Working as a consultant in the 1990s, I wrote an article for Bank Brussel Lambert’s magazine BBL Onderneming about financial planning because an application had become available to automate a financial planning process. Acquired by the Dutch ING Group in 1998, the BBL brand ceased to exist, but the digitalization topic is still high on the agenda!
‘Excel Hell is Gone’
No day passes without finance professionals getting invitations from software vendors claiming that ‘excel hell is gone’; ‘cash is king with our user-friendly application’ or ‘closing cycles (are) reduced to the max’. In the post-Covid era, vendors will undoubtedly organize nice conferences and spend their marketing budgets on funneling finance executives towards their software solutions.
Have finance professionals slept for 25 years and do they really don’t understand how to use software? What happened with all these implementations the previous decades?
To master software, you need high investments in training and change, and people who see the holistic, strategic direction
As a project manager at BBL, I built an application to generate a financial plan. It was made available on a DVD and distributed in the bank’s offices. If the tool is no longer available, it is not because there are practically no branch offices left, but because of two other reasons.
First of all, software has evolved and the application should be rebuilt in a different, contemporary environment. Older versions should be decommissioned. Second: using the software required some training. We documented it well and organized training in the country’s different head offices. BBL staff was trained and could support their clients in generating financial plans to simulate financing needs.
Organizations are living entities
Having implemented several ERP and reporting systems brought me to the same observation. If implemented well, the system works decently for several years. But as time goes by, people become negligent; standard processes will be changed and new users won’t use the system correctly. Requests for changes will lead to modifications of the basic setup, and master data will get polluted over time.
The only reason for this evolution is that organizations change rapidly. Organizations are living entities. Their processes change, the people change, but the systems will not follow automatically. When people in charge of the implementation leave the organization or take on a different role, the training and documentation tend not to be updated anymore and the discipline to master the old systems decreases.
Adopting a long-term view
Organizations evolving is the main reason that all new implementations should be based on a long-term view for the business. Don’t only automate the as-is processes in a new tool because it will soon be overruled by the business. Prepare for the future and try to be ahead of these changes. And prepare for agility: automation should enable a quick response to changes and not disturb agility.
Prepare for the future and for agility: automation should enable a quick response to changes
The key success factor, however, is people, not systems. IT consultants are necessary to get your systems implemented but will not question your functional needs. For a successful implementation supported by your organization, you need to translate business needs into the tooling. An optimized process is the main driver for success. Don’t implement the same old process in a different tool if optimizations are possible. In a reporting environment a good data model is key to make reporting more valuable. Tool implementation should enable the delivery of additional insights for the organization to profit from.
Invest a lot in training on all levels ! You need training on a high conceptual level so the whole IT architecture is known by key stakeholders and changes in the organization can be translated into the appropriate applications before entering into a swamp of different siloed applications across the organization.
Invest in key user training to keep the processes alive in the systems. Invest in user training to get all people acquainted with the correct use of the systems and foresee a kind of reward for those people to become aware of good data quality and to achieve it. Think for example of activities with more added value they can do instead of data input, by delivering extra insights by making use of these data, by saving time using processes that function and do not block because of lack of data….
Mastering the software through L&D initiatives
Software has a lot more functionalities than two decades ago, but implementation remains challenging. The importance of mastering digitalization projects has only increased because a lot more software is available, digitalization is of strategic importance and vendors push harder and harder to get their products into the market.
Software alone is not enough: the mastery of the software is the key success factor. This mastery is something companies have in their own hands and is based on L&D initiatives. You need colleagues who see the holistic, strategic direction and you need a lot of investments in training and change. Delivering additional insights is a key factor for a positive business case to get all these initiatives funded.