In my May article I suggested that one of the biggest challenges to innovation and business progress is simply finding the time to think, research, experiment and develop new ideas.
The notion of carving out 20% time, à la Google, is a pipe dream for most. So I thought it would be interesting to figure out what is keeping finance people so busy.
To do this we held a snap survey of finance managers and administrators across a range of industries to find out what takes up their time, preventing them creating space for strategic review thinking.
The top three time thieves at budget/forecast time were investigations or enquiries from source, incomplete or incorrect data, and manual processes, while the top three time thieves at month-end reporting time were report compilation, manual processes, and investigations or enquiries from source. The top three time thieves at other times were ad hoc reporting requests, firefighting, and other ad hoc information requests.
Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no single time thief, which perhaps points to the complexity of the real world today, plus shows that there is not a silver bullet solution – companies need a fix that comprehensively tackles a web of challenges.
Alarmingly, manual processes ranked in the top three for both budget/forecast time and during month-end reporting. Automation of these processes is the key not only to freeing up time in its own right, but it also results in timely, accurate data that you can confidently use for decision-making. In addition automation is the cornerstone for further innovation and new ways of working.
What’s more, it looks like too much time is being spent on report compilation. This is a red flag because if you are spending your time compiling reports, you are not spending it analysing the information therein!
Ad hoc reporting, information requests and firefighting also rank highly, though probably more understandably and, unfortunately, this is not an easy challenge to master. However, ad hoc reporting requests, in particular, are indicative of an un-empowered business that relies too heavily on finance to deliver and explain anything with a number in it. Consider how much time would be created by empowering the non-financial user through removing the frivolous queries, and freeing time for review and analysis.
The survey, though brief, did re-iterate that the key challenges we all face have not changed over the years. However, if we continue the status quo and fail to innovate, our relevance to the business will reduce and the spectre of robot replacement will become a reality.
We are the principal architects of our own reality so it is time to start shaping our future!
Unbusy your days
- There’s no silver bullet for a complex challenge.
- Automate, automate, automate – the tools to do so are out there.
- If reports are taking up too much time, how can the data be timely?
- Empowering the business will redefine our function from bean counting to strategic analyst.
- The pace of change is only going to speed up, so start today.
- We are the principal architects of our own reality, so it’s time to start shaping our future!
Kevin Phillips CA(SA) CEO of IDU Group