Looking back at 2019, a big theme for finance teams was being pragmatic about finance process management. That largely involved boosting efficiencies by onboarding digital technology like financial planning and analysis (FP&A) software to automate key processes.
A survey from Grant Thornton and CFO Research found that over 40% of finance leaders looked to advanced or automated tools to streamline tasks like budgeting and forecasting last year. However, progress with these tools was made at a much slower pace than many finance leaders would have liked. According to a Gartner report on Top Priorities for Finance Leaders in 2020, 76% of CFOs reported lagging return on investment (ROI) from technology investments due to long implementation times and slow adoption.
Nonetheless, digital transformation is still a top priority for finance leaders in 2020, with finance technology optimization and analytics slated to be two of their top three initiatives. In fact, digital transformation is poised to become a finance megatrend over the next decade.
The good news is that there were four trends in 2019 that show why implementing and adopting FP&A tools to improve your finance processes will be a more seamless experience for your team in 2020.
1. A Focus on a Simplified User Experience with Employee-Centered FP&A Software
2019 was the year that the idea of “consumerized” user experiences really took hold in the corporate performance management software cohort.
According to advisory services firm BPM’s 2019 Pulse of Performance Management Survey, “ease of use” was the top priority for finance teams last year—especially for budgeting, forecasting and planning software. And looking to user experience (UX) superstars like Salesforce and Oracle, tools for managing finance processes became simpler to use while also more sophisticated.
When it came to full-spectrum FP&A software and its potential to help organizations achieve long-term goals in particular, finance leaders began to recognize the need for thinking holistically about user experience.
“Ease of use and robustness means that the tool can handle any type of business transaction or support any reporting functionality, one in which system upgrades don’t put an undue burden on the organizations,” said Paul Riegel, regional director of the CFO Centre in a recent Accounting Today article. “You also want systems that have a good user track record.”
With that in mind, 2019 was a significant year for the importance of “employee-centered design” in FP&A software. Financial teams sought out solutions that were intuitive and easy to use—as well as enjoyable and compelling enough to keep using. There was a growing realization that user experiences featuring employee-centered design are key to successfully driving adoption of new technologies across finance teams, and maximizing ROI by boosting productivity through self-sufficiency.
According to Craig Schiff, President and CEO of BPM Partners: “Leadership in finance self-sufficiency can’t be understated. It’s the difference between a finance professional being able to create a management report in minutes—or waiting for days after submitting a ticket to IT or their vendor.”
That difference in productivity can have a notable impact on the bottom line, which is why a simplified user-experience is such a critical consideration when evaluating FP&A Software.
The annual Corporate Performance Management (CPM) Technology Value Matrix put together by Nucleus Research is a valuable resource to find out which FP&A solutions are considered to be the most user-friendly by finance professionals. Read the full report to find out why Vena was the top-ranked vendor for usability in 2019.
2. Finance Process Management Soars in the Cloud
In 2019, finance leaders recognized the need to think “cloud-first,” setting the stage for a more modern finance function using cloud-based finance applications.
From dynamic flexibility to instant access to important data for analysis, the benefits of cloud computing for finance departments are many. According to BPM’s 2019 Pulse of Performance Management Survey, 95% of finance pros said “yes” to the concept of cloud-based applications. And in its Vendor Landscape Matrix for FP&A technology, 43% of survey respondents said they were already using some kind of cloud application as their core budgeting system.
Overall, cloud services have proven to be easier and more efficient for finance teams to use and maintain than on-premises offerings. Instead of big software deployments and upgrades every three or four years, finance teams can access the latest technologies and technical capabilities as needed.
The 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud Financial Planning and Analysis Solutions confirmed that:
“The FP&A market has shifted from mature on-premises offerings to cloud solutions. Finance application leaders are seeking SaaS solutions to reduce application support costs, increase application flexibility and shorten time to value.”
For finance departments, the cloud represents a giant leap forward from traditional on-premise software. Finance teams can access their data (including spreadsheets) anywhere and at any time along with benefits including:
- Cloud security
- Easy scalability
- Frictionless data integration
A cloud-first mindset has also transformed the ability for finance teams to deliver on customer expectations. Using centralized databases and workflows, they’re able to collaborate more effectively across departments and stay on the same page with the most up-to-date data. And with audit trails, they can rely on that data’s accuracy and integrity.
3. Excel is Here to Stay
In Gartner’s report on Top Priorities for Finance Leaders, CFOs identified metrics and reporting as a high ranking goal for 2020. But 37% spent more time collecting data than analyzing it, with 59% of large organizations saying that a major challenge in achieving their analytics goals was “difficulty extracting data from legacy platforms.” This is where Excel’s familiarity and ease of use continued to shine.
BPM’s 2019 Vendor Landscape Matrix found that a colossal 82% of companies who adopted advanced technologies still use spreadsheets to supplement their core FP&A system. And most companies who adopt ‘replace Excel’ solutions “end up going right back to their favorite spreadsheet software.”
According to the Nucleus Research 2019 CPM Technology Value Matrix:
“Success in FP&A transformation is about building on a foundation of what employees know and appreciate (like Excel) with a partner that has the necessary depth and focused expertise.”
It’s about preventing finance teams from having to learn entirely new systems, languages and behaviors. And because of their widespread familiarity with Excel and its relative simplicity and flexibility, solutions that leverage the platform as their native user interface see increased user adoption rates.
“I think all finance people want to use Excel,” says Doug Vaughn, Director of Financial Planning & Analysis, American Health Partners. “It’s what’s natural for everyone—they get it, it’s pervasive throughout all of finance, and even through other departments. It’s comfortable for people, and if you can give them a tool that’s comfortable, they’ll adapt to it more quickly.”
And indeed, many companies have embraced Excel as the front end of a far more powerful vehicle for finance process management. Vice President of FP&A at Coke Consolidated, Matt Blickley, took this journey in a way that led to real, long-term value for the business.
With an ERP system that dated back to the late 90s, moving to a new shared system created some serious data silos. But by using Vena Solutions’ combination of a native Excel interface with a centralized database, Blickley and his team were able to improve speed and the integration of data and analysis while enabling users to keep working with the Excel spreadsheets they knew and loved.
“We had so many disparate spreadsheets across the organization,” says Blickley. “We knew that our business was going to be changing over the next couple years and we needed something that was going to grow with us.”
4. Scaling Automation is a Growing Priority
2019 showed that CFOs believe automation is key to increasing efficiency. Their focus shifted away from collecting data and executing repetitive tasks to being more strategic about data analysis and making business decisions. And within this context, finance teams experimented with both automation and advanced technologies.
In a Grant Thornton survey of 378 senior finance executives, 90% said they would be using these kinds of tools within the next two years. Over the past 12 months across finance functions, the research also showed a spike in the use of technologies, including:
- advanced analytics
- artificial intelligence
- robotic process automation (RPA)
Still, finance functions are only in the beginning stages of implementing these kinds of technologies at scale. A mere 13% of finance executives said they’ve scaled robotic process automation (RPA) across the global finance function, only 11% have implemented artificial intelligence and 61% of intelligent automation process efforts were singular pilots.
But while finance is likely several years away from meaningfully using and scaling sophisticated technology like artificial intelligence, the adoption of RPA at scale is poised for significant growth this year. According to Gartner, 72% of controllers will operate RPA in 2020, with a 2019 Gartner survey revealing that deploying RPA in financial reporting could actually save 25,000 hours of avoidable rework by eliminating human error.
What do These Trends Mean for Finance Professionals?
The four trends identified in this article will play a key role in driving even greater adoption of FP&A software in 2020 and beyond.
Automating data collection, consolidation, and other repetitive tasks will lead to substantial time savings and embracing an Excel-based solution will ensure high end-user adoption and satisfaction. Furthermore, companies who make the leap to cloud-based software will gain the ability to access critical financial data from anywhere, and do so in a secure manner. Finally, those who recognize the importance of adopting FP&A software that is intuitive and easy to use will see significant boosts in the productivity and self-sufficiency of their finance teams.
If you’re interested in looking beyond 2020 and learning about the finance trends that will shape the next decade, be sure to read our Finance 2020 eBook.
And if you’d like to see how Vena can help you make Microsoft Excel your ultimate financial planning and analysis solution, request a free demo today.