This complete guide gives finance professionals the know-how needed to begin their experience with ERPs.

1 | Introduction: Digital Transformation in Business

Business technology has progressed enormously in recent years.

For today’s CFO in 2017, a modern and high performance enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution is critical if an organisation is to achieve a competitive advantage via the digital transformation of existing systems and processes.

With a broad range of more intuitive high tech features and benefits, a leading ERP in 2017 is capable of driving real change while elevating the strategic role of the CFO and finance team within the business.

With any considerations of digital transformation initiatives, it’s always prudent to perform due diligence while remaining aware of hype cycles to ensure certain technologies are mature enough to adopt. But for all organisations – from the board level down – the general trend toward digital transformation is now clear along with an acute awareness of the need to transform to stay competitive.

Recent research from the Digital Enterprise Journal shows 61% of companies cite the importance of technology in gaining a competitive advantage, while a report from Accenture reveals that analytics (turning raw data into actionable intelligence) and automation (decreasing human intervention in the delivery of operational and business process services) are the primary lynchpins for securing a competitive advantage from technology today.

Whether an organisation is large, small or mid-sized, an ERP system today must align with this digital business imperative as the cornerstone of the business software suite. This is key given ERP integrates everything from planning, purchasing and inventory to finance and human resources.

Digital technologies are elevating a new set of ERP advantages for the more strategic CFO. These include advanced analytics and rolling forecasting, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data and real-time reporting – all of which help to lift the finance department out of every day support and manual maintenance, and deeper into strategic planning and consultation for the enterprise. 

This e-book will explore CFO-relevant trends in ERPs for 2017 and beyond.

2 | CFO Benefits & Drivers for ERP Systems Today

In 2017, CFOs expect a lot from a top level ERP system – and rightly so.

Outdated or poor systems only serve to keep a business standing still, and in today’s globalised and variable world, an ERP needs to provide strong forward looking capabilities to help ensure a competitive advantage in the market.

What is meant by forward looking in this context? In addition to critical backward looking elements such as tracking budgets, reconciliation and ensuring legal compliance, modern ERPs can provide superior forward-looking features like periodic budgeting and financial performance forecasting (including cash forecasting) with greater precision. This is achievable with a data-rich business technology solution focused on efficient processes, real-time reporting and maximum performance.

From reporting & financial support to company strategic direction

Technology improvements in ERP are an enabling force, helping the CFO transform into a performance predictor and profitability enhancer for the entire organisation. A recent report from Forbes and KPMG found that chief executives expect the role of the CFO to change the most over the next three years, playing a more central role in boosting the company’s performance and growth.

We are well into the age of business intelligence. Company stakeholders increasingly expect a CFO to provide the insight and recommendations that drive business decisions in a more complex operating environment via deeper analysis of larger data sets. Legacy systems struggle under this mandate; this kind of strategic elevation is only possible with a modern ERP. As such, the CFO should ensure these capabilities are prevalent and easy to operate in the ERP they use.

3 | ERP Trends in 2017 and Beyond

Not so long ago, ERP systems were primarily used for backward looking analysis with minimal forward-looking capabilities.

Today, CFOs can and should expect more from their ERP with a range of predictive forecasting tools which can be broken down by business unit, product, operating expenses, revenue by quarter or just about any other value. In 2017, with the right ERP system, CFOs are able to instantly generate reports in real time, pull up graphical dashboards that are easy to interpret and share, allow field service workers and consultants to log their billable time more easily on mobile devices via mobile-friendly software interfaces and immediately drill down into any area of the business. 

In the past, CFOs and finance teams would use ERPs for daily or weekly reporting. In 2017, teams should expect live reporting and graphical insights delivered in visual-friendly dashboards. These are powerful tools which deliver live views of actuals, and the ability to drill down to transactional details in seconds or update budgets based on rolling forecasting. Today’s ERP tools also offer insights into business trends and trend mapping, along with the ability to forecast the future based on changing any number of variables in the market (such as changing commodity prices).

These capabilities help the finance department to streamline manual processes, reduce high touch workloads, identify waste or inefficiencies, and ultimately keep costs down for the business while increasing its overall profitability.

The new wave of AI and machine-learning

With large amounts of research and funding taking place, the technology world has recently been exploring advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning. While it’s still relatively early days compared to what AI will be capable of over the coming years and decades, in 2017 the exciting possibilities of AI have found their way into ERP systems, helping the finance team (and the whole organisation) to automate tasks.

The questions companies want to ask about AI features on any ERP system include:

With leading ERP solutions, the AI takes the form of a new “self-driving” capability using data analytics and machine-learning in the form of a contextually aware conversational interface – a digital assistant.  Companies can use this digital assistant in multiple messaging environments such as Slack, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and so on. 

Typically, the AI assistant can access all the company’s business applications and automate routine operations while learning a worker’s preferences over time. Examples include being able to populate and submit consultant timesheets, remind teams or individuals about important deadlines, book and plan travel where everything from hotel reservations to budget approval from managers is automated, compile reports, procure items and report project status updates.

AI advances like these are reimagining the user interface (UI), ushering in a more automated, less hands on world where the best UI can be considered no UI. One benefit of AI for an organisation is ultimate automation. AI can analyse thousands of data points to uncover hidden patterns and anomalies. It can also break down historical data to extract powerful insights that impact corporate valuations, growth prospects and market perception.

If your company is talking to vendors about ERP, make sure you have a conversation about AI.

4 | ERP Challenges and Overcoming Them

In 2017, ERP migrations and implementations have become more efficient, less costly and less time consuming.

But there are challenges worth highlighting along with considerations and actions necessary to overcome them. Today’s ERP solutions can bring about a powerful and positive business transformation, but to really capitalise on the benefits, it’s critical a system is properly implemented and that an organisation’s internal team are trained and given the right levels of knowledge transfer to get the most out of a system on an ongoing basis.

These are the primary challenges any company needs to be aware of:

Cloud-based ERP and information security

There was a time when companies considered ERPs as a solution that should be predominantly hosted and managed internally. That paradigm has shifted as data security concerns are being met and the comparative cost of cloud-based ERP becomes more attractive. According to a report from PwC, cloud-based ERP solutions can offer considerable benefits including decreased capital expenditures, lower overall costs and quicker implementation. In addition, companies and CFOs using ERP in the cloud can achieve far greater access to all their critical data from anywhere while traveling. Finally, cloud providers have greater security expertise than a typical in-house IT department with entire teams working on security, a skill which is improved from “hive-learning” with all users. 

But there are caveats. Organisations must ensure the cloud ERP vendor they partner with has best practice security compliance and credentials in place. Firstly and most importantly, ensure your vendor has the best practice ISO 27001 security credentials. This is the industry leading formal specification which mandates specific ongoing information security requirements and governance. 

Secondly, companies need to ensure any vendor partner can demonstrate an end-to-end ERP data security capability either in the private or the public cloud. The information eco-system contributing to cloud-based ERP is broad, so CFOs specifically should ensure (via a checklist) their partner is able to demonstrate end-to-end security across:

  • The ERP vendor solution itself
  • The implementation and support partner credentials
  • And the data centre operator hosting the ERP cloud solution

The importance of getting change management right

An ERP system can introduce all types of benefits and efficiencies for the CFO, finance team, and the entire organisation. However, one of the challenges for implementation and beneficial ongoing use of the system is change management. Typically, employees can be resistant to change – this is understandable on a number of levels. When moving from sometimes archaic systems and processes, people can remain stuck in a mindset that does not appreciate what is achievable with a new ERP. That means a carefully considered cultural shift needs to take place. 

Organisations should ensure their ERP partner has ample change management streams, skills and capabilities to assist with the transition to a new solution. The processes required to manage change effectively should be undertaken in partnership with the ERP vendor and client working together.

These processes include:

  • Employee training and counselling to instill confidence in a new system 
  • The ability to tailor a system to unique processes and local needs 
  • And the delegation of an internal change agent or champion

Additionally, be sure to partner with an ERP vendor who can clearly quantify expected results and present and communicate them in a way everyone can understand and appreciate up front.

Global scale for global business

In today’s globalised world, most organisations are aware of the need to potentially expand a business into international markets and of doing business and managing payroll in global territories. However, neglecting the ability to scale globally remains an issue for many growing organisations when adopting a new ERP system. Companies should ensure their ERP provider has a solution which can scale globally and support the critical global languages and financial currencies relevant to their operation.

5 | When and How to Choose A New ERP System

When is the right time for a company to migrate to a new ERP?

There are several factors which will contribute to a decision like this, but chief among them is outliving the old system in place.

Organic growth often places pressure on legacy systems which cannot cope with the scalability required of them. In this respect, organisations reach natural barriers to the information required to make intelligent decisions about their business. Often CFOs and finance departments are overwhelmed with the amount of manual processes they have to contend with to model reports, and to budget and forecast for the business using the limitations of existing legacy hardware and software platforms. Finally, a drive to automate the processes around analysis and reporting becomes a trigger for migrating to a new ERP: companies often have separate systems in place for CRM, budgeting, sales, HR and so on. The ongoing cost of linking these disparate systems together is an example of the cost inefficiency that a modern, integrated ERP can help alleviate. 

When it comes time for companies to select a new ERP solution, key considerations are trust and due diligence. It’s highly advisable that CFOs investigate the solutions provider by reading case studies and talking to customer referees. Companies should also ask for a detailed road map on how the ERP system will be delivered and a commitment from the vendor on the work to be carried out during and post implementation, including training and knowledge transfer.

Further considerations include vetting questions like:

Ultimately organisations should aim for a solution with post implementation agility that lowers ongoing costs via the aforementioned knowledge transfer and training. This will ensure that when the project is completed, the company has a solution that can grow with the business as needs change.

6 | Conclusion: Taking Advantage of The Digital Age

Legacy enterprise systems are having a hard time keeping up with the speed of data...

... and corporate reporting requirements set forth from the board, leaving CFOs and their teams with a large amount of manual work and questionable numbers. These rapidly mounting business pressures on finance call for a current ERP capable of transforming the modern CFO into a deeper strategic partner in the business.

The digital age won’t wait for traditional analysis of spreadsheets, slidedecks and emails. Information must be extremely current and available on-demand in an easily digestible format that can support actionable decisions.

CFOs and finance leaders are being tasked with providing strategic planning that can anticipate problems and identify opportunities well in advance. The businesses who survive will be those who see deeper into the data and compare many scenarios simultaneously. 

To meet today’s challenges, CFOs are now looking at advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to help with audits, compliance and transactional tasks. In 2017, companies with outdated systems should look to assess and select an ERP that offers predictive capabilities with enough variables and processing speed to handle real-world modelling in real-time. The competitive advantage is in simplifying detail with advanced interactive visualisation tools that will help leaders spot patterns and anomalies… that no one else saw in the data.