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Exclusive: Why cloud is the answer to finance woes

FYI, this story is more than a year old

Recently IT Brief had the opportunity to get in touch with Workday Financials APAC director James Harkin to discuss cloud and its relationship with the finance industry.  

To start off with can you tell me a bit more about yourself and your experience in the industry?

I am Asia Pacific Director for Workday Financials based in Sydney, Australia.  I am responsible for developing and executing Workday Financials’ go to market plan for the region and have two decades of industry experience with a focus on business outcomes, digital transformation and customer satisfaction.

I have a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Glasgow, a Post Graduate Diploma in Accounting and Finance from the University of Strathclyde, and qualified as a Chartered Management Accountant (ACMA) in 1991.

After training and working as an accountant in the UK with companies including Nissan, Roll Royce Industrial Power, and Johnnie Walker, I transitioned to work with technology companies in Europe and in Asia. Prior to Workday, I was in leadership roles with Oracle, Siebel and SAP.

My training as a chartered management accountant and experience in leading information technology (IT) implementations have provided me with the ability to perceive IT as an enabler of business transformation, for the delivery of clearly measurable business goals, impacting revenues, costs and margins, while understanding the complexities of successful IT delivery.

What are some of the major trends you're seeing regarding finance leaders?

Cloud is a key trend and the conversation has definitely shifted from where is your data, to how secure is your data. Accountants are now comfortable with data in the cloud. 

Workday has just released a survey called Finance Disrupted: The Changing Role of the CFO in Large Enterprises, and this showed that more than half (64%) of large enterprises in APAC intend to move their finance systems to the cloud, with one-third (33%) expecting to do so in the next 6-12 months. In terms of finance moving to the cloud, the time is now.

This survey included more than 300 senior finance executives from large enterprises in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Why do you think the uptake of cloud in the finance industry is on the rise?

Finance is under ever increasing pressure to be a more strategic partner to the business and answer questions such as: Where do we grow fastest, where do we need to invest, and what are potential expansion areas for the business? As a result, there is an increased need for finance to transform their function; shifting resources from transaction processing and control to being a better business partner–all at a lower cost. This is challenging because the technology to support accounting that many businesses have in place was never designed to support finance as a business partner.

Most finance professionals also lack a single source of truth for data. According to the survey (Finance Disrupted: The Changing Role of the CFO in Large Enterprises), a majority of finance professionals (56.7%) use more than two different systems to collate their data, with 16.2% using more than six sources for data collation. This is highest in New Zealand and Singapore where almost one in five of respondents (18.8%) rely on more than six data sources.

Less than half of survey respondents were very satisfied with their current tools used to perform core accounting (40.1%), real-time reporting (38.9%), budgeting and forecasting (40.4%), treasury management (43.3%), internal control deployment (42.7%), external audit (41.5%).

Finance leaders are now realising that moving to the cloud and consolidating their systems gives them real-time data analytics capabilities that can help inform decision-making, manage risks and plan for the future. It can also enhance security.

The cloud allows finance professionals to consolidate disparate systems and processes and retire legacy hardware systems. Organisations on the whole also gain extensive competitive advantages through moving much more nimbly than competitors who must devote IT resources to managing infrastructure.

The cloud reduces the cost of data management and analytics, making sophisticated financial analysis faster, cheaper and more broadly available.

The uptake of the cloud is driven by the limitations of legacy systems, businesses are wanting to retire old legacy systems, they need to because they are holding the business back. 

But we know that finance leaders are risk-averse. Now that they are seeing others go live including big customers, they are ready to move.

What are some of the challenges that come along with this uptake?

 Innovations in technology and business management processes are creating greater opportunities for finance practitioners to add value to their organisations, but are also demanding more attention, technical prowess and strategic understanding from them. We know disruption can be ruthless and relentless for businesses. For the future of finance, it can be quite a bleak affair – evolve or risk being left behind.

Finance teams are thus facing an unenviable task, and a challenge, of predicting the future, while managing their conventional workloads and obligations in achieving business growth.

There is also the challenge of working with peers to orchestrate the introduction and deployment of new technology that will help make jobs more efficient and increase employee engagement, while at the same time ultimately reducing the costs associated with recruiting and retaining valued talent.

Are there any risks associated with cloud uptake and how can they be subverted?

Businesses need to be aware that not all cloud is the same. You don’t want to take disconnected sections to the cloud, having data fragmented makes the cost of operation higher with risk and complexity.

You also need to make sure you have the right people in place to help with the transformation, and the right skill sets. It is important to assess your team and if there are gaps, look at how you can develop these people.

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