Our experience working with MENA CFOs, as well as our survey results, suggest:
1. Finance systems are a priority, but there are challenges to overcome
In our survey, 80% of finance leaders are using ERP but need to overcome several challenges to fully unlock its potential, mainly:
- Optimizing use of ERP, such as by unlocking its full functionality — a challenge for 44% of finance leaders
- Fully aligning finance systems, as interfaces between systems continue to exist and require either manual or automated interventions — a challenge for 24% of finance leaders
- Using ERP in line with business requirements — a challenge for 12% of finance leaders
For finance leaders to maximize the potential of finance systems, there are four priorities to focus on:
- Aim to implement a unified finance system covering all divisions and business units across the organization
- Seek to automate end-to-end accounting and reporting cycles to enable straight-through processing
- Identify routine, repetitive manual activities not covered by ERP, and automate them through robotics for processing-related tasks, and AI for judgment-related tasks
- Where ERP has been implemented, perform a quality review of its functionalities to enhance and align them with business requirements
2. Data, analytics and AI are a priority, but should move from historical to forward-looking:
Finance leaders recognize the need to advance data and analytics capabilities, with 59% of respondents saying that doing so is a high priority. However, they should look to evolve from reporting on historical data to providing forward-looking insights that can be available in real time.
Finance leaders are also aware of the ways that AI will contribute to value: by helping to drive compliance (37% of responders) and identifying suspicious activities to combat fraud (48% of responders), by enabling process automation to reduce cost of finance (66% of responders), and by providing insights and analytics for strategic decision-making (63% of responders).
We propose four priorities for finance leaders to capture the potential of AI, data and analytics:
- Utilize advanced analytics and visualization techniques to convert large volumes of unstructured data into structured data that can be analyzed and accessed in real time
- Where multiple sources of data exist — and with different semantics and formats — leverage AI to reconcile data and create a single, coherent representation of the truth
- Establish a formal enterprise-wide, robust data governance and control framework
- Build algorithms that can gradually move data from historical views to forward-looking, predictive and prescriptive analytics
3. New finance delivery models are required
Hybrid working and technology create the business case for finance leaders to evolve the finance delivery model. Instead of delivering almost all activities locally or in house, finance functions will benefit by evolving to a more effective and efficient model that combines local and in-house capabilities with offshore and external capabilities.
Centers of excellence, shared services centers, managed services and outsourcing capabilities can provide flexible platforms that can be scaled and continuously structured in line with business requirements. They also unlock access to innovative technologies and methodologies that are difficult to acquire or develop in house.