The role of finance changes from compliance to driving environmental and socially responsible value. And the CFO is at the heart of these changes. One of the instruments to accommodate this change, is robotic process automation (RPA). Steve Faulkner, leading the CFO practice with UiPath, a global RPA technology leader. Rocking Robots discussed with him the challenges CFOs are currently facing.
Steve has not only a background in finance, until recently he was a CFO himself. Among other roles, he was an executive at a KPN subsidiary, where he gained first-hand experience what it means to digitally transform the customers engagement and developing a digital portfolio.
Later he became EMEA CFO with Data Management solutions company NetApp. He collaborated with both customers, sales, and developed a shared services strategy in this role. “That was my first real exposure to automation on a platform level. As we had over a hundred automations we truly achieved the ROI at a scale that people talk about.”
Changing role of the CFO
He joined UiPath in November last year as Global CFO Practice Lead with a clear view on how the role of the CFO has changed fundamentally. “There is a lot of discussion around decision support, real-time information, analytics and improving decision making. What struck me was that finance was always leading in those business practices, but RPA could even further enhance this.”
The other agenda is keeping up with the regulatory change. “And for me, the focus on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) is really important. The UN has published the 17 SDGs, with 169 targets, and the CFO has been identified as one of the main actors. But how do CFOs identify the investment and resources necessary to pursue an ESG vision and strategy? Do they have the infrastructure to set targets and measure these targets? And of course, what are those targets? We’ve always had tangible cash flow and financial targets. But now we’re talking about intangibles goals like employee and customer experience, sustainability, and equality.”
Steve is very outspoken that the intangibles are out of reach without a transformation of the finance function. “Unless you embrace fully the digital transformation of the finance organization, you run the risk of falling behind your peer group. Everyone looks at the CFO to realize savings, to evolve team members to become value-added partners to the business. Automation can offer a way out. It’s a transformative technology, helping to free up time for every team member so they can focus on the higher-value task. And this change is also the opportunity to offer the right employee experience to attract and retain financial talent.”
“However, many companies are struggling with the challenge of not knowing where to get started on their automation journey. And if they go down this path, do they know what is the investment? Is it just about realizing efficiencies in accounting operations? Or is automation deployed with the ambition to leverage the full value of an Intelligent Automation platform? Whatever it is: always start with the vision. And that is where we, as vendors, can really help those organizations.”
From an accounting operations point of view, automation is a mature technology. “It has a proven record of time to value and ROI, and it gives you the capacity to refocus resources on strategic goals, like ESG. But it also requires to develop digital capabilities in your organization. From a talent point of view, there are not enough resources with digital skills within finance. Through automation adoption, you can build that internal capability and supplement skills gaps with staff augmentation.”
And concerning decision support and decision making, I think the benefits of RPA are too narrowly defined. Efficiency and scaling are important to the CFOs. But what is equally important is publishing month-end and quarterly performance as soon as possible. Automation can play a much bigger role than probably understood. If you can automate your sub-closure process, you can accelerate your month end- cycle.”
Finding acceptance for automation
There is a genuine concern around people’s jobs. That’s a reality. “That’s why linking your automation program to your strategic goals is important to find acceptance in the organization. As you embark on your automation journey the first thing you have to do is build confidence around the leadership team’s support to the vision, to reassure your people that the intended purpose is actually to create a better employee experience not to replace people.”
But for Steve it does not stop there if you want to maximize employee productivity and eventually the customer satisfaction gain. “You have to put the power of purpose at the heart of your automation strategy. A purpose-driven automation strategy will help you manage change as it helps explain to your workforce what it is all about and why it is nothing to be fearful of. Doing this will take automation into your company culture and change how you approach automation.”
Learn more about what’s on the digital finance transformation horizon at this round table by the CFO Automation Experience, an initiative by finance professionals, for finance professionals.