The Ledger

A digital finance blog

The Ledger

Posted by Patrick Youngs

The evolution of IT finance architecture

CEOs and CFOs remain focused on driving business performance and identifying opportunities to improve bottom line results. The right IT finance architecture gives a company both the confidence to report how the company makes money and the data-driven insights to make even more money - so why are so many firms challenged to get the finance systems that can give them informational advantages?

A recent IBM CFO study showed that top performers, or “Value Integrators”, are 50% better at driving integration of information across the enterprise (source).

In this blog post, we reflect on the insights gained from our years of experience working with leading enterprises about how  finance IT architectures are engineered to deliver more value.

Three attributes of a successful finance architecture

It is important to note that there is no one “right” finance architecture. Every company has unique needs, constraints and histories. Many firms, for example, rely on multiple ERP instances with some of these adopted from acquired entities or stand-alone business divisions.

In a future piece, we will be providing an overview of how  finance architectures have evolved, but we must start by looking at what CFOs and controllers expect from these systems.

Whereas it’s not possible to recommend one particular finance architecture, we have identified the three universal attributes that CFOs and financial controllers expect their finance systems to deliver. These are:

  • Control over accounting
  • Data-centricity
  • Timeliness

Before we reflect on how finance architectures have evolved, let’s consider these three attributes.

Accounting control

At its most basic, financial controllers are responsible for supervising the quality of accounting and financial reporting. This has become a very complex task for firms in many industries that are selling more products, across more channels and geographies using a wider variance of contractual terms.

For many businesses, such as those that have grown via acquisition, the controller relies on accounting applied by business-unit owned transaction systems and thus can lose control over accounting. One only has to consider the many high-profile accounting “scandals” (Tesco – 2015, Autonomy – 2012, etc etc) to know that CEOs and CFOs can no longer assume that accounting policy is correctly applied – finance teams need control over the application of accounting rules.

Data centricity

Top CFOs are increasingly focused on driving data-driven decision making, providing inputs into company strategy and helping business leaders to generate and interpret meaningful business insights.

As such, finance architectures need to provide finance teams with high-quality data. Finance teams recognize the opportunity to frame analytics within a financial focus. CFOs need to be able to quickly answer questions such as ‘what are my most profitable channels?’ ‘what are the all-in costs of delivering that customer contract?’ ‘how can I out price the competition but still deliver on margin targets?

Delivering these sorts of insights requires CFOs to have access to data and the tools & systems to extract insights.

Timeliness

CFOs and controllers need to deliver answers quickly for both backwards looking financial reporting and forward-looking performance insights. For reasons we will look into, many finance architectures fail in this domain.

One controller we spoke to recently argued that they could without doubt answer questions on the profitability of particular products, but she couldn't tell us how many days it would take!

As many industries become characterized by the sale of high-volume transactions, having answers quickly becomes increasingly important.

In a coming piece, we'll reflect on the different architectural components that leading CFOs and finance teams are using to deliver control, data-driven insight and fast answers.

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We're passionate about the intersection of finance and IT and enjoy sharing views with CFOs, financial controllers and experts in finance IT.

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