Finance Leaders Can Streamline Processes

Ask any employee what finance and admin issues they face every day and the list usually includes having to double-enter data, having to print and fill out forms, and being unable to access important information while on the road. These hindrances can be especially frustrating when employees are pulled away from impactful or urgent work.

Within the finance team, manual and disjointed processes bog down accounts payable employees by forcing them to pull the data they need from multiple systems, and in some cases manually enter and reconcile invoices. This slows down processing and also exposes organisations to the risks of human error and fraud.

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Employee experience matters ― both to general staff and finance employees ― because research on the workplace has shown that organisations with positive experiences enjoy higher productivity, reduce turnover and are more profitable. 

With the finance function pervading all parts of an organisation, how can finance leaders help streamline these cumbersome processes and improve employee experience? How can an organisation reimagine its processes and workflows to be intelligent, automated and simplified so that the finance team can get faster and more accurate data?

Finding answers to these questions means an organisation can better see and control spend, retain talent, and ultimately improve their bottom line. 

Here are six steps to better manage travel, expense and invoice processes to deliver an improved employee experience:

1. Discover the need

The first step is to clearly work out current pain points and understand the requirements required. Assemble a task force from those affected by these challenges and map out the processes in use.

From here, note down tasks that require manual work, such as data entry or e-mail follow-ups, or those that are paper-based, like the all-too-common expense report with receipts stapled onto spreadsheets.

Work out which departments are affected – IT, human resources, finance, accounts payable, sales and others – and ask what an ideal solution would look like.

2. Define success

Clearly define success in measurable terms. For the finance team, metrics could be in the form of more up-to-date data that enables it to automate key reports, track costs and cashflow. Errors should be reduced as well, as part of an overall improvement in employee experience.

For the wider organisation, employee satisfaction could be measured by less time spent booking travel, submitting expense claims or getting reimbursed. Non-compliant spend should be reduced as well.

3. Map out requirements

A cross-functional team that cuts across various departments will be more successful in developing a list of needs and wants.

Some of these might include automating the data capture for travel, expense and vendor invoices and streamlining the approval process.

Easy-to-use mobile technology could enable processes to be managed on the move, at a time when many employees are working remotely.

Just as important are data security requirements and the ability to audit for compliance. Similarly, the ability to seamlessly share data with existing financial, accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems would also reduce transition woes.

4. Choose the right technology partners

The right partner should work closely with you to create a mobile-friendly and an easy user experience that is consistent with what employees encounter on their everyday consumer services.

Among the questions that you should ask is whether data can flow across various systems and be refreshed regularly for live reporting.

The solution has to have cybersecurity baked in from the start and not bolted on as an afterthought. If it supports artificial intelligence and machine learning, then there is room for improvement and adaptation as processes change in future.

Organisations should also consider if the solution can scale as they grow. Ask how the additional fees would be calculated in future.

Finally, think about the support after the solution is deployed – how can users get desk support, for example, if they run into a problem?

5. Deploy the solution

Once the technology solutions are defined with a trusted partner, the task force needs to come up with an implementation game plan.

This is important because the deployment would involve not just the finance team but also with employees from other departments.

Understandably, some employees may be less receptive to new ways of doing things, despite being stuck with less inefficient but familiar methods over time.

Transitioning is important to gain adoption, so it is critical that you work with the vendor to explain the benefits of automation and streamlined processes. Make sure that training and onboarding are as closely supported as needed.

6. Measure and refine

A digital journey is continuous and does not end with the deployment of a solution. Continuous feedback from the task force, which will take in suggestions from employees from their own departments, will enable an organisation to optimise, measure and refine the solution over time.

Key questions here include whether the solution has reduced the frustration and manual workload for employees, giving time back to them to engage in more meaningful and challenging tasks.

The accounts payable and finance teams would also be able to measure how often it has made payments on time, compared to the past. Even better if they can measure the costs saved with new streamlined processes to manage invoices, for example.

The original task force that began the journey should see the project through its first iteration, and keep useful notes for teams that may take over the task of managing this digital journey in future.

Constant refinement means that the processes will keep improving as new challenges and disruptions emerge over time.

As the world gets a grip on Covid and normality returns, competition for talent picks up in tandem. If there’s a time for organisations to do more to improve employee experience and retention, it is now.

Note: The above commentary was contributed by SAP Concur, a company world renowned for integrating and automating travel, expense, and invoice management. SAP Concur solutions simplify spend management and help organisations operate in more efficient and cost-effective ways.

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