CFO survey shows automation and analytics tops investment priorities

Because finance leaders face a burgeoning list of emerging technologies, Grant Thornton set out to understand the top priorities that are shaping their digital strategies. Its 2019 CFO survey revealed that the finance function is prioritizing advanced analytics (38%), machine learning (29%), optical character recognition (27%) and artificial intelligence (24%).

The number of respondents who are currently investing in these technologies has increased significantly from 2018 levels, with artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning and advanced analytics constituting the greatest shifts.

What’s causing the increase in adoption rates? First, today’s companies are identifying use cases quickly and piloting technologies that are relatively easy to implement. While companies may not yet have reached full adoption mode, they are investing in pilot initiatives in order to respond to the call from boards and stakeholders that automation is essential to maintaining a competitive advantage. Moreover, in anticipation of a downturn in the coming months, companies are leveraging their investment dollars to generate performance improvement and optimize infrastructure.

“With new technologies, organizations pilot one bot and experiment to move the portfolio moving in the right direction; this might result in some fails that provide learning opportunities, said Chris Stephenson, principal in Grant Thornton’s business consulting arm in the report. “That is contrary to the generally conservative approach of CFOs. There has to be more experimentation with this technology, a willingness to fail at times. That will require a new approach to risk taking for CFOs.”

Market forecasters project intelligent automation type initiatives will experience 62% growth in 2019 and beyond, with a focus on efficiency gains, personalized insights and automated processes. In fact, it’s estimated that 40% of finance activities can be fully automated. These figures demonstrate the degree to which CFOs can simplify core internal transactions through automation, establish standardized reporting mechanisms and work more efficiently. Thanks to a range of technological advances, digitization is now a priority for the finance function.

Those that show the most promise for finance use include automation and robotics to streamline and improve finance processes, data visualizations to provide end users with real-time financial information, and advanced analytics to accelerate and inform strategic decisionmaking. Leading-edge finance groups are already exploring RPA to perform redundant tasks. Doing so requires a commitment to altering operating models and redesigning processes. As finance teams become familiar with RPA technology, improvements in workflow requests can result in companies moving beyond RPA pilot tests to realize tangible outcomes. It’s estimated that 40% of all finance activities can be fully automated.

Read the full report

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