"Anytime" and "Anywhere" are simply the nature of the cloud, but in today's world of finance these concepts need to be extended to provide greater business value. We also need to add a new descriptor: "Anyway." Anyway refers to how well your financial system adapts to the way your business operates and how you make decisions to provide the biggest impact on your success.
Of course the cloud gives people access 24/7/365, but it's not all about the number of hours in a day. Anytime also encompasses how much information is available to whom, how easy it is to access and how quickly they can get it. The goal of Anytime is to make the job of "counting the beans" fast, efficient and accurate so you can access the information you need when you need it and spend the rest of your time on more strategic activities.
Cloud financial systems need to be radically easier to use and understand in order to speed up the pace of business and operate more strategically. Users from the entire organization should be able to access the system and intuitively know how to use it. Self-help tools, videos and on-demand guides should be available within the system to quickly educate any level of user on how to use the system wisely and extract the information they need to make better business decisions.
The key benefit of an Anytime financial system is giving time back to key contributors in the organization. Remove the bottleneck in the finance department by giving everyone access. Eliminate manual steps in everyday transactions. Save time by putting all necessary data in one system to support daily activities. These changes free up executives and operational employees to gain insight into metrics that affect their area of responsibility and react in a way that creates value for the entire organization.
By definition the cloud gives people access to data anywhere in the world. But to truly empower your employees they should be able to get the information they want to see, the way they want to see it, using the tools and devices they want to use. Simply providing raw financial data is not effective to anyone without a finance degree. And only providing it through the finance department is not true access. Anywhere financial systems liberate your data and push it out to your organization in meaningful and consumable ways.
In order for data to be meaningful, it must first be transformed into an understandable form. Each business unit should determine what metrics it needs to track, and then the financial system should publish those key performance indicators (KPIs) so they can use it to their advantage. For example, sales may want to see profitability for each customer in addition to overall revenue so they can better target their sales efforts.
Organizations also need flexibility on where they see their data. Anywhere financial systems provide options on how to view data to enhance existing business processes. For example, moving information from your system of record to a CRM would enable a 360-degree view of a customer from a single location. Or organizations could hold electronic board meetings, staff meetings or even client meetings within the cloud financial system itself. This would eliminate geographic boundaries, encourage collaboration and provide real-time access to information needed to make the meeting productive.
Anyway is another term for agility and is the heart and soul of cloud financial systems. Organizations today need much more than a simple system of record. What is needed is a "system of engagement" that innovatively provides information to move the business forward in a way that complements the way your business works. And not just now, but it must adjust to changes you make in the future as well. No matter what market, what type of business, or how you operate, the system must adapt to meet your needs at every point in time. The days of your business having to adapt to the system are long gone.
Dynamic visibility is the key capability an Anyway financial system needs to possess. The system should provide access to very specific metrics and KPIs to make the best decisions possible. To provide business value, metrics must be extremely granular and blend operational and financial data. For example, an Anyway financial system could track:
- Revenue by customers who owe more than $100K
- Project profitability where billing is over 50 hours
- Top ten largest sales items in dollars and units
- Margins associated with different marketing alliances
- Customer acquisition costs by channel or vertical
- Allocated spending by community project.
To complete the Anyway picture, the system must be able to turn on its heel in a rapidly evolving environment quickly and easily, and intuitive enough that everyday users should be able to manipulate the system to get the new or revised metrics without going to IT or Finance.
Like your business, cloud financial systems are adapting to operate more strategically. You must understand your organization in ways you've never been able to before while each person working for you must become an expert in their given role to create more value and move the company forward. But you can't do it without information… Anytime, Anywhere and Anyway.
Robert Reid is CEO at Intacct, a cloud financial management company. He has more than 30 years' experience in the software industry, he has demonstrated a deep expertise in bringing cloud computing to the world of business applications.
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