Global trade, HR, and tech concerns for optimistic finance & procurement pros: EIU survey
A recent survey commissioned by The Economist Intelligence Unit and supported by Basware shows that finance and procurement professionals are mostly optimistic about their organisation’s ability to meet both the technological and global trade challenges that are on the horizon.
The spectre of the US-China trade war (21 percent) dominates the thoughts of many professionals, with raised concerns over the future of the free market system. One respondent even went as far as to state that his biggest economic fear is that “we will not have free markets any more in ten years”.
But as far as technology goes (the report concentrates on findings with regards to automation and digitisation), there’s a positive attitude shown by most.
The full report is here to download from Basware (who sponsored its publication), but a few figures have surfaced that make for interesting reading. Here are some key highlights as Tech Wire Asia sees them.
Placing the burden of troublesome, repetitive workloads onto silicon-based “robots” is not yet commonplace, but most survey respondents believe that automation of some sort, is the future. 47 percent expect payments to be automated and similar responses were indicated for the automation of procurement processes, supply chain management and internal finance processes. However, 34 percent of respondents expect automation to free up time to focus on strategic objectives.
In short, deploying automation software to do mundane tasks lets individual staff worry less about the boredom-inducing copying of information from system X to platform Y and shift their focus to more impactful roles and duties.
Among finance and procurement professionals, 43 percent cited the need for technology investment with regards to automation across other departments. That mirrors the centralised, more strategic role finance and procurement is playing in many companies.
Finance and procurement platforms need to interface with other systems (HR, operations and supply chain management platforms, to name a few) in order for this strategic positioning to be viable.
Clearly, the impact of technology is not without its side-effects: 51 percent stated that the automation of internal finance procedures would require a revision of financial processes. That’s undoubtedly down to the dismantling of data silo walls that is necessary if procurement and finance are to take a more central role in the business.
The trouble with a broad-sweep term like digitisation is that it means different things to different people. For some, it means fewer paper-based transactions and manual record-keeping, but for those further down the digital transformation road, digitisation may mean using cloud-based clusters of services in specific areas, like providing procurement partners and suppliers access to real-time data, for example.
One advantage that APAC has over other geographies is that businesses and organisations here are usually further along the road to digital transformation. The opportunity is apparent, therefore, for finance and procurement teams to help steer the way to beating global competition.
Interestingly, digitising financial processes will inevitably lead (it is felt by 45 percent of those surveyed) to a revision of procedures, but 42 percent (58 percent in financial services) believe the primary impact will be to reduce costs. That naturally assumes that staff will be quick to assimilate new, digital methodologies and existing technological infrastructure can adapt, be replaced, or share data efficiently. However, retraining and re-tasking staff is an expensive business. Despite the fact that next-generation finance platforms have come a long way in adopting graphical user interfaces and user experience practices that are familiar to finance professionals – and while many leaders are confident their teams can hit the ground running as new technologies emerge – the importance of engaging teams in adjusting to change cannot be underestimated.
Concerns about the US-China trade war were front-of-mind for those surveyed and particularly for those in the manufacturing sector, 37 percent of whom cited this trend. But while it dominates the headlines, this trend was not the only trade-related concern for global businesses. Another source of concern is national barriers to digital trade, including censorship, localisation measures and privacy regulation, which was cited by 13 percent, as well as the importance of climate change. 12 percent of respondents identified “extreme weather events and other climate change-related disruptions” as their top concern.
As is often the case with surveys such as the one reviewed here, the short-term implications are most apparent in the detail. It is notable that 31 percent of those surveyed stated that recruiting new staff with specialist digital skills will be critical to digital transformation. That’s interesting to note, as automation, digitisation, and technology in general are often seen as remote, powerful and autonomous systems that once in play, create free time for staff to pursue other, more worthy tasks.
However, the reality is that digitally fluent finance and procurement staff will need to be hands-on with digitised systems and processes. In other words, they will need to know the capabilities of software and digital services and be able to deploy those systems effectively. And, preferably, act as advocates-come-technology-evangelists for the whole division.
To download the full report, please visit the Basware website to request your copy.