Businesses worldwide are bracing themselves for the economic implications of the pandemic. Many have already felt the impacts throughout their business structure and have been forced to make a number of changes in order to continue.
In these difficult times, technological advancements have become essential to enable businesses to continue functioning and to progress. Organisations are quickly adapting to operating remotely and applying online systems to continue performing as many of their usual business activities.
Data and new technologies are continuing to evolve and are proving vital in this transitional period, but it is critical that reliable and efficient systems are applied. Using new technology for financial processes can be very beneficial in delivering key insights and information. As more businesses turn towards online systems, the value of these services is becoming more clear.
In a period when time and efficiency is so important, finding financial solutions and support through manual financial reporting services can delay progress. Manual reporting is generally quite time-consuming and can quite often result in a number of errors. Financial managers have quickly realised that online solutions available for financial reporting provide a more reliable and streamlined service. Manual reporting systems are often perceived as being antiquated, prone to errors and duplication.
Financial reporting in the cloud has generated a number of advantages for businesses. Cloud based services enable organisations to manage and consolidate their information. With data collected in a more efficient manner, reports and other information can be generated and compiled efficiently. This information is very useful in delivering strategic decisions for a business.
During these unstable times, reports like this offer clear and concise information that directly influence a business. Combining these services with advanced analytics means businesses can create a clear roadmap for efficient business performance.
In our existing financial climate, it is vital that financial managers can clearly display the efficiency and sustainability of corporate performance. Placing financial reporting in the cloud helps support this, ensuring businesses meet all regulation requirements and remaining ahead during these uncertain times.
Oracle Cloud Infrastructure is making significant steps into the video conferencing business, securing two major deals with video conferencing providers requiring the further capacity to support the rise of new users over the past few months. Recent wins with Zoom and 8×8 Inc. were believed to be due to competitive pricing for its services at scale, particularly in comparison with their cloud rival Amazon Web Services.
Oracle has been focusing on expanding its cloud infrastructure, operating data centres in 21 locations and with a target of reaching 36 by the end of the year. Andrew Reichman, the director of product management for Oracle Cloud emphasises the growth of the business over the last few years. Reichman highlights that they focused on plans that can meet worldwide enterprise requirements, automating steps of regional development.
The rise of Zoom has quickly become the most notable platform during the pandemic. At the end of 2019, daily meeting participants reached a maximum level of 10 million. In March, these numbers were more in the region of 200 million. Eric Yuan, the CEO of Zoom explains that they have experienced the biggest growth the business has ever seen and has resulted in a significant increase in a service capacity.
Yuan states they have researched a number of platforms and Oracle Cloud Infrastructure proved essential in quickly scaling their capacity and meeting the needs of their users. Video technology has become a necessity for our professional and personal lives, and Zoom has clearly led this industry transformation. Safra Catz, the CEO of Oracle explains that they are proud to be working with Zoom as their cloud infrastructure provider and as a customer. Following on from the Zoom announcement, Oracle announced that its integrated cloud communications system 8×8 is now using Oracle Cloud to support its secure video meeting services as it intends to prepare for a significant rise in users. 8×8 has already witnessed a big rise in usage with video meetings increasing and monthly active users reaching over 20 million worldwide. 8×8 transferred its video services from AWS to Oracle to enable performance improvements and considerable savings in network costs. Clay Magouyrk, the executive VP of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure explains that video conferencing has quickly become one of their fastest-growing services and critical service for its customers. So why has Oracle proven more popular than the AWS service? Research suggests that it really comes down to pricing.
The question for Zoom and other services comes down to who is capable of running their applications and providing reliable infrastructure in an affordable and efficient manner? Industry analysts suggest that retail pricing for data transfer is nearly ten times higher than Oracle’s. While Zoom won’t be paying the going retail rate for AWS services, the discounted price is likely to be higher than Oracle’s rates. The high price for data transfer was likely a key factor in Zoom’s decision to shift services towards Oracle Cloud.
Brian Duffy, President of SAP EMEA and member of the Sustainability Council believes the recent crisis provides an opportunity for planning and reflection. It seems quite clear that we won’t be returning to the pre-lockdown scene any time soon as the pandemic continues to have significant impacts on how we live and work.
Aside from all the uncertainty, there are opportunities. This period should be used by business leaders to think, reflect and plan how their business operates and how they intend to re-emerge in the near future. The pandemic is having a major impact on global economies but it has created a number of changes, including a considerable decline in CO2 emissions worldwide.
The Sustainability Council of SAP is an internal service that ensures all parts of the company contribute towards their sustainability goals. The council provides an advisory platform for the business to communicate with both internal and external members on relevant environmental and sustainability themes. The council has a priority of ensuring sustainability becomes a vital topic in both customer conversations and engagement.
Sustainability has risen in terms of priorities for SAP and its customers. During this period and the increase of remote working and virtual meetings, the importance of sustainability is accelerating even further. At the World Economic Forum earlier this year, SAP confirmed its plans to create a cleaner ocean by providing customers, NGOs and other partners with services and solutions required to eliminate waste and enhance resource production. In Davos, SAP also confirmed it had joined the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge, supporting businesses in the transition towards a low carbon economy.
Now more than ever we are understanding the real potential of technology and the opportunities to become more sustainable and resilient. SAP has two priorities to focus on when approaching the post-lockdown era. The first is focused on their people and meeting the range of needs and requirements of their employees. The second priority is focused on assessing this period in more detail in terms of both business and environmental sustainability. Businesses are using innovative and creative tools to continue working under these new circumstances. Leaders will need to question what should remain and what measures need to be reintroduced once lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Alternative data, when verified as reliable and trustworthy, can be a significant tool for financial organisations when collecting information.
With competition rising and an increased reliance on data, financial organisations must be capable of making the changes. Inaccurate data or a lack of a range of information sources can result in poorly informed plans and ultimately reduce business performance. With the goal of gaining a wider perspective of customers and investments means businesses are actively looking for a wider range of data points. Alternative data has become a valuable tool for businesses, but it does involve some risks.
What exactly is alternative data?
Alternative data includes non-standard data points and offers a wider overview of the industry. Rather than being reliant on conventional information and using this in the decision-making process, financial businesses are actively looking for other measures to generate more insights. Take the example of a customer applying for a mortgage. Traditionally the process is based on a credit score and your previous payment history. Alternative data, including information on income, assets and financial behaviour can create a clearer picture of whether the customer is worthy of securing a mortgage. In this scenario, alternative data generate a more complete picture of the financial health of a customer.
Alternative data incorporate a wider range of information, going beyond the traditional data sources used by many companies. With the implications of COVID-19 and the rise of restrictive measures, the need to generate an advantage has become essential to many businesses.
Alternative data can generate a deeper understanding of certain variables, enabling organisations to gain more insight into customer and industry behaviours. The data can be very valuable in enabling the accurate delivery of financial and business impact analysis. Widening the amount of range of data can enable financial businesses to generate information that traditional systems cannot provide.
Alternative data is based on delivering better returns and generating smarter investments. This, however, is only possible if the information gathered is analysed properly and translated into clear actionable strategies. As with all data management, alternative data generation requires the right technology and skills and without this available alternative data will generate little benefit to a business. Only when data is properly analysed can financial businesses be in a position to accurately assess and measure risk as well as the opportunities available.
The need for collecting data and information from customers continues but for how, where and who in regards to sourcing the data will continue to transform in the future. Standard data collection is tried and tested processes in which businesses understand and know what to expect in terms of accuracy and reliability. Diverging your approach towards the alternative will likely generate deeper results yet it needs to be supported by further assessment. Businesses need to ensure any additional data insights are clearly evaluated at the source, to ensure validity and effectiveness.
Data reliability is a challenge for financial organisation. If alternative data used for business processes is found to be unreliable, it can result in significant implications for a business. Key considerations with data evolution are due diligence, ensuring data comes from reliable sources, data and privacy are secure and all information is compliant with the latest regulations.
Oracle has confirmed that it will provide free access to its Oracle Financial Statement Planning, including Strategic Modelling to all of its current Oracle Planning Cloud customers for the next year.
The Oracle Financial Statement Planning will enable users to perform detailed ‘what-if’ scenarios for a range of economic situations, including payment delays, inventory changes and disruptions to business supply. The platform will enable an increased accuracy of revenue and cash flow and forecasting and capital structure modeling.
With additional access to these systems, customers will be able to benefit from the following:-
-Improved business agility and enhanced decision making
-Generate accurate liquidity models
-Simple and insightful reports and analytics
How scenario planning works
Scenario planning in action can be clearly represented in the retail market, which has experienced significant disruption to its in-store traffic numbers. As a result, many retailers are implementing plans for phased reopening of their stores along with predicted changes in changing patterns between online and in-store revenue generation. Other factors that need to be considered including shifting patterns in consumers spending. Every industry is being affected in a different way and Oracle is providing additional educational material to support finance teams. Online tutorials and step by step guides will support customers and benefit from the range of the available free services.
A number of oracle partners are supporting the launch of these new services including Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, KPMG and many more. Hari Sankar, the group VP of Oracle EPM Cloud explains that no one actually knows what the post COVID-19 environment will look like but it is clear that every businesses needs to maintain focus on their short-term requirements as well as their long-term strategic plans. Sankar explains that in this current environment, scenario planning and strategic modelling have become essential to finance teams as they measure a number of potential outcomes, predict revenues and generate a range of short and medium-term forecasts.
Sankar highlights this is why Oracle has taken these steps to support their customers. It’s impossible to determine the future, but regardless of what happens in the near future, Oracle is showing its commitment towards their existing customers.
The most suitable place for most businesses to store their Big Data is within the cloud. Utilising cloud services for data storage and increasingly for analytics means businesses are outsourcing time and effort associated with storing and managing large sets of data. The implications of power consumption, space, infrastructure and security become the responsibility of your cloud service provider, and usually, they are well equipped and prepared to deal with these factors.
An additional benefit of using cloud solutions is the ability to scale. Most plans enable businesses to start off fairly small and then expand the capacity available for storing data as demand continues to increase. Some larger providers offer additional services to manage AI, analytics and other tools without having to shift your data away from the cloud.
analytics, and data visualization needs without your valuable data ever leaving the safety of the cloud.
Amazon Web Services S3
Amazon introduced its first platform-as-service offering in 2006 and created a model for nearly all other cloud storage and computer services provided. The Amazon data lake service referred to as the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and is utilised by millions of customers worldwide. AWS continues to be the leading cloud storage solution for big data services in terms of popularity. AWS generated nearly $10 billion in revenue for Amazon in the last quarter of 2019.
Microsoft Azure Data Lake
A rival competitor to AWS, Microsoft launched its service in 2010 and quickly established a range of tools to enable businesses that operate with large data sets and allow operations to be performed in the cloud. Microsoft has years of experience in managing some of the biggest processing and analytics operations worldwide. Azure’s services include Azure Data Lake which is targeted at managing the businesses with complex data requirements.
Google Cloud Storage
Google’s cloud platform is developed on the same technology that drives its own big-data services such as Youtube and Google Search. It offers a range of storage and data-lake focused services, capable of scaling and managing excessively large amounts of data. Google provides a range of pricing plans applied to different datasets and customers have the ability to choose their storage location. Furthermore, Google’s data storage solutions have generated zero net carbon emissions since 2007.
Oracle’s established database platform is available via the Oracle Cloud service providing a flexible and scalable storage option. The service is regarded for its good security features and real-time encryption of data on the platform. The system uses its own advanced machine learning processes to automate many of the data procedures, reducing potential errors related to manual data entry.
IBM provides a range of data lake solutions depending on business requirements. Like most other solutions, IBM offers the option to scale up as you expand and store large volumes of data. IBM provides ‘cognitive’ analytical tools via the Watson AI platform that can be added with the stored data on IBM cloud services.
While Alibaba may not rival the major leaders in western nations, Alibaba is developing a strong presence. Being the biggest big data cloud service provider in China, the business has a significant customer base across Asia and offers similar analytics, security and AI tool to rival other US-based platforms. Alibaba provides a choice of pay-as-you-go and monthly subscription services. Recent industry reviews suggest the services provided may not meet the offerings in the US and Europe but pricing is viewed as very competitive.
As businesses prepare and deliver new steps for the future, many planning professionals suggest that we shouldn’t expect a return to the past. CFO’s across multiple industries are implementing a number of strategies to ensure their business can continue to survive financially during the downturn. They are also exploring various scenarios of how to progress when restrictions are eased and we begin to emerge from the pandemic. If done correctly, CFOs have the opportunity to position their business for higher success right from the beginning. However, if the right steps are not taken, businesses may struggle to recover from the crisis.
Baxter Orr, the global head of CFO practice for Anaplan recently explained to CFO Dive that it is clear the downturn will end but what is unclear is what the ‘new normal’ will actually look like. A recent report by Gartner revealed that over 60% of CFOs intend to maintain over 5% of their staff working remotely because the downturn has shown the effectiveness of having a segment of people working from home. With better technology and products, remote staff can save money and maintain higher productivity levels.
Alexander Bant, the VP of Gartner’s finance section explains that the majority of CFOs understand that technology and society have transformed to allow remote working to be more feasible for a wider range of positions. The challenge is understanding new ways of working and what methods of engaging with customers will work for businesses and at the same time understanding how the pandemic will transform people’s behaviours for the future.
In reality, there are endless scenarios covering how many of us will go back to work, what safeguards will be implemented and how the working environment will change. In order to answer these questions, we need to avoid looking at previous data that does not accurately represent the period we are in and the times ahead. In a very short space of time industry perspectives have completely transformed, business strategies and people’s behaviours are changing.
Incorporating new data, AI predictive analytics will enable CFO’s to model potential new environments. Predictive analytics, in particular, can provide clearer insights into customers behaviour and business changes. Leading organisations are exploring more useful insights such as what customers are currently talking about and what topics people are researching online. CFOs can use this valuable information to generate models to have a clearer understanding of customer behaviours in the ‘new normal’.
This approach will also support businesses by providing insights into existing customer pipeline. If sales are on the decline, businesses need to ensure their sales team are focusing on the right customers. This means assessing productive leads and customers who are more likely to renew and purchase additional services. CFOs can utilise this information to understand what changes need to be made and to ensure the wider business plan is optimised to deliver higher revenue and reduce ‘unreliable’ customers. Businesses need to consider their pipeline carefully, especially during these next few months. Insightful data can provide clarity on what potential customers are doing and enable you to determine what resources are needed to deliver an effective sales strategy.
Any decision, whether it be for now or to position a business for a post-COVID world isn’t easy. Altering plans can be challenging and mean shifting resources from one area to another but utilising data insights and predictive analytics can streamline and ease the entire process.
The introduction of innovative new systems and processes has enabled the finance industry to transform in recent years. Finance leaders need to remain focused on evolution and how digital technology and other innovative systems such as predictive analytics and machine learning will influence the industry over the next few years.
For finance leaders to remain competitive and stay ahead of the curve requires innovation and thinking bigger. In order to look at the future, we need to ensure that businesses are capable of meeting the most basic financial processes covering financial consolidation, budgeting, planning, forecasting and reporting.
In recent studies from EY, Accenture and the Modern Finance Forum over 75% of finance leaders intend to be more proactive and aligned with operations and the wider business. Over 70% of finance leaders also would change business in terms of their involvement with innovation and nearly 50% of all respondents believe their current function lack the tools to facilitate the demands of their strategic priorities.
What studies and data like this show is that finance leaders clearly want to be doing more and to be working closely with their business. However, these professionals are limited by the tools and services provided for budgeting, planning and reporting. While they may have been the optimum services in their time, many are simply not sufficient for modern finance practices. Many financial leaders looking to do more simply don’t have the tools to implement the changes they want or are unsure whether they are prepared for the future.
Modern finance leaders are beginning to implement more modern and sophisticated CPM technology to manage today’s challenges. New platforms provide a unified system and modern approach to many of the areas that need covering. Finance teams are provided with a broader scope of functions to enhance financial productivity, allowing teams to allocate more time to working with their partners and focusing on strategic plans.
Implementing a new platform is enabling finance leaders to create a new course for their digital finance future. To support finance leaders in this transition there are five core steps to consider:
Understand your business – collect insights from your business and ensure you really understand their core success metrics and KPIs
Focus on agility within planning and forecasting – implement a dynamic forecasting process and integrated business planning structure that is more agile and adaptive.
Streamlining Financial Close – Where possible, simplify jobs through automation, remove manual tasks, reduce potential errors and include comprehensive audit trails.
Automated Reports – Generate automated reports and shared dashboards for other business representatives to generate a single shared platform.
Focus on Advanced Analytics – Utilise innovative tools such as predictive analytics and scenario analysis to improve collaboration with other business teams and use this information to implement measures that will impact financial results before close.
OneStream, a leading provider of innovative corporate performance management solutions for medium and large businesses has released a new transaction matching solution that can accelerate account reconciliations and reduce the financial close process.
OneStream Transaction Matching enables businesses to gather and combine large transaction sets from various sources and quickly select and assess anomalies to deliver efficient period-end balances much quicker than by using external tools or traditional spreadsheets.
Tom Shea, the CEO of OneStream Software explains how time-consuming account reconciliation and transaction matching can be, especially when being applied across a range of systems and a number of accounts. Shea highlights that OneStream Transaction Matching will replace spreadsheets and other external solutions, allowing customers to improve the matching and account reconciliation process. Shea points to a number of early users that have experienced considerable savings in time by implementing the transaction matching process far quicker, generating quicker results and more accurate financial reporting.
The new system supports the OneStream Account Reconciliation solution, both of which are available on the wider OneStream XF MarketPlace. Both offer complete supported solutions, available on-premise or in the cloud, enabling end-users to manage their processes from an office or remotely.
OneStream Transaction Matching enables businesses to match transactional-level details from a range of sources through a simple, rules-based approach that selects and measures variances in transaction data. The system will replace manual systems and the use of spreadsheets, tools that tend to extend the period-end reconciliation process and can delay financial close. A lack of accurate transaction matching and account reconciliation can lead to reporting issues or potential undue write-offs which have a detrimental impact on income statements and balance sheets for business.
Developed on the OneStream XF Platform, OneStream Transaction Matching removes the added licence costs and maintenance of external products and combines the existing data quality tools of the platform for the generation and matching large data sets.
The Transaction Matching service streamlines account reconciliations and the overall financial close process by matching transactions within the entire business. West Bend Mutual Insurance is currently using the Transaction Matching system to support their claims. The new process involves measuring direct payments and daily reconciliation, instead of waiting until month-end. By implementing daily matching of transactions manually through Excel would be far too time-consuming for the business. The transaction matching service enables the business to automate most of the process and save significant time and effort.
All businesses, big or small need to focus on enhancing their processes and determine critical plans to generate higher value. Business intelligence will enable these processes to happen more effectively, allowing people to gather the right information, in the correct format and at the right time. Alongside this necessity, the improvements in technology mean cloud computing is accelerating its position from being a business feature to a necessity.
Cloud-based services have accelerated their position within many industries with SaaS tools such as Salesforce and Hubspot providing integrated software options for marketing and sales teams. Other file hosting providers like Dropbox and Google Drive have transformed how people share and work together on various projects. In the earlier days, cloud-based business knowledge was utilised by smaller businesses that lacked the financial support to manage costly BI services. However, cloud BI has begun to emerge as a standard for organisations of all sizes looking to embrace cloud computing for their own individual business intelligence plans.
Cloud BI tools transform how businesses approach data analysis. With a large number of analytical tools now available, businesses can become more information-focused in terms of the strategy and decision-making process. The BI and Data Management in the Cloud Issues and Trends study states that the use of Cloud BI has increased from 29% to 43% between 2013 and 2016 and approximately half of the businesses in the study are moving towards public cloud systems for cloud BI, analytics and data management.
Cloud-based BI combines two effective technologies for businesses. Cloud computing provides an ideal platform to support BI services when organisations need to generate a wide range of information from a number of sources at any time and from anywhere. With the potential to adapt and scale on the cloud, it provides an ideal solution for business intelligence plans. The 2020 Cloud Computing and BI Market Study by Dresner Advisory Services shows a significant uptake of Cloud BI and expects the adoption of these services to continue improving.
The study showed that nearly 90% of R&D offices believe Cloud BI to be an important tool for current and future activities. Most senior and executive management teams perceive Cloud BI as a critical part of delivering their ongoing plans and strategies. The rise of Covid-19 has accelerated the uptake of cloud-based platforms to a level beyond expectation. With distancing and remote work measures in place, Cloud BI has become an important element in a number of services. Business Intelligence focuses on determining better choices for individuals, information, processes and strategies. BI generates intelligent reports, improves business efficiency, lower operational overheads and enhances the delivery of intelligent business insights.