If revenue is the lifeline of an organisation, then finance sits at its heart – monitoring the corporate pulse, keeping an eye on plans, budgets, and costs; reporting results, in a race to keep it thriving and stay ahead of the unknown.

While finance’s role has gradually evolved, the past year has seen a radical transformation as businesses went digital, redefined their operating models and offerings, and reinvented themselves in a fast-evolving landscape. According to SBF National Business Survey, 84% of businesses reported having accelerated their digital transformation due to the pandemic, by an average of two years. 39% of companies also increased their IT budgets by 29%. 

It is a crucial period for finance itself to evolve and stand ready to lead the charge in driving innovation and strategic business planning. What does it take to do so?

Financial resiliency: a watertight ship 

The pandemic has presented businesses with unprecedented challenges and opportunities, making change a necessity for survival and posing new demands on the finance function. This is especially so for small and medium enterprises where the CFO may wear multiple hats.

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As organisations recalibrate their sights for future growth, the top of mind of business leaders now is ensuring financial resiliency – having certainty that the bold steps taken will pay off and be profitable, allowing the business to break into new markets and acquire new audiences. 

Besides ‘keeping the lights on’, CFOs are now called upon to be business strategists, providing visibility into the organisation’s assets and real-time financial standing, allowing the C-suite to make the critical decisions that would set the pace for an organisation’s long-term business direction.

Finance conversations are gradually shifting towards the perspective of value, rather than just cost, and enabling innovative change across the organisation and highlighting what needs to be changed to enhance the value proposition. It is a tall standing order considering the significant changes across the organisation – from customer revenues, expenditure and payrolls, and taking a wide view of performance across diverse stakeholder groups.

Yet, CFOs do not do this alone – under their belt, technology is enabling finance to super-charge the executive decision-making process. 

Finance drives innovative growth

In the past, finance functions were primarily concerned with reporting on figures over the previous month, in contrast to current expectations of it being innovative and providing the much-needed visibility over the organisation’s financial health as it navigates an uncharted era. 

To achieve this requires a radical shift towards intelligent finance – as the heart of the business, ensuring a strong digital backbone that enables businesses to increase efficiency, visibility, and streamline processes.

Transforming the finance function not only enables an always-on, real-time capability but allows the organisation to ‘micro-adjust’ the way they operate and ensure business continuity – a reflection of the reality of the modern business and increasing succession and frequency of unexpected disruptive events. 

Accelerated by the shift towards remote working, tapping on the cloud-integrated intelligent solutions has allowed workflows and processes to be automated, simplified, streamlined and, in some cases, removed redundant processes from much of the day to day, manually intensive, transactional work. The key to this is upskilling finance employees to leverage the digital technologies that can help them do their job more effectively and efficiently. 

Freed from number-crunching, employees can immediately obtain critical information with the highest accuracy, tapping on artificial intelligence and machine learning-driven insights to create predictive forecasts. 

These benefits ladder up towards organisational success – finance leaders now have the critical data to present and help the leadership shape and executive strategy, with detailed, real-time insights to inform and enable the organisation for success. 

In Singapore, Asia Pacific Exchange Singapore (APEX) has leveraged SAP Fiori to improve user experiences and provide real-time reporting capabilities. According to Yun Huimin, SVP of APEX, the user experience has immensely improved with results reporting and financial analysis becoming much faster and easier, and it now takes less than five days to complete month-end closing. Moreover, with SAP S/4HANA Finance solution, APEX has established a strong digital foundation for future business scalability, with a single source of accurate data.

Rising to the challenge

While organisations are already well on their way in digital transformation and adapting their offerings amidst the evolving landscape, it is crucial especially for small and medium-sized businesses to scrutinise and revamp their finance function, even as they tighten purse strings and spend prudently.

Having a strong financial standing not only gives business leaders confidence in their current strategy, but also the ability to make the transformational actions needed in the current climate. Even as unpredictable events continue to emerge in quicker succession, it presents challenges to finance functions at all levels, necessitating a shift in priorities and emphasis on managing the bottom line and then being able to predict and empower the organisation through insights. 

By turning finance, the heart of the organisation, into an intelligent core, this embodies its already unique position to support the business with critical information for agile business decision-making. With better visibility across the business and agility, organisations can then make bolder, more nimble steps in the right direction and prudently invest towards future innovation and the next era of growth.

This article was contributed by Aaron Ang, Head of Mid-Market, SAP Singapore

About the author

By Aaron Ang, Head of Mid-Market, SAP Singapore

Aaron Ang is the Head of Mid-Market at SAP Singapore, primarily responsible for driving SME and mid-enterprise transformation and digital adoption in Singapore. He has an extensive portfolio in SAP for 10 years, having taken on successful roles like Head of SME Digital Cloud, as well as Director of Partner Management for South-East Asia (SEA).
Prior to joining SAP, Aaron was the Regional Sales Director for Infor SEA, where he spent six years managing both direct and indirect sales across Infor’s ERP, Business Intelligence & Financial Solutions across SEA countries.

With more than 22 years’ experience in the software solutions industry, Aaron has successfully helped customers leverage technology in driving business growth and managed sales and channels teams to achieve excellence in customer experience and business performance.

Aaron has an Honours degree in Computing Science from Birmingham City University in UK and is based in Singapore.