5 Pillars of Financial Control #5 – Technologies
So, if you have been following our discussion on the five pillars of financial control, then you’ll know that we’ve looked at leadership, controls and performance, value creation, supplier management, and now we are going to look at the last pillar of financial control, technologies.
Technology is a vital part of financial control, but it’s how technology is used, implemented, and expanded that allows for proper financial control. So, let’s once again talk to the experts, Caroline Adams, Former Senior Finance Manager, Debenhams, Sam Ryan, Global Process Owner P2P, ITV and Paul Sutton, Head of Financial Compliance, UCLH NHS Foundation Trust and talk a little bit about supplier management and take a deep dive into the topic.
Supplier Portals and P-Cards
So, we start this from the perspective of Caroline, who advocates for the use of two main technologies when it comes to helping to improve financial control. First of all, she advocates for supplier portals, justifying it as “they could know where they were in the chain, they could see where their documents were, they could see where invoicing was at, and it gave them a lot of control.“.
She also advocates for the use of purchasing cards, citing them as a way to get rebates, which is good for generating a little bit of money, and at the same time, keeping a close eye on financial control and helping to mitigate the risks of unchecked spending.
Automation as an Aid
When we passed the microphone over to Paul, we got his interesting insight into the world of automation. It’s not exactly a secret that a lot of businesses clamour about automation as a great way of making menial tasks no longer a problem and making businesses much more streamlined, but Paul has a much more reasoned take on it than simply gushing about the benefits of automation, which he phrases like this
“So I think that all the automation technologies are very useful as long as they are empowering and driving people who work in finance, giving them the right information at the right time. Technology is a great supporter of businesses, and automation is helpful, but it shouldn’t be the end game”.
It’s not difficult to see that Paul’s opinions come from his long service in the financial industry, but he does raise a very good point. Automation is a powerful tool and, as a technology, is incredibly useful, but it can’t replace humans entirely. There needs to be some level of nuance, some need for humans to be able to cast over these processes with a critical eye and look for patterns and figures that maybe automation can’t do.
That human element is incredibly important in financial control because automation has no contextual ability. If you program something to be automated, it will just keep doing it, even if it’s not necessarily the right decision. A human can look at the situation and make a judgement call.
Building targeted Solutions
Finally, we have the unique perspective of Sam, who stresses the importance of building a tailored approach. She talks about a unique Accounts Payable solution that she designed herself, and that was working at 99% efficiency for payments on time because it was designed to follow the entire invoicing system through and then deliver support where necessary.
She believes it’s important to build, from the beginning, a proper relationship with a technology provider and design something uniquely tailored to the situation. You can’t just have generic industry technology because they don’t always work. You need to bring something custom made to the equation if you want to really tighten up financial control.
So, when it comes to technology, the general consensus is that good technology helps to manage risks. That’s primarily the role it plays within financial control – risk management. Automation is an effective tool, but it can’t be something that consumes a business that drives all of its decisions. Finally, there is the need to make sure that you have a tailored system that has been built around the specific side of processes.
It’s nice to see that even though technology is a very useful thing, all of our experts have a layer of cynicism in terms of how they look at it. Nobody is professing it to be the ultimate solution to every problem, they are suggesting certain caveats to its use, and this is a good thing. It becomes very tempting to just use technology as a way to enhance a business, but without a practical purpose, without a specific need, there’s just no point in doing so. Instead, we need to focus on designing and using technologies that play a specific role.