account manager know to investigate further. With finance teams no longer having to manually process bundles of paper claims, all of this information is instantly accessible and combined with user-friendly reporting tools, lets companies view, analyse and manipulate this data in any ways they want. It gives business leaders the ability to set accurate metrics with quantifiable goals that can be easily tracked and monitored. It also provides a valuable insight into the health of the organisation – to identify any weaknesses and spot potential problems. In a pre-digital world, it could take weeks or months for any kind of “up-to-date” report to be manually compiled. It meant that early warning signs were liable to remain unnoticed, small issues were allowed to grow into more serious problems. Without a digital system to enforce a policy in real-time, finance teams faced the onerous task of trying to retrospectively spot where breaches had occurred. It’s within this organisational blindspot that expenses fraud was allowed to become endemic within UK businesses. With companies not having the tools required to properly tackle fraud, each grudgingly tolerated it. The National Fraud Authority estimates that in excess of £100m continues to be lost each year by UK companies to exaggerated and falsified expenses claims. It’s this power of digital data to shine a light on exactly what’s happening within a business which is helping to transform the role of our finance teams, moving the focus away from processing data and more towards the management and visualisation of information. The challenge facing today’s SMEs is being able to harness digital information, rather than being overwhelmed by it. It’s finding digital friendly systems and teams that enable your business to maximise these new ways of working. While any organisation which moves to a digital system can reap the basic benefits of a speedier and more efficient processes, there is a real competitive advantage available to those SMEs who fully harness the potential of digital data. Not only can it improve the present health and performance of a company but it’s also providing business leaders with the insights they need to better guide the future path of their organisations. Adam Reynolds is the CEO of webexpenses. Webexpenses provides a smarter way to manage your employee expenses. Find out more here.
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