In this article, François Lacas, deputy COO at Yooz, talks about technological progress brought about digital transformation and the impact of this digitization of the finance function.
Progress brought by digital technologies today is different from changes induced previously by mechanical and electrical revolutions. Digital technologies change the entire value chain for companies, as well as business models and even exchanges between players.
So, what is the best way for finance departments to move forward? Why should a company open up and work with ecosystems? It seems that the time has come to revisit certain practices. The challenges that finance departments need to meet are not only technical, but also corporate.
What are today’s main technological breakthroughs and what are their applications in the finance field?
AP Automation, artificial intelligence, predictive analysis, blockchain, data visualization, machine learning... all these words are now part of the financial manager’s everyday vocabulary, shaking up the function and bringing companies into a new era.
All those technologies enable a very pragmatic approach to digital transformation. It seems to me that they are a way for most finance departments to get started. These technologies provide three levers.
The first is economic. They save time and lead to lower costs. The next is commitment as a lever for progress.
Employees are enriched by being able to perform tasks with higher added value. The last point is that the technologies lead to greater security for all processes, data, and compliance. Bringing these major technologies together enables fast operational implementation, rather than over-ambitious strategic 5-year plans that are never truly completed. Technologies create strategic opportunities.
What are the limits of today’s progress?
There are no more limits with respect to technologies. You can break down all barriers by combining the Cloud, machine learning, deep learning, and big data, and mixing it up with a focus on user experience and design to simplify the overall solution.
For example, Ap Automation had mainly been reserved for large companies and administrations until relatively recently. By implementing the best technologies at Yooz, we provide true transformation solutions for everyone.
However, I think it is worth mentioning the “French paradox”. As seen from the outside, France plays a leading role in technological and scientific fields. But at the same time, our companies seem to take longer to adopt innovations.
Why? It is because decision cycles are long, and companies typically do not experiment enough. On the other hand, Anglo-Saxon countries dive head-first into projects to test and apply innovations.
How important is data in technology growth?
Data is the key. We feel that data opens a whole range of opportunities. How so? It provides an opportunity to automate. Sharing data is also a way to create confidence inside and outside organizations. Finally, it is an occasion to improve control and monitoring through reporting and compliance.
There are two important considerations for being able to fully benefit from data: the tools that make it intuitive, and culture that makes it possible to instill this new vision within organizations.
Why should companies choose digitalization tools?
Making the decision to automate and digitalize the Purchase-to-Pay process enables companies to leverage a single solution for managing and automating their handling of commitments and expenses, while enjoying many benefits:
- Savings of 30% to 70% on administrative costs
- Faster processing time (reducing the document processing cycle time by a factor of 5 to 20)
- Process industrialization and security
- Better management control
- Compliance with regulations, and more
The ability to combine simplicity, accessibility, performance, and functional completeness enables companies to fully benefit from automation tools, in conjunction with two major effects:
- Boosting employee commitment and motivation (sacrificing less time on strictly administrative tasks)
- Raising support functions from their role as a cost center to that of a profit center
What about electronic signatures?
Digitalization necessarily involves trust. Electronic signatures are the cornerstone of trust. They establish the conditions for traceability and compliance, further facilitating the elimination of paper.
Electronic signatures set the framework for accelerating processes, thus saving time and generating economic savings. They enable and even induce digitalization. We know a number of projects which started with process automation and which were then implemented by introducing electronic signatures. The last point is that electronic signatures are a perfect match for our natural need for security.
Regulations, a barrier or accelerator for digitalization?
In France, it is said that regulations struggle to keep up with uses. We have been using digital documents for a long time, but until recently there were no laws providing a framework for that.
We are now catching up on our lateness in this area, as several laws promoting the use of electronic documents have been passed over the last five years.
With respect to digital transformation, regulatory changes can actually be seen as real boosters! Since 2013, professionals have been allowed to use the format they prefer – paper or electronic – with electronic documents no longer being a determining factor.
In fact, invoices today are defined by their content and not their form. Any media that includes all the elements that comprise an invoice must be considered as an invoice.
Nonetheless, several criteria must be respected, notably guaranteeing the authenticity of the invoice’s origin, integrity of its contents, and legibility of information.
Is the finance function becoming the driver for digital transformation and innovation?
The finance function is indeed driving transformation, for two main reasons: First, the function is central to the company’s processes. Decision-makers are now called upon to optimize those processes.
The second reason is that the CFO’s role is changing. They have become upper management’s number one assistant. This means the CFO can influence corporate strategy, notably with respect to digitalization. They are therefore both a central and leading force.
CFO 4.0 goes from a strict finance function to that of someone who manages internal and external ecosystems. The CFO evolves from a support function to value-generating function, undergoing a transition from technical expertise to global and strategic expertise.
What does digital transformation really mean for finance departments in 2020?