Digital Disruption & The Finance Function

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Digital Disruption and the Finance Function

Digital disruption is steadily increasing in the Finance function as new digital technologies provide opportunities for process improvements and greater efficiency, and the fundamental importance of the role of the function in relation to ‘Big Data’  becomes better understood.  But even so, further disruption seems inevitable, as new digital imperatives and demands for more responsive and ‘agile’ approaches confront the established Finance ‘mindset’ and ways of working, resulting in wholesale transformation of the way the function fulfils its role.

Operational Improvements

A number of different digital technologies have obvious value in improving the operation of the Finance function, including:

  • Cloud: offers increased scalability, access to enhanced analytics and the potential to replace embedded, inflexible and expensive accounting, transaction processing and ERP systems with new ‘Software as a Service’ solutions.
  • Automation, including Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and the use of Artificial Intelligence: provides cost reduction, efficiency and reliability opportunities by replacing human workers with machines; increasingly machines are able to undertake tasks (eg clerical activities, report writing) which hitherto had only been possible for humans – and are less prone to error and fatigue when performing these (nor do they get sick or take holidays).


  • Data Analytics:  improvements in the quality and speed of the analysis of data, and in its presentation, enable the function to provide more reliable insights and better inform decision making more quickly than hitherto – even without accessing the full benefits of ‘Big Data’ discussed below.
  • Distributed Ledger Technology (Blockchain): this is a digital system for recording assets in which the assets and their details are recorded in multiple places at the same time. Everyone who has access to the ledger receives a copy of it, and mechanisms are in place to ensure that all copies are always synchronised and contain exactly the same information. Changes to the ledger are rapidly recorded across all copies, and records are protected through cryptography.  This is fundamentally an accounting technology, with tremendous potential to streamline the recording of transactions and the ownership of assets and attendant obligations.

Operational improvements:

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In a 2018 survey of 1700 US and Canadian finance executives, in the US 75% said they are either using cloud-based solutions or plan to do so in the future, compared to 72% in 2017 and 62 % in 2016; and in Canada the figure was 73%, versus 67% in 2017 and 47% in 2016

(Source: Robert Half and Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), 2017 Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function report)

Advantages of Cloud-based solutions

Complexities of Cloud-based solutions

Example: YouGov, the UK-based international market research and polling company, initially adopted a cloud based finance and ERP system in 2007 to replace a number of different applications used in different companies which it had acquired as part of its growth strategy.  This provided a single system of record for ‘glueing acquired companies together’, and provided the flexibility and scalability to accommodate additional acquisitions as they occurred.  The solution provided multi-country and multi-currency functionality, meaning that any localisation issues were avoided, while new users could easily access the system, regardless of location.  The system also offered an integrated CRM and finance solution, linking together all parts of the sales value chain, minimizing rekeying and ensuring a ‘single version of the truth’ was maintained across its entirety. Moreover, as a cloud-based solution, this was all put in place without the need to invest in additional IT infrastructure.