African finance professionals must not miss the golden opportunity technology offers to enhance their ability to compete successfully in the continent’s growing business sector, says Theuns Holtshousen, Divisional Business Leader, CaseWare Africa.
“As Africans we are using technology freely in our private lives, but as finance professionals, we are not yet capitalising on the opportunities it offers to streamline our businesses, improve profit margins and compete with big firms,” he says. “If we do not begin to make the move now, we risk falling behind even the smallest tech-savvy competitors.”
Holtshousen says that while technology offers a significant upside for finance professionals wanting to enhance their service offerings, they should take a strategic approach when digitising.
“Five crucial issues must be considered, starting with the key concept driving the use of technology within the finance industry and that is automation. It will reduce duplication and enhance accuracy and speed. Automating their own processes will also free up staff to perform higher margin consulting work.”
Next he says legacy systems and data must be taken into account. “The technology-adoption road map must incorporate existing technology investments and, crucially, data stores.”
Thirdly, Holtshousen urges finance professionals to give cloud careful consideration. “Cloud can help reduce capital costs and provide a platform for collaboration and automation, among many other benefits. But for most finance professionals, a phased approach using the hybrid cloud makes good sense.
“Hooking up an existing desktop application to the cloud can add great value by enabling better collaboration and the creation of a single data store. The latter will immediately eliminate the problems that come with re-entering information, and set the stage for further automation initiatives,” says Holtshousen. “It also immediately enables a practice to collaborate with other firms to service clients across a much wider geographical area. Indeed, this ability to compete on equal terms with competitors, big or small, is a general technology benefit,” he adds.
Fourth on the list is the importance of not automating sub-standard processes. “It is surprising that so many companies simply automate their existing manual processes, failing to seize the opportunity to improve procedures during automation. When automating, finance professionals must look at where they want to be in the future, and design their processes with the end goal in mind. That way, they will begin to build a company that is future-proof.”
The fifth key issue is integration. “It is the key to successful technology adoption. It is implicit in all these points, but because it is so important it needs highlighting. The aim must be a single file across the full life cycle of any client. Thus, for example, the data in clients’ accounting packages must automatically populate the software used to produce the annual financial statements, thereby avoiding the errors and time required to transfer them manually. Cloud-based storage can be used to hold the supporting documents, and for collaboration with multiple branches. The task of consolidating the financials can therefore, also be automated.
“All of these considerations will help ensure that financial professionals ‘leverage the machine’ effectively, and get the biggest return on their technology investment. Also, never forget that adopting technology is only valuable if it is done in such a way as to leverage humans as well. In the end, people do business with people, so the trick is using machines to maximise the benefits of that contact for both parties,” he concludes.