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A change for the better: Seven tips for transforming your finance function successfully

  • Written by Rosie Cairnes, Regional Vice President Australia and New Zealand, BlackLine

If automation is on the agenda for 2024, it pays to do it right.

Is overhauling the way your finance and accounting (F&A) department operates a key project for your organisation in the new year?

If you answered in the affirmative, join the club. Across the country, businesses of all stripes and sizes are looking to boost the efficiency and reliability of their F&A functions – and they’ve clocked the fact that automation is an excellent way to do it.

But achieving those significant gains isn’t as easy as deploying an automated accounting platform, powerful and transformative as that technology undoubtedly is.

Managing change throughout the organisation is every bit as important as the automation capability in your tech stack. So is ensuring everyone from the finance team is on board and making the most of the new platform.

That rarely happens by accident. Rather, businesses need to take a considered, strategic approach to digital finance transformation, if they’re to derive maximum benefit from what’s generally a significant investment of time and resources.

Here are seven ways to ensure it’s a success in your business in 2024.

Set clear objectives and goals

Is your organisation crystal clear on why finance automation needs to occur and what the benefits are likely to be – specifically and quantifiably, not in motherhood terms? If not, it’s a very big red flag. Finance transformation projects can be complex exercises and drifting off scope, or being derailed by peripheral issues, is not uncommon. Clear, realistic objectives are waypoints that will help you stay on track. They’re paramount to the success of any project and for that reason should be writ in stone before you commence.

Establish metrics that align with your goals

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. That’s why, whatever the goals for your transformation initiative may be, they need to be accompanied by metrics that demonstrate how well – or badly – you’re travelling. Establishing them at the beginning of your transformation journey will result in greater accountability. You’ll also be able to showcase the unequivocal success of your project or program of work, should everything go to plan.

Focus on stakeholder engagement

It doesn’t matter whether you’re renovating a rundown building or dragging a legacy finance function into the automation era: people are at the heart of all projects and engaging with them from the get-go can have a material effect on success. It gives you the opportunity to set expectations – for the frontline staff who’ll be impacted, the IT professionals who’ll be called on to support your project team and the key stakeholders whose sponsorship and support can be ‘make or break’. Getting the latter group involved at the goal-setting stage means they’ll be considerably less likely to challenge the rationale for your transformation project further down the line or introduce roadblocks that hinder its progression.

Appoint change champions

Engaging with those assorted cohorts will give you an opportunity to identify some change champions – engaged, passionate individuals who understand the organisation’s challenges and pain points and can see the benefits of what you’re trying to do. They’ll be your staunch allies when it comes to communicating the benefits of transformation to the workforce at large and helping their colleagues adapt to the changes it will bring.

Test, test, test!

Cautionary tales abound in the IT world of project managers who’ve proceeded to go live only to find that their spanking new system is beset with issues that can’t be fixed on the fly. It’s not a good look, particularly when it comes to mission-critical functions like finance - the engine room of every enterprise. Carrying out rigorous testing, well in advance of the scheduled go-live date, will ensure you don’t find yourself a member of this ignominious club. If there are glitches or roadblocks, you’ve the opportunity to fix them, and doing so will help build confidence in the system’s readiness.

Balance perfection and progress

But while setting yourself up for success is critical, attaining perfection in every aspect of your transformation initiative is not. Planning to refine and improve a few elements at a later stage is an acceptable modus operandi if, say, 95 per cent of your project and processes are working as expected. In fact, taking a staggered approach to transformation often makes the best sense because it allows you to start realising benefits sooner.

Share the success

Finally, once everything is up and running smoothly, you need to communicate the positive impacts F&A automation has had on the organisation.

Going loud and proud, with the help of your change champions and key project personnel, will reinforce the benefits to stakeholders and employees at large and make securing their support for future transformation initiatives an easier proposition.

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