The growth of data volume helps a company gain more insights but it could also stretch the finance function's resources thin.
“As finance works closely with business, we need to make sense of our data and make them relevant to business partners,” said Vyin Ng, CFO at Microsoft Hong Kong. “At the same time, data need to be able to talk to each other. Otherwise, finance will end up doing much manual work and producing errors.”
This is where technologies come into play.
At Microsoft, finance has adopted machine-learning-enabled forecast since 2015.
Forecasting is a time-consuming task as it involves a lot of data points and the consideration of dynamic elements, she said.
“Our corporate CFO thinks that machine learning-based forecast is more objective and accurate than traditional forecasts,” Ng noted. “We’ve been able to save 20% of our time on forecasting in each quarter since 2018.”
AI and cybersecurity
Asked what technologies matter to the finance function in the next 12 months, Ng voted AI and cybersecurity technologies.
“AI will help companies become more innovative and productive,” she said. “An IDC study indicates that companies that have adopted AI would be able to more than double their productivity by 2021.”
As organisations have deployed clouds and many other systems and tools, they need to guard all these against intruders, be able to detect anomalies, and have permission-based access to information, Ng said, adding that backup plans are also important in view of the growing number of attacks.
At Microsoft, there’s a one-stop portal from which different employees can easily access data and information they need while it’s protected with different employee access rights, she pointed out.
Related to security is data privacy, which Ng believes is important to finance.
“Speaking from a process point of view, I think finance needs to ensure awareness among employees when it comes to how sensitive data should be handled,” she said. “Finance needs to prompt business about situations in which they can compromise data privacy.”
While technologies drive efficiency, there’s one key step that ensures that companies' investment in technologies wouldn’t be wasted.
That key step is the standardisation of processes, according to Ng.
In Microsoft’s case, the company has standardised many of its repetitive processes such as those related to transactions since more than a decade ago, she said.
After standardisation, these processes have become shared services while Microsoft has applied RPA on some of the processes, Ng noted.
One of the benefits of having shared services is that employees can look up for commonly sought information they need via a chatbot, according to her.
"Instead of going to finance or other functions and waiting for a few days for an answer, now people get what they need immediately” she said.