F&A Forecast: 2017 Predictions and Predilections

processesAs 2016 draws to a close, businesses are peering around the corner in anticipation of what the New Year will bring.

Here, we present our predictions for what 2017 will mean to F&A.

Higher Salaries = Greater Demand for Value

Salaries for accounting and finance positions will continue to rise in 2017. That’s the news according to the Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide. Fueled by an increased demand for skilled professionals, starting salaries will increase in range from 3.0% to 4.3% in 2017, conditional on the position. The 2017 average clocks in at 3.7%, one of the highest in the past decade.

The direct outcome of this will be an increased desire (and demand) to get rid of the redundant work that reduces employee output and doesn’t create any value. Robots (from RPA to cognitive) will help humans do more of the innately human work—the work that requires creativity, abstract thinking or human judgment. Continue reading

F&A: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

As we head into 2017, and into the fourth generation of business process services, there is little doubt that the F&A market has matured, dropping to six percent in 2015 after double-digit growth three years earlier. This will no doubt influence the year ahead, in both how process services are offered, and what clients are looking for.

With improvements having been achieved from a best-practices approach, location strategy and access to F&A tools, clients are now indicating that cost savings and existing productivity gains are very nice and well, but there is a deep desire for delivering on business outcomes.

Providers as Capacity Catalysts

Organizations are asking providers “what have you done for me lately?’ and are eyeing the ability to add capacity to their business in four strategic ways:

Actionable Intelligence: Some companies, for instance, want to tap into business insights to improve the customer experience, better their market performance or quickly respond to industry trends. There is little doubt, in our experience, that 2017 will see an increase in the application of analytics. Continue reading

BPaaS: Follow the Yellow Brick Road

In order to arrive at the ultimate destination of Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) “plug and play” success (“The Emerald City”), it requires an understanding of the journey (“The Yellow Brick Road”) and its potential dangers (“Lions and tigers and bears—oh my!”).

Despite all the drum-banging around digital transformation, recent survey results of business process buyers and providers indicate that most are not ready to embrace the magnitude of the change required to achieve the next level of “plug and play” services.

“I could think of things I never thunk before. 
 And then, I’d sit and think some more.” The Scarecrow

Technology is hyper-dynamic. Almost everything that makes your life easier and more convenient is digital. Less than 20 years ago a cellphone was the size and weight of a brick, certainly not “smart” and out of reach financially for most people. Now we can chat with friends using voice commands, ask Siri or Cortana to look up bits of information we’ve forgotten or even watch movies or listen to podcasts as we sit patiently in airport waiting areas.

As individual humans we can adapt pretty easily to technology and its impact on our lives. However, large corporate enterprises are often still supporting legacy systems dating back to the 70s and 80s struggle to keep up.

Yet, every CIO and senior executive understands that digital technologies, intelligent automation and advanced analytics are the “brains” of the organization, helping to deliver the insights required to stay nimble and competitive.

“I could stay young and chipper 
and I’d lock it with a zipper, 
 if I only had a heart.” The Tin Woodsman

A 2015 study by HfS Research of 178 service buyers shows that “seven-out-of-ten enterprises over $10B in revenues do not expect their core enterprises to be delivered As-a-Service for the next 5 years.” They will, instead, be leaning on traditional labor arbitrage models.

Why? Most likely because process and technology are the heart of any operation, and many companies are not as far along the maturity curve as hoped. To stay “young and chipper” companies need to adopt technology, rethink old ways of doing things and step out of their comfort zone, exploring new possibilities.

HfS has noted, “Worryingly, as the future reality for business operations unravels, new research shows more than two-thirds of today’s enterprises are simply not ready for what’s coming. They’re blissfully unaware that their comfortable world of reactionary operations and legacy status quo is going to get ripped apart.”

As well, in the 2016 SSON survey of 500 Shared Services and Outsourcing practitioners, 79% believe their strategy will deliver dramatic and recognized value beyond cost savings. “Most respondents agree that Process Excellence is driving radical change… while innovations such as RPA and Digital Disruption get lower ratings.”

It would seem that there is still plenty of opportunity to simplify operations and take action against significant process inefficiencies throughout the enterprise. This needs to happen first before real change can take place.

Enter the shiny promised land of the Emerald City of BPaaS (Business Process-as-a-Service), a 5th Gen BPO offering that optimizes processes to help clients reduce capex and opex, helps organizations have greater capacity elasticity and improved time to market.

Two of the (many) key attributes of BPaaS address the heart of every organization’s first step toward “plug and play” success: The need to simplify and standardize.

  • Simplification: Practitioners are hosted and leveraged (1:many) across different clients in a shared service model.
  • Standardization: Services are delivered with standard F&A processes with some configuration (and little or no customization).

However, streamlining and standardizing business functions aren’t the only factors in a successful journey. There is a need to re-visit the fundamental reasons for why such projects fail to deliver the expected result.

“But I could show my prowess, be a lion not a mowess, if I only had the nerve. Oh I’d be in my stride, a king down to the core I would roar the way I’ve never roared before.” The Cowardly Lion

What’s the biggest barrier to change? It’s usually a potent mix of a couple of factors:

  • People’s comfort with the status quo.
  • A lack of understanding of the degree of change required.
  • A breakdown in communication

These can be the true “lions and tigers and bears” that businesses will encounter on their journey. To drive change, organizations need to be courageous. They need to have the nerve and resilience to conceive of, implement and enforce digital and process transformation.

This means getting the right level of executive sponsorship to own and drive the change process. There needs to be an atmosphere of creative willingness to write off legacy technology and processes in favor of simple, less complex options. It means starting with the end in mind and being clear about the business outcomes you want to impact.

As well, it’s essential to communicate intentions and leverage key stakeholders. In our experience with facilitating change for our clients, one place to start is to develop “Vision Champions” by leveraging your in-house experts in the vision, design and communications process. And, then testing for understanding and acceptance.

Companies know and understand this in theory, but the practice of change management is often a lesson in the cold reality of dealing with human resistance to change and unexpected hurdles that arise along the way.

Here at Sutherland, we are not only process leaders, delivering “plug and play” business process services, but our #1 job is helping our clients realize change through F&A transformation. It’s what we do day in, day out.

In my next post I’ll share how we helped a client define the business outcome and then enable technology, process redesign and change management practices to achieve their goal.


Does Your RPA Pilot Pass the Sniff Test?

600px-shutterstock_157405238When I go into a discovery session with a potential client, there is a good deal of time spent on discussing which processes that might be an excellent option for intelligent automation. Quite simply, to be a viable robotic process automation (RPA) candidate, a process needs to pass a certain minimal “sniff test” in order to have a deeper, more productive conversation.

So, before we can even head down the RPA road to transformation—or pilot kickoff—three basic, required “table stakes” need to be addressed:

People: The first question to ask is how many people are currently performing this process? To be viable, the process needs to present an opportunity of scalability. If a new RPA initiative will only impact one or two people, the likelihood of seeing a strong return on investment will be difficult. I typically set a baseline of no less than 10 staff members performing a process for it to be considered as an RPA candidate.  Continue reading

5 Ways RPA Increases Data Security

Companies around the world can run the tightest ship, with enforced and strong compliance, there can be a protocol book given to every employee, but walk into any call center or collections center, and inevitably you will see agents with post-it notes or a notebook with client information.

Despite strict protocols, well-intentioned employees can put private and confidential data at risk. From emailing sensitive information —financial, customer, internal or otherwise— using a personal account because it exceeds corporate mailbox limits to chatting with friends about work in a public place, IT managers and compliance officers simply cannot get visibility into all the actions a human may take.

There is no way to gauge what data employees commit to memory, what they retain, what they forget or the knowledge they take with them when they leave for another job. Continue reading

How to Identify & Select Processes for RPA

identify-processes_1As RPA has moved into the mainstream, more and more organizations are looking to see where they can automate and streamline their processes by using Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Understanding where RPA can be applied —as well as where it can’t— is key to identifying and selecting candidate projects.

The Ideal Candidates

The ideal candidate processes for robotics include the following characteristics: Continue reading

Overcoming Barriers to Change

DigitalChange (1)There’s no denying the routine of the status quo is a comfortable groove. But if organizations want to create a culture of innovation —from new product development to the continuous improvement of processes— then the status quo won’t cut it. Change is inevitable.

Yet even with decades of change management models and theory to draw from, the failure rate of change management initiatives is still pegged between 60-70%. The problem with such a high failure rate is that not only will falling short of the end goal result in lost opportunities, but there are will also be wasted resources, and skepticism, as a result.

The fact is, change has always had a remarkable way of affecting people that can often result in resistance, pushback or sometimes outright hostility.

Change is scary. It’s not just dipping your toe into unknown waters, often it’s a deep dive. When companies implement a new RPA program, there can be a dramatic shift in how work is performed. At the operational level, employees worry about robots taking their jobs, or about whether they have the skills needed to successfully navigate their way through the process reengineering. Continue reading

Would You Like BPO with That? 5 Ways BPO Complements RPA

When looking for a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution, companies can opt for a solution from a niche/point solution RPA vendor, a system integrator or a BPO provider.

As a standalone product, RPA is an effective way of automating repetitive tasks and manual intervention. But when combined with BPO, RPA has the potential to deliver much greater impact.

An End-to-End, Multi-Faceted Perspective

For a BPO provider, RPA is a singular tool in a toolbox. (A highly effective tool, but one component in a larger overall strategy.) In addition to RPA, a BPO provider can bring other performance enhancing technology to the table, as well as highly skilled people and process expertise. BPO can also relieve the burden of managing people and process change. Outsourcing partners will analyze the end-to-end function to see how they can optimize processes and eliminate existing exceptions. Whether the exception relates to order entry, invoicing or collections, non-standardized practices cause slowdowns, manual labor and errors. An end-to-end perspective is the catalyst for maximizing straight-through processes. Continue reading

The New Lever of Finance Transformation

We are entering an era where many of the typical levers used within the BPO industry, like labor arbitrage, consolidation, best practices and even process optimization have been pulled and pulled again. As the F&A outsourcing market matures, these levers have less value to give.

Transformation of the finance department through technology is one of the new levers in a strategic business plan. New tech-based tools – from cloud-based ERPs to cognitive technologies – are poised to radically drive performance improvements throughout the finance function and the organization. It’s not a question of whether these new solutions and models will upend business, it’s simply a matter of how far are you along your journey.

One of the tools within the digital transformation toolbox is Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which helps to build a company’s agility, as well as “future-proof” its business and create space for innovation. RPA can (and will) significantly impact the focus of work and the speed at which work is done.

With the right strategy in place, RPA can support digital transformation in the finance and accounting department in five key ways. Continue reading

The Case for RPA in Retail

Leading organizations understand the need for accuracy and efficiency. For retail companies in particular, speed and reliability are crucial. High volumes of orders must be processed quickly and without error if they want customers to keep coming back – and sales revenue flowing.

Robotic Process Automation, or RPA is a new automation technology that integrates with any IT application, website or system to perform rule-based work. It mimics human processing, while driving more accurate data, improved productivity and the ability to scale on demand.

The Advent of RPA

RPA has the power to transform the back office. That’s why, when a client turned to Sutherland to optimize and automate their order processing function, we put our RPA solution to work.

A global IT provider with both B2B and B2C products and solutions, our client had been working from a series of non-integrated legacy systems in 11 different locations around the world. There was extensive duplication of work, and order processing agents lost valuable time cutting and pasting order details from one system to another.

Our challenge was to increase the velocity of the order processing and improve our client’s customer experience. We conducted a thorough assessment of the organization’s people, process and technology landscape, and determined which processes would benefit from RPA.

RPA at Work

By implementing the right RPA tools, we created a process that accommodates complex workflows, yet offers a straightforward user interface for agents to use instead of “swivel seating” between multiple systems.

Agents simply log in to quickly and easily access a variety of reports and tools. Once they’ve uploaded the relevant information into the RPA tool, the robots take over and begin to process orders – pulling information from the purchase order, comparing and confirming accurate shipping and billing information, and sending out order confirmation to the client.

It’s simple yet ingenious. And it’s 100% reliable.

A Results-Based Solution

Sutherland’s RPA solution brought significant improvements to our client’s order processing function.

  • Orders can now be processed seven times faster than before.
  • The overall velocity of the “order received to factory floor” processing time shrank from three to five days, to less than five hours.

And that’s not all. Our impact extended beyond just velocity; it also improved costs, quality and insights.

Sutherland was able to decrease overtime by more than 100 hours every two weeks. We increased order processing quality to 100%. And our client now has real-time global visibility into all orders.

The added bonus is how seamlessly the RPA solution integrated with our client’s existing systems. No client IT involvement was required other than providing our new robot agent with login credentials.

RPA and You

At Sutherland, we understand the challenges of the retail business. Our team of automation and transformation experts is ready and able to partner with you on developing an RPA solution that will save you time and money.

If your B2B or B2C retail organization is looking to improve the veracity and velocity of your order processing function, contact us today to schedule a free assessment of your current practices with one of our F&A experts.