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Finance leaders are navigating interesting times. Their old roles have gained new responsibilities as COVID-19 and digital transformation pressures continue to remodel the working world. The past 18+ months have been a breathless blur of survival strategies compounded by the necessary shift to remote working and online customer engagement – both of which are here to stay. 

Given the ongoing unpredictability of the COVID-19 virus, its variants, and the global response to it all, finance leaders are struggling to forecast demand and revenue while trying to adapt to the so-called ‘new normal’. Additionally, the volumes of data that finance functions need to process are exploding, overwhelming teams as they try to pull sense from never-ending streams of numbers, often while battling to access the necessary systems remotely.  

During all this unprecedented change, Sage reached out to the South African finance community to better understand the realities its professionals now face. Interestingly, 85% of finance leaders say the increased complexities of their roles is keeping them up at night. This is understandable; new responsibilities bring new risks – and new expectations.   

Business leaders are turning to their senior finance decision-makers more and more for insights that will help steer their companies through uncharted waters. This is pushing finance leaders into the spotlight, shifting their focus from number-crunching spreadsheets to strategic storytelling. Under pressure to communicate insights more effectively to stakeholders, finance leaders need to unpuzzle the data and extract its business narrative. And to do that, 91% of senior financial decision-makers agree that cloud-based software is the way to go. 

The cloud is calling 

On-site software systems simply do not have the brains or brawn to help finance leaders and their teams meet their new mandates – particularly when reliable remote access is so crucial, cybercrime is a growing concern, and data volumes are so, well, voluminous. Online activities currently create 2.5. quintillion bytes of data every day. To try and put that into perspective, 2.5 quintillion 20c coins (laid out flat on the ground) would cover the Earth’s surface five times. No surprise, then, that 95% of finance leaders say they need better financial technology in their organisations to unpack the data and provide stakeholders with better insights.  

Currently, finance teams using on-site software spend most of their time on manual data collection and inputting. What’s more, financial data has a very short shelf-life, so by the time finance leaders have processed it as best they can, the results lack the granularity and relevance needed to turn the numbers into a strategic story for the board. All this data and yet it doesn’t provide sufficient information to guide good business decisions. This is why 89% of businesses using non-cloud-based finance systems plan to shift their operations to the cloud within the next 12 months. 

A cloud-based software solution supports finance leaders and their teams by: 

  • Automating data processing 
  • Enabling access to real-time data (from in the office or remotely) 
  • Improving data accuracy 
  • Providing better data insights 
  • Securing data processes and storage 

 More time to shine 

Cloud-based financial systems open up data access for greater collaboration. When teams can work speedily and in sync, their productivity and overall quality of work improves. This delivers faster, better, real-time results that finance leaders can use to articulate their business strategies with foresight and clarity. In addition to reporting the numbers, finance leaders have to communicate relevant and intelligent data meaningfully. Simply put, that’s what separates yesterday’s number-crunchers from today’s strategic storytellers.  

Of course, any business leader is only as good as the team they manage – and all technologies are only as effective as the people who operate them. To get the most out of their chosen cloud-based software solutions, finance leaders need to ensure that their teams know how to use them. 

Leadership is key to guiding seamless transitions from old to new systems and is responsible for creating more unified, accountable, and confident teams with access to all the training they need. When done right, finance leaders will spend less time worrying about whether their people can access and share pertinent information from their home offices and spend more time extracting actionable insights from up-to-the-minute data intelligence. 

Stories stick   

As we all know, data for data’s sake is not particularly useful; it’s the meaning behind the data that matters. Turning numbers into narratives is a critical finance skill that requires relevant data that is screened and collated for specific needs. It also requires finance leaders to find the compelling perspective and visual language to bring the numbers to life and make them mean something to whoever is listening. 

For example, how much more interesting is it to imagine 2.5 quintillion bytes of data as 20c coins wrapped around the Earth five times? By presenting humanity’s daily data generation rate in a more relatable fashion, that nugget of information is going to stick.  

So yes, the finance role has undergone a significant reinvention since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of looking at what is, finance leaders are now walking around asking themselves why it is and how it will impact the business. Searching for and extracting these insights and these stories from the data is not some fly-by-night need that will dissipate when the pandemic becomes endemic – it is as permanent as the shift to remote working and will only continue to evolve as the future unfolds. 

Fortunately, finance leaders, for the most part, are not dragging their heels or sticking their heads in the sand. Instead, they are well aware of what is expected of them, keen to step in and meet these new expectations, and on top of all that, are excited (so say 88%) to use cloud-based software.

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