IT Distractions Reducing Finance Department ROI?

3 Keys to Improved Performance

You are on top of the company’s financial state and everything is in tip-top shape. You can instantly show where the company stands – from days receivables to payables balance, cash on hand, employee turnover and cost of benefits. But, if you were asked what the finance department has for an internal “ROI”, what would you say? If you were focused on improving the productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of your department, where would you start? What might have the largest impact? We frequently hear from CFO and Finance Executives who feel that IT distractions are high on their list of things that, if addressed, could achieve all these benefits.

So what are some of the primary distractions? Most frequently, these distractions fall into one of three categories:
  1. Manual data entry or manipulation:
    Spreadsheets rule, right? Well, not really, especially when the data being manipulated resides in your core ERP, financial, or data lake systems – the data gets pulled – thus becoming only a snapshot of actual live data, manipulated, utilized in the work flow, and then what? Now that resulting manipulation is no longer in the core data – outside defined governance rules, out of sync with live data, open to corruption. This may also be a result of data that is not moving seamlessly between applications which lack integration (data silos).
  2. Process alignment:
    Closely coupled to number 1 above, the work flow process has a gap where demands of the work flow no longer match the automation in the core enterprise system(s). This gap (Mind The Gap) frequently is the root cause of spreadsheet-itis. It might also be a case where the system requires certain steps that no longer meet the needs of the business process forcing extra steps or needless excess input that takes time from more valuable work, such as a CRM or other enterprise application that doesn’t really boost revenue, effectiveness or productivity.
  3. Actual Distractions:
    Huh, you think, this is all about distractions already! Well, this area is one that is only indirectly an IT issue, but one IT may be able to impact. Use of personal devices of all kinds, wearables, personal social media and other (electronic) distractions have become rampant and a real management challenge. Minimizing these while treating employees like adults can be difficult. Another is face-to-face (scheduled) meetings with the typically low productivity seen in most meetings and subsequent high cost in man hours invested.

IT or IT-related solutions are numerous, and may be specific in nature to your particular IT environment, but there are some general approaches you can investigate with your CIO:
  1. Manual data entry or manipulation:
    We have often found that a simple front-end extension (usually browser-based) or set of reports with an automated job sequence can be quickly developed. This addresses the root cause of the data manipulation for the particular work flow where the spreadsheet is being utilized. It keeps the data fully under governance and contained in the enterprise systems. The manipulated result which is being used to make decisions in the work flow also potentially becomes visible to others and no longer in a single area (data in a silo). Any set of applications that are not integrated and thus seamlessly providing data amongst themselves should be moved to a high priority for development to address.
  2. Alignment:
    In the Mind The Gap post, a survey method is suggested that can be utilized to identify areas where the process (work flow) no longer matches the enterprise system automation work flow. From this analysis, IT staff can begin to determine what changes are required to fully support the work flow and eliminate “off-line” efforts, such as those on spreadsheets. You may have access to business process optimization (BPO) specialists, who routinely analyze and optimize work flow in your company, or you may decide it would benefit both your department and the overall company to have an independent BPO audit performed.(1)
  3. Actual Distractions:
    There are almost as many ways as there are applications designed to affect behavior when it comes to personal devices, social media, and other electronic distraction. Where IT can often help is to co-build a set of rules that are enforced on target websites (social media, games, etc.) which can be time-based to allow some access, but limited so that, like breaks, it refreshes, rather than distracts.(2) Another important consideration is collaboration – IT can really help define some best practices that will reduce face-to-face meetings while still enabling and even encouraging the sense of community for the employees departmentally as well as corporately. Applications like Skype for Business, Slack, Yammer, and others can be rolled-out, which have been shown to increase inter-personal communication, reduce interruptions, and foster a larger sense of team participation(3).

  4. Training – this applies across all these categories and is a really key, but often overlooked element. We have seen on several occasions that apparent gaps, manual data manipulation and other “symptoms” impacting effectiveness and efficiency, were tied to a training issue. The enterprise system was powerful enough to accomplish the required task, but the user really didn’t understand that or know how to accomplish the task within the system. Online training, webinars, and many other self-serve education resources exist that can assist with this. IT staff may also know of vendor-provided resources specific to your implementation and area (A/P, A/R, HR, Payroll, etc.) that may be available. Documentation is another element which applies to all of these categories is. How fully documented is your process and the IT system actions required to accomplish that process? A great test of this might be to take a person from each area and rotate them into another area (a payables clerk doing HR, etc.) to see what it takes for them to understand and successfully accomplish the work flow. If you find it is difficult for a person to successfully accomplish the new role, then improving documentation may be critical. BPO accomplishes this as part of the analysis phase. There are also off-the-shelf knowledge management capabilities that can prove cost-effective, address succession management, and even help lower staff turnover.(4) A regular “IT Distraction check-up” can help you quickly increase your department’s ROI – and the morale, motivation, and satisfaction of your staff.


    2 BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Policies and Best Practices – Lexology
    The Privacy Issues You Should (And Shouldn't) Worry ... - Fast Company