Finance is broadening its horizons

29th May 2014

Finance is emerging as an enabler and a facilitator that can provide other parts of the business with the data they need to make better, more informed decisions. FSN writer Lesley Meall explores the potential benefits, in areas as diverse as stock control and purchasing and workforce management.





People in the finance function and the computer systems they use have long been the repository for significant amounts of data. However, turning this into information and quickly making it available to non-finance people has long remained a challenge. But as software is evolving, it is becoming easier for those in finance to automate traditional processes such as transaction recording, enforce strong financial controls, meet their regulatory reporting needs, and to also spread their wings and become enablers and facilitators to other parts of the business – by improving both management and financial reporting processes. 

Even before Bulgari Hotel and Residences opened its doors onto the exclusive streets of London’s Knightsbridge, Cesco Righetti, the director of finance, wanted software in place to support this sort of collaborative approach. “To be the best hotel in London we had to select the best solution for the accounting platform,” he says. With support from an implementation specialist, Righetti selected a solution that integrates the functionality of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system (Sage 200), specialist web-based purchasing software (FUSION e-Requisitions from Datel), and flexible financial reporting (A La Carte Financial Intelligence from Excel in Business).

The combination provides finance with the tools to perform all of its traditional roles, and provide management reports based on its industry-specific chart of accounts, as well as enabling it to work more effectively with other departments. “The department heads are quite comfortable using e-Requisitions as a purchasing system. Training them was straightforward,” says Righetti. Each departments head can quickly and easily monitor their stock and order what they need from the store or from other departments. Integration between the systems gives all of the departments, including finance, access to information that can be used to improve performance.

As well as using the requisitions system on a daily basis, the department heads use the Sage 200 ERP to issue a report that shows their departmental performance on a weekly or monthly basis. This helps to make them more aware than they would otherwise be of what their departments are achieving and how important this is to the Bulgari Hotel & Residences and its overall performance. It also provides invaluable information to the director of finance. “This is a great tool,” says Righetti, “because it allows us to understand the details on where our costs have been allocated and where our revenue has flowed through.”

Facilitating this sort of functionality may not be a radical departure for the finance function. But advances in traditional tools such as ERP, the growing simplicity of integration between systems, the emergence of easy-to-use dashboards and other analysis and reporting tools, are combining with cloud delivery models to make it much easier for finance professionals to become enablers and facilitators – and this is helping finance chiefs to shine a light into some less familiar areas of the business. This trend is highlighted by FSN managing editor Gary Simon, in his recent half hour webinars on overcoming two of the CFO’s blind-spots: the sales plan and workforce planning, and by exemplars such as Glenn Scott, who is chief finance officer (CFO) with an Australian shipping company BagTrans. 

Scott has gone not only focused his attention on using software to improve the timeliness and usefulness of the workforce management information available to the line managers and regional managers of BagTrans, he has actually taken a ‘hands-on’ approach and done this himself, by using analysis and performance management software (from Anaplan). “A consultant came in for two days, trained me, we built a few models, and that was that,” says Scott, and two weeks later he had developed a series of labour dashboards. His past experience of multi-dimensional modelling may have helped; even so, as he says: “The build was completely self-reliant.” 

The labour dashboards provide KPIs for a wide range of daily metrics. “Legally, we don’t want anyone working more than 12-hour shifts. Financially, we don’t want anyone working more than 10-hour shifts,” says Scott. “To manage that, you need to be on top of driver schedules. Our time management system scans fingers to know when drivers are coming or going,” he explains, and Anaplan provides real time updates on that. The systems pushes the data out, at 10-minute intervals, to display-only screens at all of the shipping company’s depots, where it is made available to BagTrans allocators and managers using Scott’s self-build labour dashboards. 

The system also provides regional managers at the BagTrans Monday morning meeting with much better information than the spreadsheets they used previously. “With Excel, we could only look back at the week and say ‘this is how much we spent, here’s where the overtime was’. Now we can talk on a real time basis and ask more sophisticated questions,” says Scott, such as: Is labour blowing out? Are people ending their jobs operationally? “This gives executives the confidence that things are being done correctly, and if they’re not we flag it quickly and get it fixed,” he adds. How many businesses can say that? How many CFOs can quite so literally take the credit for it?