I am not in the first flush of my youth, as much as it pains me to admit it, so the vast opportunities (and ‘threats’) that come with the unstoppable march of AI and automation are both exciting and daunting in equal measure. I am by no means an early adopter but even I can see that any professional Finance function worth their salt needs to get on board, now, in order not to get ahead of the pack, but simply keep up. Any manual, functional, processual task must now be called into question. That question is not ‘can this process be automated’, but ‘what is the best method to automate this process’. The functionality undoubtedly already exists. The obvious follow up question is ‘what “value add” task/process can replace it’.
So, where does one start on this journey? If I say so myself -that is a good question! If it is not the hottest topic in Finance right now, it is certainly in the top 3, so there are a myriad of different webinars, courses and experts all professing to know the answer. So, the question becomes, how does one sort the wheat from the chaff. In my view, I’m not sure you need to, at least to start with. My view is that one should hear from as many different organisations on this topic as you can. Throw the net far and wide, collate a wide range of different opinions and see which fits your organisational needs the best. As with any new challenge or opportunity, there is rarely one right answer.
For my part, the first step is to flesh out, as best I can, where I would like to get to in the short/medium term using automation. That will first mean a relatively simple exercise of sub-dividing my time between process and strategic tasks. Once I am clear on what it is that I would like to be automated, I will then have a defined view of what technology or software I am looking for, which of course will help hone in on the right experts or advisers.
As I have said, perhaps the more ‘exciting’ element of this journey is what one will do with the time that is provided by completing this exercise. Obviously, that will depend entirely on the individual requirements of each business but I think if I had to boil it down to a sentence it would be ‘spend more (or most) of one’s time looking forward, not backwards’. If automating manual processes leads me away from reconciling the bank account to reviewing the landscape for economic trends, or away from manually updating forecasts to scenario planning for potential new projects or business, I will be a very satisfied customer.
In conclusion, although it may feel uncomfortable to relinquish working practices that are truly ‘dyed in the wool’ and have been honed over (too) many years, the clear and obvious benefits of doing so are just too compelling to do anything other than walk towards the light.