Tips To Improve Your Finance Processes

Improving finance processes benefits your entire business. Even just focusing on the biggest components—accounts payable, cash flow, accounts receivable, and data entry—can bring efficiency, accuracy, and better decision-making. These tips will help you improve your processes, but only if you begin by understanding how they work today. Because, you can’t change what you don’t understand, right?

What Are Finance Processes?

Finance just might be the most important team in your business. They’re responsible for everything from billing customers to paying workers, and everything in between that’s related to finances. So, when finance processes aren’t working, money isn’t moving and people aren’t getting paid. 

If your business is a ship, Finance is the financial captain, compass, and engine that makes it all work to meet corporate goals. They determine the best strategic objectives, set the course for financial health, and keep the business moving through the processes that bring money in and keep vendors, workers, tax collectors, landlords, and others happy. But that’s not all: Finance guides compliance, audits, and risk management, too, among many other areas.

Add it all up and finance processes are critical to keeping a business afloat. But, since they are integrated into every part of your business, it may seem daunting as you look for improvements. So let’s narrow down the tips here to just accounts payable, cash flow, accounts receivable, and data entry.

  • Accounts payable are the finance processes of paying your bills and debts. The bulk of that is likely to suppliers, but it also covers rent, leases, office supplies, and other goods and services.
  • Accounts receivable are the finance processes of collecting your bills and debts. It’s what’s due from customers for the goods and services you provided but which customers have yet to pay for.
  • Cash flow processes manage all the money as it moves into and out of your business. It’s incoming payments from customers, but also from investments and financing. And, it’s outgoing money to suppliers, but also to workers and to fund purchases or projects that enhance your business. 
  • Data entry is the manual process that makes every other finance process happen. It’s slow, manual, and error-prone, and is the low hanging fruit of process improvement.

Your business obviously uses these processes, and many more. But, it’s important to focus on achievable objectives when you’re looking for finance process improvements. And, remember that you must first understand how your business operates today to know how to improve it for tomorrow. That process intelligence is a prerequisite to any finance process improvements. 

Ways To Improve Finance Processes

Understanding how your business works today is where you can find ways to improve finance processes. It’s important to be both comprehensive and deep, since finance processes typically extend beyond just Finance. Think of payroll, budgeting, forecasting, auditing, training, business development, expenses, sales, and, well, everything. If you’re working right now, Finance likely made decisions alongside your manager, department head, human resources manager, and even CEO to ensure you had a salary, a laptop, email, and everything else needed to do your job. That all costs money, and finance processes are behind each of those decisions. 

So, understanding end-to-end finance processes requires digging deep into your business to see how those processes operate. Just looking at the software tools used by Finance might only capture a fraction of the full picture. Similarly, since nearly all companies use email and spreadsheets to run most finance processes, relying on manual process mining or limited application log files leaves too much unknown. What’s required is a platform that captures real-time, end-to-end process insights across every worker and every system. 

Once you have a complete, detailed view of your finance processes, you can start to identify and tackle these tips.

  • Reducing Manual Errors In Finance Processes

    Inefficient and inconsistent finance processes lead to errors, omissions, and clouded decisions. This can be caused by siloed data separating, say, accounts payable and cash flow forecasting processes, or by manual data entry, data transformation, or data loading that slows valuable insights or delays timely financial reporting.

    Using process intelligence to understand where finance processes move out of dedicated tools and into email, spreadsheets, or paper documents can highlight where manual errors are most likely. Those manual and end-user computing (EUC) tools consume too much manual effort to manage and maintain, so manual errors are likely to happen.

    Solutions include finance process automation using robotic process automation (RPA) bots and artificial intelligence (AI) tools; reducing inconsistencies in process execution, integrating systems to avoid manual data transfers, and more. 
  • Accelerating Finance Processes

    Time is money and cash is king, so accelerating finance processes gives your business access to both time and money through better, faster, more accurate decisions. When the business wants to make any investment, they lean on Finance to help them understand the financial impact of that decision. Using old plans, out of date reports, stale financial data, historical budgets, and other past data could lead them down the wrong path. When finance processes are fast, however, those decisions are made with more relevant insights.

    Speeding up finance processes also impacts financial reporting, such as monthly close and consolidations, annual planning cycles, and the monthly and quarterly financial budgets and forecasts. Taking time out of these processes not only gives Finance and the business more timely insights, it gives Finance more time to spend on strategic decisions that really matter. And, it helps Finance get regulatory and compliance reports submitted on time and with less effort.
  • Reducing the Cost Of Finance Processes

    Taking time out of any process also reduces the cost of that process. But, Finance is interested in the bottom line, so reducing costs in any process helps improve profits. Cost reductions in finance process can come from reducing manual effort by workers, which can then turn into reduced or redeployed headcounts, or taking on more value-add activities without adding costs.

    Process duplication and redundancy also lead to excessive costs. Peering deeply into finance processes, from auditing to accounting, can highlight tasks that require repeated effort, or where mistakes frequently require rework. Eliminating that overlap requires you to gain visibility into all of your existing processes so you can see where duplication happens, and then fix it. Of course, the traditional process mapping and process mining tools don’t have this level of visibility
  • Increasing Visibility Into Finance Processes

    Finance processes, and the resulting insights, are heavily scrutinized, audited, and analyzed. It’s for good reason, since financial process errors can cost businesses millions of dollars in profits, lost sales, and regulatory fines. The root cause in many cases is a reliance on manual processes, but to eliminate those processes, you need visibility into finance processes.

    Process intelligence can provide detailed, accurate, real-time visibility into how your business runs its finance processes. With that insight, you can begin to identify areas for automation so that more mistakes can be eliminated. Or, you can find ways to pull more financial processes out of spreadsheets and email, and onto dedicated systems where they are put through proper review, approval, and auditing cycles. That helps you catch more errors before they have a chance to impact your business. 
  • Reducing the Cost Of Finance Process Training

    Bringing on new workers to the finance team requires training in your processes and systems. However, it causes productivity lag and frustration when the training doesn’t match the actual as-is processes new workers need to learn on the job. Training is a long, expensive endeavor, so it’s a poor financial strategy to waste time if it doesn’t match how processes actually run.

    Mapping your current finance processes not only helps you find areas of improvement, it uncovers areas where reality doesn’t match expectations. You can then work to fix broken finance processes, understand why workers are avoiding or working around specific processes, and update training courses to either match reality or reinforce the importance of following accepted finance processes.
  • Start Transforming Finance Processes With FortressIQ

    FortressIQ Process Intelligence uses computer vision and AI to discover, document, and analyze finance process insights at the user level, in real-time and at enterprise scale. Your financial process data is then mined using machine learning and deep learning algorithms to discover and map all relevant finance processes. From there, you can get to work on automating, optimizing, and streamlining finance processes within Finance and across your business.

Finance processes are what keep any business going, but it’s much more than just accounting and financial scorekeeping. Since finances support every part of a business, Finance, and the processes they manage, are integral and intertwined with everything your business does. That makes Finance a critical part of every business decision. But they can’t be involved at a strategic level if they’re consumed with manual, slow, error-prone, or otherwise friction-filled processes. When Finance can’t be strategic, mistakes happen, things are overlooked, and businesses make poor financial decisions.

To learn more, download this report from 451 Research to understand why leading businesses are deploying process discovery technology and intelligent process automation to improve finance and other processes.

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3 Ways Computer Vision and Granularity Beat Traditional Process Discovery

Processes are the lifeblood of your business. They move people, goods, knowledge, and money around your business, keeping it afloat and moving it forward. But few organizations have a deep understanding of how those processes, and their business, actually work. And, not only is it difficult to improve a process you don’t understand, it’s also difficult to determine where and what to improve to make a material and sustainable impact on your business.

Many organizations attempt to understand their processes using traditional process mapping, process mining, and/or process discovery. Each of these methods, however, fails to provide a complete view of how a business operates. Process mapping uses slow, expensive manual tracking and is limited to small sample sizes. Process mining uses software application logs, but misses tasks performed in common non-logged apps, like email and spreadsheets. Process discovery overcomes the log issue with technology, but requires slow, expensive manual interpretation of the results. 

Unfortunately, not one of these solutions provides the granularity you really need to transform business processes. Relying on these incomplete sources leads to missed nuance, subtasks, or variations, which then results in process optimization and automation failure or expensive rework. And, the lack of granularity leads to missed opportunities or even more process improvement disappointment. The result, according to McKinsey & Company, is that 86% of organizations fail to deploy sustainable business transformations.

Why Granularity Matters

Today’s business tasks and processes flow across legacy software systems, modern cloud-based applications, and common email, spreadsheet, and chat productivity tools. A simple purchase order, for example, might be initiated with an email, require inventory data from a legacy system, utilize part numbers copied from a spreadsheet, and be eventually generated on a cloud-based app through a web browser with data pasted from the aforementioned spreadsheet.

If you’re standing over someone’s shoulder, it’s easy to see how the process unfolds, which applications are used, and in what order. But now consider how different workers or teams or departments might have slight differences in their process. Maybe there are approvals required for any purchase over $500 in Legal, but Marketing’s approval threshold is $1,000. Sales might initiate POs in Salesforce Chatter while Operations uses a shared Excel spreadsheet, but only Shipping requires workers to enter detailed information about the purchase. That’s a simple example, but if you made decisions on just a sample of manually captured process data, you would miss some incredibly important subtleties across the business.

Even seemingly minor differences can derail process optimization or automation initiatives. Knowing how many POs are created, the average process time, and even the likely tools involved is not nearly enough information to make cross-enterprise decisions on process improvements. And, you’re not going to stand over the shoulder of every worker to note the myriad subtleties across your business. But software can.

How Computer Vision Captures Process Granularity

Computer vision is simply giving computers the power to see what you would see when looking over a worker’s shoulder. It’s a complex and advanced field of artificial intelligence (AI) that allows a computer to “see” important elements in an image, such as people, numbers, words, or anything else. Think of how video chat uses effects to put digital sunglasses on your face or a funny hat on your head. The computer in your smartphone sees your face and its movements, and matches the placement of the digital item. 

FortressIQ Process Intelligence uses software-based sensors that are deployed on a worker’s desktop or laptop to continuously capture images of all screen activity. Computer vision then converts those virtual over-the-shoulder snapshots into a detailed blueprint of every process across every application and department, with universal compatibility and without painful integrations. It doesn’t matter if a worker uses email, chat, a browser, a virtual machine, a legacy app, a native desktop app, or anything else; FortressIQ captures the necessary process steps with deep granularity. 

With computer vision and machine learning, the FortressIQ platform sees the screen as a human would, but doesn’t disrupt workers. And, it does so securely and at scale, for every worker across your enterprise, in real-time. It has the speed and coverage to capture, record, and analyze granular steps in complex use cases, plus uses AI to quickly identify new opportunities. And, to keep user, customer, and other confidential data private, FortressIQ Privacy Enhanced Gateway uses the world’s first adaptive and learning computer vision-based firewall to filter sensitive data in a secure and scalable manner.

Benefits of Granular Process Intelligence

FortressIQ Process Intelligence captures process data so comprehensive (broad) and granular (deep) that, after just a few weeks, you’ll discover the detailed process insights necessary to answer the most pressing questions facing your organization. Computer vision provides the granularity and scale to accomplish change, automations, and optimizations unattainable with traditional process discovery methods. Here are three ways it beats traditional process discovery.

#1 – Discover Application Usage Opportunities

FortressIQ provides application usage details in both time duration and frequency, down to the individual user and application level. This can help you quickly understand worker focus, how to improve training, where process friction is present, and if applications or IT issues might be causing problems. 

For example, FortressIQ can detail the time spent in each specific application over the course of a specific process. When building a process optimization queue, you can focus on the applications where workers spend the bulk of their time to maximize the impact of any changes. 

#2 – Determine the Impact of Process Optimizations 

FortressIQ automatically provides granularity down to the specific screens used within each application, by which workers, for which tasks, and for how long. Then, when optimizing an end-to-end process, you’ll know where the most impact and largest improvements can be made. Without this granularity, you wouldn’t know where bottlenecks specifically reside and could end up focusing on the wrong or unimpactful portions of the process.

Since FortressIQ produces data at the screen level, you can pinpoint and prioritize which tasks and processes are the best candidates for automation and optimization.

#3 – Separate Reality from Assumptions

FortressIQ uses computer vision to automatically determine the screens and sequences used in a process, and then uses machine learning to determine which controls are used. The platform can then automatically generate Process Definition Documents (PDD) at the task and event level with accompanying screenshots for each step. This level of granularity shows the exact text boxes, drop down boxes, and application screens being used at every step.

Intelligently generated PDDs based on comprehensive quantitative data, not just samples or interviews, shows you exactly what’s happening in your business. The PDDs can then be used to define automations, improve training, and guide optimization efforts, since you’re working with what actually happens versus what you assume is happening. A common example is finding workers spend a lot of time in a text box on a particular screen, when you can speed the process and drive standardization by providing a drop down box with common entry values.

Computer Vision and Granularity for the Win

Granularity eliminates guesswork to show you exactly what’s happening in your business. Computer vision captures that granularity but uses AI to do so incredibly fast and at scale. The resulting accuracy and comprehensiveness empowers you to rapidly transform your business, knowing your process automations and optimizations will have lasting impact. 

Download the Hitachi Solutions, Ltd., case study to learn how the company used the granularity provided by FortressIQ Process Intelligence to quickly find over $1 million in potential savings via process optimizations and automations.