3 Tech-Savvy Ways to Stay Lean as You Scale
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
“Finance functions that successfully transform themselves on the back of lean spend 20 percent more time on insights and less on data gathering. They are able to pay staff 25 percent more and still run with 36 percent lower costs than their peers. Moreover, an unsurprising consequence of the improvements is that staff motivation improves and turnover reduces.”
Source - PwC - ‘Stepping up: How finance functions are transforming to drive business results’
In these uncertain times, lean practices are more important than ever.
If you’ve ever read anything to do with lean finance you’ve probably seen something like this…
Source - David Parmenter - 'The Financial Controller & CFO's Toolkit - Lean Practices to Transform Your Finance Team'
But with finance teams spinning so many plates, how do you set yourself up for future success whilst keeping the team lean?
Here’s 3 Tech-Savvy Ways to Stay Lean as You Scale.
1. Optimise your workload
Do, Delegate, Delete
Often easier said than done, right?
Regardless, it points to a methodology that encourages you focus only on what’s important.
But what if our team have multiple jobs to do? What if they wear many hats and struggle to prioritise as everything is equally important?
This is where technology can support us.
Instead of having to hire finance assistants, there’s ways we can use software to manage our time for us.
The two that I’d recommend are SkedPal and Motion.
In a nutshell, they both use AI to automatically organise your projects and priorities and place them on your calendar, significantly improving the chances of you, not only getting things done, but getting them done on time.
SkedPal is the more cost effective of the two and great for personal use (it’s also what I use) and Motion is potentially better for managing a team with shared projects. This could be periodic activities such as month-end close etc, or a larger project like due diligence on an investment/acquisition for example.
If productivity is your thing, then two other posts you may ejoy are, 8 Super Simple Steps to Slash Time Spent Responding to Requests, and 4 Steps to Reduce Your Month-End.
It’s remarkably difficult to stay lean if you can’t keep on top of your workload, so working smart with your to-do list is a great place to start.
2. Adopt AI & Automation
This is where we start getting into the area of finance operations.
Think of all of the activities that you’re doing manually at the moment, that a system could potentially be doing for you.
Manual journals, AP invoice input, approvals, corrections, reconciliations, the list goes on and on.
We’re now fortunate enough that we live in a world where AI and automation are becoming more accessible for all types of businesses.
Even the simplest of accounting systems like Xero have an auto-reconcile facility to allow you to create rules for common transactions so you’re not having to manually match all the time.
Taking this a step further, more advanced accounting software is starting to progress its use of AI. For more information see the article, How AI is Creating Intelligent Finance Teams.
As one specific example, systems like Sage Intacct will use AI Outlier detection to automatically highlight transactions that require intervention if they don’t follow historic trends.
What does this mean? A shed load of time saved manually correcting information, and a lot more confidence your data is likely to be accurate for your reporting.
For more information, you can listen to my podcast with Tom Costa - Head of Partner Enablement for Sage Intacct, where he covers these concepts in more detail. here.
The last area of automation relates to bots.
Even if you’re not using a clever accounting system, you could deploy a bot to take the human intervention out of anything manual.
It could be an Excel macro that someone’s manually running. It could be a data import/export routine between systems. It could be an AP invoice upload process.
If you can think it, you can automate it.
For more information on bots, check out my interview on the Tech for Finance Podcast with Daniel Lawrence - CEO of Bots for That here.
What sort of quick wins can you find? Are you not using some of the available automation in your existing systems? Could you deploy a bot?
The more you can automate, the less you’ll have to hire for admin type roles.
3. Build Business Intelligence
In this last area, we’ll look at business intelligence.
If there’s a common theme during my discussions with finance teams it’s this:
“We export to a spreadsheet, then manually manipulate it for our reporting”.
Anywhere anyone mentions something ‘manual’ should be a red flag if you’re wanting to keep things lean.
So how can business intelligence help here?
Well, the first advantage is that you might be able to link BI to you dataset. The immediately removes the need for any sort of ‘export’ so should speed up your workflow straight away.
The next advantage is you can combine data from different sources into one dashboard. This is where the reduced manipulation comes in, as you’re sidestepping the need to export multiple spreadsheets and merge them together.
I’m not saying there’s not a place for Excel, but it’s use should be tactical rather than a way of life. In my interview on the Podcast with Christian Frantz Hansen ‘How to Create Impact as a Finance Business Partner’ we discuss this in more detail.
Finally, you can also retire the need for PivotCharts and the like, as the main advantage of a BI tool is helping you visualise data. You can even setup any formulas you have in the back-end data set as well.
Don’t think your data has to be perfect for you to start reaping some of the rewards from Business Intelligence. My interview on the Podcast with Simon Devine ‘Shine a Light on Your Data’ talks through some key advantages to BI and how easy it can be to find some quick wins without having perfect data.
If you’re using Microsoft 365, you might also have access to PowerBI. And even if you don't, another article of interest may be ‘2 rapid PowerBi tricks for AI data insight.’ that’ll help you start to drive more insight from your data in under 10 minutes.
Over-reliance on Excel may hinder your ability to scale with a lean team, so the more of your data you can format into live dashboards the better.
So there you have it, 3 Tech-Savvy Ways to Scale with a Lean Team.
Leverage productivity tools both personally and as a team to ensure you’re completing your priority tasks and not overloading yourselves.
Make use of AI and automation, not just within your existing software toolset, but potentially by leveraging bots as well.
Reduce reliance on Excel and spreadsheets by looking into Business Intelligence tools that’ll help you report on your data in real time with less manual intervention.
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