Finance Department; driver of the digital transformation of businesses

What are the main current technological advances and what applications do they have in the world of finance?

Frédéric Massy, Chief Marketing Officer, ITESOFT: New waves of technology are regularly arriving on the market: blockchain, AI, RPA, machine learning, etc. The invariably follow the same cycle of sometimes disproportionate expectations followed by disappointment, before finding specific applications within organizations. We remain convinced that the purpose of technology should be to make an organization more efficient, in other words, more smarter, faster and more secure. Although the potential uses for new technologies are numerous, we have to put them into a more long-term perspective. Obviously, they allow the transformation of a task or an operation in which they are used, but in the end it is the end-to-end and complete automation of a process that creates value. We also think that technologies that have been available for several years, such as automation or the cloud still represent for companies great productivity potential for organizations; in this context, the new advances mentioned (AI, blockchain, etc.) are a lever for enriching them and making them more efficient.

What are the current limits on advances?

Frédéric Massy: Technology as such does not have any theoretical limits. However, the first limiting factor is certainly the capacity for adoption: employee training, organization in place, specialist resources, regulatory constraints and securing of exchanges. The second factor is related to the fact that, while experimentation is a necessary rite of passage, identification of relevant use cases is sometimes more complex, amongst other reasons because these technologies have to become part of an ecosystem that goes beyond the company. In this context, we believe that our role as publisher is precisely to invest, through our efforts in R&D, in these technologies to integrate them in our applications and services and thus facilitate their use and accelerate their benefits for our customers. In this context, cloud and SaaS represent a major potential for democratization to reduce roll-out complexity and we confirm this every day in the finance function.

How important is data in the rise of these technologies?

Frédéric Massy: Data is what fuels digital transformationIt is at the heart of performance, making it possible to manage the organization and its processes in real time and to make informed decisions. It also essential for feeding AI algorithms and optimizing their results. The main challenge for an organization, and financial departments do not escape from this, is to have reliable, exhaustive and valid data. A recent study from the AIIM shows that the volume of information received by a company will double over the next two years and that more than half of this volume corresponds to non-structured information, namely these documents in hardcopy or image format, such as PDF. The ability to examine and extract at reduced cost the data that is critical and essential for the correct operation of the organization is therefore a major challenge. Furthermore, the securing and reliability of this data are a priority today as digital is opening up new risks for companies, including fraud. These are two areas in which we are making massive investments for offering new breakaway solutions for our customers.

Who are automation tools aimed at?

Frédéric Massy: The original purpose of automation was to avoid documents circulating on paper and to be able to index, archive and find them. Today, automation should really be for the purpose of speeding up decisions and securing their reliability by digitizing a process in its entirety. In the last context, it concerns all companies, whether small, medium-sized or large. The cloud and SaaS applications have opened up access for the greatest number to automated processes, such as processing of supplier invoices and the Procure-to-Pay process. By relying on these solutions, each company can greatly reduce its costs, speed up its processing and manage its processes. Furthermore, we are currently changing over from technological approaches to business approaches with quantifiable benefits that have to be made accessible more quickly and easily. For example, we have made the choice to only push the benefits of the cloud in our solutions, by sharing data and reference systems even beyond infrastructures; like the Waze application, which makes it possible to benefit from information from hundreds of drivers, the data from our hundreds of customers continuously improves automation performances for each of them.

Are blockchain and AI really the revolutions that they say they are?

Frédéric Massy: Machine learning is already implemented in numerous applications. It is used for document recognition, fraud detection, voice recognition, etc. Blockchain is going to make it possible to secure data and document exchanges within an ecosystem. For example, we can store the imprint of an invoice in blockchain in order to ensure that it has not been modified since it was issued. We therefore have 100% securing of streams thanks to this collaborative technology. It is an encouraging outlook, but we still have far to go and this is why we are also investing in unique technologies for improving accuracy of transactions in hardcopy or electronic documents.

Does the finance department become the driver of digital transformation and innovation?

Frédéric Massy: The Finance and Administration Division is at the heart of digital transformation of companies. Its mastery of figures enables to model and manage the value contributed by transformation projects. It also has a key role in the reduction of compliance or fraud risks related to the digitization of processes. Today, how can we accept losing 1% of EBIT on a risk that goes undetected when it is more difficult than ever to generate 2% growth? Furthermore, while the finance department remains responsible for producing financial data at lower cost, it is expected to play a more strategic role. Transformation of financial processes is a lever for productivity to allow workers to focus on tasks with higher added value. Finally, the Administration and Finance Division will be all the more legitimate in its leadership role since it will have carried out the digital transformation of its own department. According to our “Future of Finance” barometer, projects for automation of the P2P process are the spearhead of digital transformation in finance tasks because 57 % of respondents say that they have a short- or medium-term project. It is an excellent showcase because it is a multi-disciplinary process that is visible for all departments.

Are regulations an obstacle or an accelerator of digitization?

Frédéric Massy:  Regulations can be both an obstacle and a lever for productivity, depending on how you look at it. Regulatory changes encourage digitization: a PDF invoice sent by email now has the same value as a hardcopy invoice, and the reliable copy only makes it possible to save the electronic copy of a document received in hardcopy format. These changes have only taken place due to them being driven by the government. However, regulations often arrive long the advances in technology, the rate of which has been speeding up considerably for several years. This is why it is important that the solutions chosen by companies are able to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability in the face of regulatory changes and rulings that require process overhauls within deadlines that are sometimes very short.

This interview was conducted by Option Finance magazine at a round table entitled "The finance department, driver of the digital transformation of businesses".