From working with clients and attending events, I have noticed 3 types of gaps when it comes to finance departments and how they use technology.
All 3 gaps prevent a finance department from running at optimal efficiency and productivity, and should be assessed by organisations.
1. The Knowledge Gap
There is a knowledge gap between the services and products that you know to be available, and what is actually available on the market. To put it simply, "you don't know, what you don't know".
There are many service providers offering solutions to help make the finance function more efficient and productive. Remember when BPay was all the rage? Well now there are tools utilising OCR (Optical Character Reader) technology, whereby scanners can read documents and complete electronic workflow automatically.
How to Shorten the Knowledge Gap
Not every organisation can afford to invest in constant professional training and education, nor are finance staff expected to become IT professionals. These are a few ways that a finance department can stay on top of what technologies and solutions are available to them:
- Attend professional development workshops and conferences
- When a supplier asks you for a catch up meeting, oblige them and take the time to hear about their new service/product offerings
- Attend networking events for your industry and/or your accounting membership body. Ask other organisations what new technologies they are using
- Engage external parties to identify new technologies and solutions.
It is critical to invest time to learn what is available in the marketplace and how these technologies can be applied to your organisation to either reduce costs or increase output in your finance function.
2. The Service Delivery Gap
There is a service delivery gap between the technology used to interact with internal/external parties versus how those parties want to interact with your finance department.
You can pretty much blame Gen Ys for this service delivery gap. Gen Y staff and customers expect to be able to do everything electronically, instantly and on their phone. Although this demographic have high expectations on service delivery, they also have great ideas on how to improve processes.
A common service delivery gap is in payroll. A finance department might use hard copy manual time sheets and leave request forms, but staff would prefer to use electronic forms that can be instantly completed anywhere, on any device.
An example of a service delivery gap for external users is where a customer/debtor would like the ability to look up their account balance themselves and pay their bills online.
How to Manage the Service Delivery Gap
Ask your staff, customers and suppliers what frustrations they have or how they would like to complete processes. Think of yourself and what frustrations you have with your personal suppliers, and consider how that situation might be similar to your organisation.
- Is there a better way to automate the collection of information?
- Is there an easier way to receive/pay money?
Unfortunately, your systems and processes should always be in a constant state of development and improvement. Will your organisation or your competitor be the first to address the service delivery gap?
3. The Skills Gap
There is a skills gap between the technical ability required of finance staff in order to undertake their roles effectively, and the level of skills and ability they actually possess.
Given the fast rate of change in the last decade it is not surprising that many finance staff have not been able to maintain their technology skills. Or worse still, that an organisation has not supported the ongoing training of these skills for staff.
In a very basic skills gap example, a finance officer might not have the Microsoft Excel skills to enable information to be sorted and uploaded into the finance system quickly.
How to Address the Skills Gap
At some level it does come down to the individual staff member and their attitude towards learning and adapting to new technology. However, there are things that can be done at an organisational level to assist with up-skilling staff:
- An organisation should complete regular performance reviews that give the opportunity for both the employer and the staff member to identify where training is needed
- Allow for the investment in professional development and training in your budget
- Documenting key systems and processes that can be used as a reference guide and training tool.
Adequate training must be given when implementing new systems and technology. If there is a skills gap with finance staff, then those staff will avoid or bypass using new technology by continuing to use out-dated systems that they are more comfortable with.
The technology used in finance departments greatly impacts how staff and external parties operate. However, when it comes to finance and accounting, system and process upgrades are often overlooked or deemed not important.
An organisation has the statutory obligation to run an accurate finance department. However, it is in everyone's best interest to have a finance department that uses technology in order to be efficient and productive, and seamlessly interacts with both internal and external parties.
For more information on the issues addressed in this blog please contact Anita Wassermann at firstname.lastname@example.org