Technology and Data News and Events

Reasons for the technology industry to remain positive in 2021

by Mike Jones 25/11/2020

Optimism within the technology industry regarding the year ahead remains strong thanks to the continued trend in the digital market. Despite being a very disruptive and challenging year, many technology businesses experienced a surge in business and forecasted rise of new opportunities in 2021. The significant shift towards remote working created a wave of demand that had never been experienced and resulted in several technology tools becoming critical in business operations and management. For these technology organisations, they proved to play an important role and support in challenging conditions. Many tech leaders anticipate a gradual process of recovery next year where demand for technology will continue due to a fragmented workforce and society that has more complex solutions that cannot be fulfilled in a regular office environment. Many technology businesses have proven to be capable of supporting customers through the crisis and the implications of this on business culture has been positive due to a more personalised experience between businesses and customers. David Watts, the managing director of Tech Data UK and Ireland explains that businesses have responded well to the pandemic and have demonstrated both resilience and adaptability and a genuine care for their customers, partners and own employees. Watts admits it hasn’t been easy and overall trading customers has declined in the UK and Europe by around 10% and while corporate resellers had a very successful first half of the year, the second half has presented more challenges. Nevertheless, industry leaders believe 2021 is looking positive. Many projects are emerging and coming back online and more businesses are reviewing their cloud strategies and investing more in this arena. Companies are now actively engaging in security systems since moving to remote and hybrid working facilities. 

There are a number of both challenges and opportunities available around the management of data. The potential that was there before the pandemic, with cloud, security and other emerging technologies remain. Industry leaders that show agility to the impacts of Covid and Brexit will require speed of change, but opportunities do exist across many markets. Many infrastructure projects that may have been paused while management observed how the pandemic played are likely to restart as demands change and begin to increase. 

Accelerated Digital Transformation Technology leaders believe this year accelerated digital transformation for many companies, adding resilience and increasing the level of expertise and relationships between companies and the customer. Rob Tomlin, VP at Dell Technologies states that what is evident is that digitisation isn’t slowing down and will continue to remain central to further growth in the UK. Tomlin predicts the edge computing sector to be a primary focus of sales, referring to many innovative technologies like AI and IoT. It’s very difficult to predict what exactly the next year will look like as the business landscape is changing continuously. Stable growth will be dependent upon creativity, solid customer relationships and staying close to business developments. Industry leaders in cloud, cyber and communications networks explain that enabling companies to work securely and remotely is an important requirement and as a result, all these area and the associated services have seen considerable growth. IT technology has proven vital during the pandemic, enabling many businesses to continue to trade, albeit in a remote and digital environment. There are still many challenges, and one of the biggest one predicted is a sustained period of lockdown and the existing recession which would directly impact the success of businesses and investment for the technology industry.

Technology leaders are cautiously optimistic about next year and looking to continue building on successes from 2020 while being prepared for possible disruptions on a similar scale. The rise of remote working and shift towards subscription models has generated an accelerated decline in demand for traditional systems. The recurring revenue stream will prevail more in overall revenue streams uring the next year. Businesses will need to remain focused on support their customers and ensuring they reach their goals and generate clear value. Some businesses have invested a significant amount of time supporting their customers by acquiring and integrating the tools they require to operate their business in the ‘new normal’. Software, technology updates and security services will likely be a focus for businesses and an area that customers will require support during 2021.

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Digital Talent

The rising demand for digital skills in the finance industry

by Mike Jones 25/11/2020

Digital transformation has accelerated in many businesses this year and as a result, the demand for finance professionals with data analytical skills has never been higher.

The Future of Jobs Report 2020 created by the World Economic Forum (WEF) investigates how automation, in collaboration with the impacts of the Covid-19 recession has generated an even more disruptive outcome. The report suggests that there is likely to be a significant change in jobs, duties and skills within the next few years, with finance, accounting and auditing being areas likely to be impacted and data analytics and data science considered the high growth markets.

The trend identified in the report is supported by recent figures in the finance and accounting industry and a shift in roles towards digital and technical duties in response to the pandemic. The demand for upskilling has become even more important, and in the case of finance, this translates into a greater focus on business planning and analysis. This change comes with a need to enhance digital skills in business, with the report suggesting that 2 in 5 business leaders are committed to accelerating digital transformation plans. A separate study by EY discovered similar findings, suggesting that nearly 60% of all respondents believed predictive and prescriptive analytical skills were critical.

With digital transformation plans accelerating, the data available to support the decision-making process is increasing. The finance industry needs to be capable of utilising this data to support its own individual decision-making plans. 

The situation, however, is that the skills currently aren’t’ there to meet the rising demand. Consultancy business McKinsey states that under 20% of businesses believe they have the necessary skills and experience to gather and utilise the insights effectively. A further 80% of respondents interviewed by McKinsey said they did not have the confidence in their data insight processes and their positive impact on business sales.

There generally tends to be a lack of knowledge surrounding the potential of data. Businesses may have more data availability than ever before, but most don’t really know what the data is or what it could actually enable them to do.

Data analytics professionals within finance can support businesses in effectively using the data. These individuals have certain skills that enable them to respond to certain information points and make informed decisions. Insights can only be delivered if there is a clear understanding of the business and what the data is telling you. Individuals need to be capable of connecting data analytics to the overall strategy and business objectives.

McKinsey describes the importance of data translators, people capable of defining data insights, drawing information from the data and converting this information into clear, actionable language that can be applied within the business. Once data is generated into insights, this information needs to be transferred into messages and offers that can be delivered into the wider business and industry.

 

Finance professionals have generally been responsible for gathering financial information and presenting it to other individuals in their business. The key difference today is the sheer scale and range of data available from multiple sources. This is a challenge in itself, but it also offers the opportunity to add even more value to a business.

Data analytics involves harnessing skills in both technical and non-technical fields. The collection and assessment of detailed data also create new ethical factors that finance professionals will need to consider. Aside from efficiently extracting, measuring and analysing data, finance professionals need to understand the ethical implications of this entire process.

Industry experts believe that digitisation will generate automation further into traditional finance and accountancy roles. The need for finance professionals capable of interpreting data and delivering clear decisions based on data-driven insights is likely to continue to grow. The world is evolving, business is changing and finance professionals will need to change too.

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Understanding the finance industry

What tech solutions are available to tackle the challenges facing the financial industry?

by Mike Jones 18/11/2020

The financial industry is experiencing a significant shift driven by new technologies. Many business leaders are continuously looking for techniques to improve their performance and introduce new, efficient solutions. With the rise of new technology comes new challenges for the finance industry.

Being prepared for cyberattacks

Financial businesses are particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks due to containing large volumes of very sensitive customer information. As one report shows, financial businesses are generally liable to cyberattacks more so than other industries. Compromised credit cards, leaked information or malicious banking processes have forced businesses to utilise and embrace new technologies and protect their organisation from very expensive challenges. 

By implementing advanced technologies businesses can greatly improve their security measures and greatly reduce potential cyber-attacks and the associated expenses. Security represents a top priority for financial businesses due to the accelerated rise of professional ‘attacks’ in the last couple of years. Business can utilise new verification services, a fraud prevention system that verifies user information. End-to-end encryption enables no external group to access certain sensitive information. 

Maintaining a connection with new technology

Recent studies suggest that financial businesses need to continue investing in robotics and other automation tools to enhance their effectiveness and reduce costs linked with operational processes, risk management and compliance. Businesses need to upgrade their internal systems and data facilities to utilise the benefits of big data solutions, such as AI-focused support assistants. 

Exploring robotics can allow financial industry businesses to replace traditional, manual services with automated processes, improving productivity, accuracy and compliance. Businesses need to be prepared to embrace new technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence, machine learning and NLP.

Keeping your business compliant

REgulations, compliance and laws are a constant challenge for the financial industry. The pressure to remain authorised and compliant relates specifically to the rising regulation fees that emerged from the global financial crisis back in 2008. Today, multiple regulations have driven financial businesses to streamline their processes.

Implementing regulatory technology to stay compliant enables businesses an efficient management and risk assessment process for organisations. RegTech is generating added value for a company seeking to streamline processes associated with regulatory compliance. RegTech businesses provide ‘know your client’ and anti-fraud services, tax data management services, real-time reporting and regulatory compliance assessment tools.

The challenge of meeting customer expectations

Today’s customer is tech-savvy and generally expects high-level custom features within their banking services. Younger customers typically have a better understanding of technology and as a consequence have higher expectations of their digital experience.

Generation Y, people that fall between the ages of 22 to 38 are responsible for nearly 50% of mobile banking users and have the biggest impact on the digitisation of financial services. To be capable of meeting the needs of both the older and younger customers simultaneously, financial organisations need to create a hybrid banking model that combines digital experiences into a traditional banking environment.

Financial businesses can continue to succeed and have a considerable advantage over their competitors if they continue to embrace digital technology. With a combination of AI, robotics and regulatory technology, businesses can continue to innovate and manage the challenges faced in finance, while continuing to remain compliant and keep progressing.

A final factor is maintaining a close consideration of customer satisfaction. To maintain the highest level of customer satisfaction, financial businesses need to incorporate a blend of traditional and digital banking methods. The combination of the solutions described will enable finance businesses to reach their future goals.

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Business Intelligence Makes Better CFOs

by Mike Jones 18/11/2020

The chief financial officer has always played an important part in business, but the impacts of the pandemic have heightened the importance of this position in an organisation. 

While technology and new developments have enabled businesses to adapt and innovate, many businesses continue to use traditional methods to collect and store their data. As a result, this can create a level of disconnection and lead to potential inconsistencies with information. With the significant pressure, competition and rising challenges associated with the pandemic, it has become even more critical for all members of a business to show their value and the potential for CFOs to add even further value is still there. Business leaders are expecting more from a CFO, expecting individuals to provide more insights, advice and strategies for their business. This is exactly why the role of a CFO is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of the data business intelligence can provide.

BI first really emerged back in the 60s as a method of information sharing within a business, but the rise of new technology completely transformed this sector. The rise of big data has enhanced industries even further and today’s BI industry encompasses a much more comprehensive list of markets, including data mining, reporting, preparations and statistical analysis.

No matter what industry or what service you provide, a business will generate some form of data. BI generates a detailed understanding of data within a business and harnesses this information to create opportunities to implement changes that improve efficiency and business success.

How finance can drive change

The finance section of a business can drive significant change in an organisation. The combination of a CFO with business intelligence creates an ideal match for enhancing and taking a business to a higher level.

As a CFO, business intelligence provides a way of increasing value by generating quality data and understanding how to apply this to your business. A strong relationship between BI and finance enables a CFO to implement effective data collection and elevate their position beyond a conventional CFO to more of a strategic advisor. 

How Business Intelligence can enhance the position of the CFO

A BI team isn’t focused simply on data analysis or data interpretation. Instead, the primary aim is on gathering as much data as possible in a completely impartial manner. The unbiased approach towards data collection is vital to an organisation.

If data is collected by an individual with their motivations it can result in generating findings that support a concept they were trying to highlight. This can happen subconsciously through what is regarded as confirmation bias.

When the CFO accepts the data, this presents added credibility to this information. Approval by the CFO creates a positive sign of reliability to the organisation and assurance to other business leaders. The information generated with business intelligence is impartial, scientific and fact-based.

By enabling a BI team to gather the data, the finance department can then spend its energy on data analysis, rather than data collection. Uninfluenced by certain goals and motivations, the BI department can present the information to the business in a completely transparent manner.

Gathering more data

Having a wider understanding and more data available is very important when making business decisions. The challenge for businesses, however, is that more data generally presents more confusion and can be quite overwhelming to manage. A dedicated BI team will collect data from a range of sources and bring it together to make it more manageable. If the CFO works with BI, it enables a clearer understanding of how data can be used in the finance department and an insight into the value of this information.

This process enables businesses to explore combining data from other sources to support further decision making and so instead of having several separate data sources, all sources can be combined and used together. Without the support of BI specialists, it can be challenging to manage and understand this volume of data types and often result in the business missing vital insights.

Clear data definition

When the BI team defines the data, it is identifying that the data means to allow the information to be used more effectively. Without implementing these definitions, that data can lack real meaning and can result in various teams interpreting the details in their way, leading to many confusions.

It is critical for definitions to be consistent throughout the business and for there to be a singular voice of truth. Without really understanding what the data means, it is difficult to use it effectively and if individual teams create their interpretations then it can lead to several misunderstandings within a business.

Once this has been solved, a business is in a stronger position to implement a company-wide definition of the core KPIs and the data can be used effectively for decision-making, planning and budgeting.

Enable informed decisions in a business

One of the most important roles of BI is creating information and context, enabling a CFO to generate intelligent and informed decisions. Without this level of detail, the plans used to run a business are no more than guesses. If for example, a business is trying to determine whether to invest in additional marketing resources to retain existing customers or to put the money towards marketing to new customers. This is a scenario that requires clear data and cannot be determined on general assumptions. If the business operates in the SaaS market there are several things to consider: how to define the data that relates to your vital customer metrics, how much it costs to market to existing clients and retrigger activity, how much will it cost to bring a new customer onboard and how much does a typical existing customer spend in comparison to a new customer?

This level of detail provides a good context for the final decision. These findings are based on facts and numbers, rather than adopting an approach based on an inclination or a method that has been done repeatedly within a business.

Identifying potential weaknesses in a business

Taking a step back and assessing information from a wider perspective enables BI teams to identify potential issues that may be overlooked internally.

There is a possibility there are weaknesses in a business that may not be visible from the existing reporting structure. The accurate and comprehensive data collected by BI professionals enables the opportunity to identify missing, incomplete and inconsistent data and can allow a business to explore potential weaknesses in certain controls and processes.

Trend prediction

An efficient CFO will look beyond previous data trends. They will explore and make predictions about future trends and make the necessary preparations. Instead of applying tried and tested approaches to forecasting, data BI will enable CFOs to use intelligent techniques to make predictions for the future of a business and deliver clear plans.

With the right data in place, a business can make intelligent informed decisions and be ahead of the curve. Many businesses rely on a reactive approach and as a result, lose their competitive edge. BI professionals enable a business to maintain momentum with new developments and monitor market changes and their impact on customer demands. 

Equipped with the necessary information, decision-makers can act effectively and in a manner to enhance business success.

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Big Data Analytics

Applying data analytics to improve audit and compliance functions

by Mike Jones 10/11/2020

Data analytics is a vital tool enabling finance industry leaders to implement a risk-based approach towards internal and compliance audits and to determine areas of improvement when certain issues are detected.

The pandemic has created several challenges for many finance teams, particularly in regards to corporate compliance and internal audit functions. Despite a transformation in how we work, the structure for compliance and internal audit professionals hasn’t changed. 

The primary aim continues to be identifying and managing risks to the business. To effectively implement this, businesses must continue to enhance their compliance programs, update their risk assessment and alter their audit plans and priorities. Compliance and audit functions need to demonstrate assurances to business leaders and show they have taken the necessary steps to manage potential risk. Compliance and audit teams need to understand how to implement efficient compliance and audit testing processes in this new environment. The most effective solution will depend on the business, their risk profile and other related variables. Data analytics continues to be an effective tool for compliance and internal audit professionals and has proven to be valuable in ensuring the correct measures are in place to manage fraud and other abuse.

Data analytics enables businesses to implement a risk-based approach and prioritise their focus on areas where issues may develop. Businesses that adopt a random sampling approach rarely provide the insights required or a meaningful audit result. Before the pandemic, data analytics was continuing to deliver a clear value in terms of compliance efforts. Today, compliance and internal audit functions are having to do more with less and so it is critical to understand how to leverage data analytics to your business.

Remote testing has become a normal procedure and is likely to be a common practice for the foreseeable future. Gathering, assessing and measuring important datasets to deliver compliance or internal audit processes is important. 

In some cases, some data sets may be used to examine high-risk transactions. The internal audit team can utilise this information to deliver the most appropriate audit system to reach the required outcome. 

Data quality is the most important element of data analytics. Providing direct access to vital databases can reduce potential issues of using inaccurate data sets. It enables compliance teams and internal auditors to check the accuracy of the information by working closer with IT teams. Direct data access also decreases the time to implement testing processes as other members are not required to work in these stages i.e. the initial data collection process. Through this process, compliance professionals and internal auditors can learn data limitations by engaging with the relevant IT professionals and then evaluate what impact this will have on their project.

One of the most vital elements of data analytics in regards to compliance and internal audits is the potential to combine disparate data sources. Many data analytics tests based on vital information can be carried out to determine risks. Generally, this information will be contained in disparate data sources, so having a clear understanding of those data sources and being capable of connecting the information is essential.

A risk-based approach vs. random testing

Data analytics allows compliance and internal audit teams to pick key transactions and test via a risk-based approach, rather than selecting transactions by random. A risk-based approach demonstrates how a business is managing risk effectively. 

Defining the parameters for data analytics tests requires some work initially. Creating an understanding of system databases and data structure may take time to develop. However, each compliance assessment or internal audit will benefit from these plans and future work can be based on these tried and tested parameters. The repeated element of this process provides efficiency and enables a process that a data analyst can expect to see the same or similar results.

With remote working likely to remain dominant for the future, the conventional technique of random sampling and onsite testing will inevitably evolve into one that focuses more on remote risk-based auditing processes. Businesses need to leverage data analytics to effectively manage the challenges facing corporate compliance and internal auditing.

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The value of SaaS in a post covid business world

by Mike Jones 10/11/2020

At the beginning of this year, a total of 87% of public sector businesses surveyed by UKCloud indicated a desire to move their traditional IT systems into the cloud. The implications of the pandemic have resulted in a surge of cloud adoption in the UK, like many businesses not in the cloud were forced to migrate to this environment due to a rapid shift in working conditions.
Analysts predict that the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry will represent the largest market segment and is forecast to reach more than $116 billion this year, largely due to the scalability of subscription-based services. The increased demand, legislation and compliance requirement, as well as the need to protect employee data as companies move towards remote working, are all factors that have generated further demand for standard SaaS offerings.

Organisations are starting to understand the value and simplicity that SaaS models can bring to their IT systems. Businesses are also actively seeking ways to enhance their business models and utilise cloud technologies to maintain a competitive edge.

Customers across the globe are in a challenging time involving understanding effective means of protecting and securing their environments. The focus has quickly changed from deciding whether to place workloads in the cloud to which workloads should be placed in the cloud-first. With the rise of cloud adoption comes new economic models that may be completely new to IT businesses.

What SaaS options offer businesses

SaaS offerings are based on simple subscriptions, clear costs and no significant capital investments, making it an appealing and effective choice for businesses today. SaaS becomes even more efficient when businesses combine to deliver a service. For example, implementing data protection with SaaS is a valuable combination, enabling high-level protection along with the benefits and efficiency of the SaaS model.
Businesses can make a relatively simple transition to cloud storage without the requirement of managing, monitoring and securing it from their data protection service. One major consideration in this process, however, is to remember that data stored in the cloud remains the responsibility of the business.

Companies should be actively looking for cost-effective and high-level protective solutions, without the need for added complex systems. The most effective solutions on the market will offer SaaS data protection, capable of reducing costs, overheads and eliminating other challenges.

More advanced SaaS models will also incorporate built-in protection against potential cyber-attacks along with other security controls. As the current business landscape continues to be transformed by the impacts of the pandemic, businesses must invest in systems that enable longevity, sustainability and profitability. With the level of uncertainty regarding the future, now is the time for businesses to adopt and utilise SaaS technology and ensure they are prepared for any data protection challenge.

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Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Future

Why the finance industry is deploying natural language processing

by Mike Jones 04/11/2020

As volumes of data continue to increase, natural language processing is emerging as an important element of financial analysis. Businesses are continuing to embrace machine learning to enable quicker and more efficiently informed decisions. Financial analytical businesses are shifting their attention towards natural language processing to analyse data significantly faster and more accurately than possible by humans. 

Many assume that financial data is largely numerical rather than textual but industry experts suggest data that enables timely decisions generally comes in text. Text is unstructured data and is typically more complicated to use, which is where natural language processing can play an important role. A form of machine learning, NLP can parse complex elements of audio corresponding to business and finance, including phrases, numbers, currencies and product names.

For example, earnings reports are one method that is released as a text. Extensive time is required to transform this information into structured data. NLP can generate transcriptions in just a matter of minutes, providing analysts with a competitive advantage.

NLP may be relatively new to the finance world, but as it continues to accelerate, the industry can utilise the years of research and development from other technology leaders, including Google and Facebook. These types of businesses have worked with NLP for several years and can provide a clear path for the finance industry.

Whether your business is researching a company or exploring data sets on a particular region that is beyond capable of a human doing, businesses will rely on these types of technology even more. There are several ways in which NLP can improve decision making and enhance the response time of financial businesses:

Automation: NLP can replace certain manual tasks and convert unstructured data into a more effective and usable form. For example, this can include, management presentations or acquisition announcements.

Enhancing Data: Once unstructured data is collected, applying context can make the information both searchable and actionable. Machine Learning can enrich raw information, identify particular sections that may have a financial impact or other particular areas of concern to the business.

Improve Search and Discovery: The finance industry is actively seeking to find a competitive advantage in terms of data variation. However, what is important is delivering a search experience that is as efficient and effective as the google search bar that customers are used to. It can be very challenging searching data at a bank or hedge fund. Financial analysts emphasise the need for intelligent systems capable of understanding the industry.

For financial businesses looking to gain the benefits from these technology services, the barriers to enter the market are significantly lower than in previous years, due to technology being more affordable and easier to implement. With the advancements in technology today, it’s realistic to implement innovative NLP in finance without having the skills or experience in machine learning.

The competition between major technology businesses has enhanced the machine learning environment for interested stakeholders. Technology leaders are investing significant money into creating efficient machine language systems and in pursuing market dominance, have generated available frameworks for other businesses. 

Businesses are still trying to determine the most effective way of implementing machine learning and for the finance industry, there isn’t necessarily a single solution. Companies could create machine learning products or build their data science team. Machine learning can be applied pretty much anywhere, from a low-level data collection point to a high-level client-facing service.

The recognition of having valuable data that isn’t being fully utilised is the general drive for implementing machine learning. Businesses understand they have all this data that is too much for humans to use, so how can machine learning and natural language processing be applied? For financial businesses, which often are cautious with adding new technologies like machine learning, this understanding is critical. As more people see the products and understand the processes, they begin to realise how it works and values it offers. 

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Performance Management

How performance management software can support small businesses through challenging times

by Mike Jones 04/11/2020

Information can deliver vital insight and important benefits for small businesses and performance management tools can enable leaders to understand more about their employees.

Understanding what your employees are capable of performing is a critical aspect of managing and operating an efficient workplace. Daily observations do provide some insight for senior managers but it doesn’t necessarily deliver a complete picture. Performance management software can identify valuable data insight to generate a better understanding of each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. If implemented correctly, performance management software can enable a lot of additional value for a business.

What are the benefits of performance management software?

In most HR teams, the drive for clear, decisive data is particularly important in regards to talent management. Today, HR teams utilise performance management software to assist in simplifying several processes, including appraisal and goal developments.

Improving efficient HR

Organisation in HR is a critical element and employee performance management tools enable HR teams, managers and employees to gain a clear understanding of their business. Gathering key data sources, performance management software can eliminate some of the challenges facing HR teams. It can enable efficient data analysis, allowing for enhanced data collection and generate better and more constructive employee feedback.

Knowing what areas an employee is excelling in and what needs further improvement is significant for employees. By gaining a clear understanding of where an individual is excelling and what areas may require further work, employees can be driven to improve and do better. Performance software can deliver real-time information for employees on a more structured, consistent and granular basis.

Clear insight into an employees strength and weaknesses

Every employee is different, some may excel in certain areas, while other individuals may not meet certain company standards. Being capable of assessing individual performance data, senior managers can discover areas where individuals are exceeding expectations and position them in roles that leverage their stronger assets. In contrast, the data can identify particular weaknesses and support individuals with how to improve these areas.

Reward performance levels

Performance management tools support managers in identifying employee goals and aligning them with wider business goals and values. When assessing employee rewards, performance management systems enable a clear understanding of when and how to reward particular employees. 

With the transition towards remote working, businesses believe that performance management software has become even more important and beneficial for smaller businesses. More businesses are relying on performance management tools to enable their businesses to remain on track. Performance management software supports employees with all functions, impacting the individual, the team and the wider business.

Every business has areas that require further focus and improvement. HR teams and managers must be capable of identifying potential problems before issues evolve and impact further on a business. Being able to evaluate particular areas of a business, and employees that may be hindering business success is a critical process right now.

Employee management software enables managers to determine how well employees are performing their jobs. A range of data sets is utilised to understand the impact and effectiveness of each individual and their impact on the values and goals of the business.

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Enterprise Resource Planning Finance System

The vital role of a CFO

by Mike Jones 28/10/2020

Leading members of the finance industry explain how businesses can transform and maintain performance levels through the pandemic. Financial leaders are playing a vital role in managing businesses through the pandemic and associated economic challenges. A recent study by CFO Research combined with FTI Consulting interviewed 325 chief financial officers and senior executives to get a better understanding of how finance is supporting and driving business value. The results presented five core themes:- 

-The work of CFO’s during the pandemic has shown what impact financial leaders can have on the wider business strategy. Covid-19 has emphasised the ability of financial leaders to manage what is often an overlooked part of a business: corporate scenario planning. 

-With significant changes to the economy, CFOs have managed to maintain productivity via remote teams. The survey indicated that over 70% of finance professionals worked in a remote workforce model. 

-continues to progress and while many CFOs are adapting and utilising automation tools, the survey indicated that automation is yet to reach its full potential in many businesses. The general corporate finance service delivery model is transforming. Over 40% of the respondents stated that their finance work was performed by a shared services organisation, nearly 50% said they used business process outsourcing or alternative hybrid models. Looking to the future, CFO’s are in a position to manage lead strategies and value development of a business. Finance has the capability of delivering insights on predictable measures in a volatile market, a vital asset in helping a business determine the cost, risk, working capital and overall capital structure. 

CFOs transforming into strategic leaders During the pandemic, CFOs have demonstrated the potential to generate models based on various scenarios, the ability to transform, make informed decisions and most importantly, lead their business through the pandemic. Respondents of the survey indicated that finance executives view their CFOs as vital members of strategic leadership, planning, analysis, technology and automation and detecting risks. Approximately 90% of respondents indicated that their CFO’s core functions include:-

Overwhelmingly, the surveyed finance executives portrayed their chief financial officers and finance teams as rising to the task across the domains of strategic leadership, planning and analysis, use of technology and automation, and identifying risks. More than nine out of every 10 of the survey respondents said their CFO and finance functions: 

-Important roles in guiding the overall strategy, making key operational decisions and supporting enterprise values across the entire business. 

-Driving value by detecting areas and leading plans to reduce and optimise business costs. 

-Applying innovative technologies i.e. predictive analytics and automation to generate accurate and relevant information. 

Remote working 

As with all business leaders, CFOs needed to adapt to remote working conditions, the cultural changes and the overall talent challenges. The survey findings suggested that CFOs were well prepared with automated-driven tools and were capable of responding quickly to specific priorities, processes and the preservation of talent and culture in the business. 

The main priority for CFOs in regards to the pandemic was enabling a remote workforce, according to the survey results. Over 40% of the respondents stated that finance teams adopted a remote working system, with nearly 30% transitioning to predominantly working remotely. The challenges from this transformation included the implications on cost management, financial planning, analysis, budgeting and forecasting (40%). Over 40% of the respondents claimed that risk management, working capital management, adopting new technology, and accounting and financial reporting were largely impacted. 

Automated Technology CFOs have progressed in regards to applying robotic process automation to specific finance functions, but there are still opportunities to enhance this further. Most CFOs have adopted automation to a certain level, with nearly 80% of the respondents indicating that at least one of the members of their finance team was ‘virtual’ i.e. they were using RPA and other automation tools. The survey findings indicated that for smaller businesses, the number of virtual workers was significantly smaller, suggesting that automation hasn’t reached its full potential in many businesses. Over 50% of finance executives indicated that eliminating and automating manual tasks was a top priority. Cost containment continues to be a key concern for CFOs. Over 30% of respondents stated that they intended to increase the use of captive shared services, BPO, GBS or an alternative hybrid model to utilise cost models during a disruptive business environment. For many senior finance executives, the CFO is regarded as a finance and accounting leader. The survey highlighted that finance professionals also regard CFOs as a business leader, value creator and someone who drives efficiency and effectiveness within a business. Nearly 90% of the respondents indicated that the CFO had the talent and expertise to enhance enterprise value for the business. In the short term, CFOs have proven how a business can survive during the initial phases of the pandemic. In regards to the long term, CFOs will examine initiatives that focus on cost savings. Finance executives believe that improving planning, scenario modelling and forecasting are top priorities for CFOs over the coming year or so. To achieve these strategic goals, over 80% of the respondents believed this required evaluating, implementing or focusing on existing planning, forecasting and budgeting technologies.

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Oracle Financial – Banks and corporate industry working together can improve supply chain financing

by Mike Jones 21/10/2020

The recent economic challenges have accelerated the need for businesses to focus more on supply chain management, and in many cases, this requires added support from banks. Vikram Gupta, the head of the banking product engineering group at Oracle Financial Services explains that access to capital can be a challenge, and the pandemic has only highlighted the issues of transactional risks further. Gupta highlights that nearly every industry has experienced some level of impact and many small businesses have found it particularly challenging for working capital due to low demand, extended payment terms and increasing inventory levels. The innovation and efficiency from digitalisation play an important role in supporting a business-enhancing working capital, but banks can also play an important role. Gupta explains that banks can provide an alternative, low cost and less document-heavy form of financing, like supply chain financing. Gupta emphasises that funding can even be applied to vendors or dealers, and the corporate’s balance sheets.

Based on these details, Oracle Financial is offering a new supply chain finance service to support banks in delivering more flexible financing options. Providing early funding to supplier corporates or extended payment terms are other ways to support working capital plans. Banks are in a unique position, with details covering every payment going to their corporate client’s account. Understanding when invoices are raised and where capital is required is the area that should be focused on a growth and partnership model. By leveraging balance sheets, smaller corporates will have more affordable and quicker access to working capital, which in turn enables banks to generate added revenue streams from interest and fees.

Supply Chain Financing

Gupta explains that there are several important factors to consider in terms of automation with SCF. This includes managing physical documents and converting them into specific inputs for a business process and automating business processes for quicker turnaround times. To do this, a range of innovative technology is required, including natural language processing (NLP) which converts documents into on-screen information and AI-focused services to reduce human error. Having real-time details of information for the end customer and the bank’s operational users enable everyone to use the same information and provide clarity on the status and predictability of cash flow. 

Identifying unmatched payments continues to be the biggest challenge in supply chain finance right now, Oracle’s focus on automating and streamlining this issue has made tracking simpler. The oracle platform can identify the groups associated with the payment and match them with outstanding invoices and finances in real-time, while at the same time, provide instant status updates to corporates and banks.

Reducing Disruption

Any software changes on a bigger scale have to be capable of connecting with existing systems used by businesses and Gupta explains that Oracle can do this with little disruption. Oracle’s experience with banks enables it to deliver solutions that can be easily integrated and transformed within a business.

Gupta highlights that their strategy is to create an API for everything, meaning the applications are open to receive and provide information from legacy systems in a bank’s system. 

Capital Access

Whether it be poor borrowing costs or lack of strength in balance sheets, capital access has always been challenging for smaller businesses. Smaller companies also face further challenges due to changes in account payables and account receivables. The speed at which you manage funds can determine the winners in this industry, according to Gupta. Gupta highlights that generating money churn through the business is how any business generates more money. Based on the current climate, the need to streamline activities and reduce complex processes is critical. Gupta highlights that in the current conditions, every bit of money that can be collected and any government funding that can be utilised will have an impact.

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