According to Oracle’s 2018 ERP Trends Report, nearly half (43%) of finance leaders are exploring AI in keeping with their desire for innovation and new capabilities.


By Derek Bose, applications country leader at Oracle South Africa & SADC

For me, the appeal of AI to CFOs comes down to three things:

* Automation: AI frees employees from mundane and repetitive tasks. Virtual agents, for example, can simulate financial tasks such as account reconciliation and compliance and operate them on a 24/7 basis; increasing productivity for the department.

* Insight: AI allows CFOs to ask not only ‘what happened?’, but also ‘what would happen if?…’, allowing them to make better long-term decisions. What’s more, AI systems improve the efficiency of decision making by providing information in human terms.

* Outcomes: AI has an impact. For instance, AI tools can reveal how CFOs can leverage excess cash for early payment discounts, or they can improve supply selection through AI analytics.

Chief financial officers have never had it harder. They’re pressured to cut costs, increase revenue and forecast more accurately. Meanwhile, they face the continuing need to deal with economic uncertainty, regulation and scrutiny from investors.

By breaking down organisational silos through cloud computing, and then deploying AI applications, these ‘augmented’ CFOs can accelerate workflow by creating a more cohesive, responsive and predictive organisation. And by discerning long-term patterns in data, AI apps can then provide unprecedented insights into what the future may hold and how likely future scenarios might affect performance and growth.

CFOs relish the strategic role their office plays in decision-making. But their workload means they can risk burning out. Working nights and weekends reduces their workplace efficiency and can be bad for one’s health. That’s why advances in Artificial Intelligence are so welcome; promising as they do a means for CFOs to manage their increasing workloads.

AI in three simple steps

* Automation: Define the end benefit – CFOs are looking to AI to help them in their work. The benefits of AI are compelling. First, the technology enables transformational automation, freeing employees from mundane and repetitive tasks. Virtual agents, for example, can simulate financial tasks such as account reconciliation and compliance and operate them on a 24/7 basis; increasing productivity for the department. Second, AI can reveal new and predictive insights. AI allows CFOs to ask not only ‘what happened?’, but also ‘what would happen if?’, allowing them to make better long-term decisions. What’s more, AI systems improve the efficiency of decision making by providing information in human terms through Natural Language Processing. Third, AI can help CFOs improve business outcomes. For instance, AI tools can reveal how CFOs can leverage excess cash for early payment discounts, or they can improve supply selection through AI analytics. One example of this concept in practice is when AI can enhance ERP apps so they can monitor supplier invoices for those that offer early discount payment and flag these opportunities, so finance teams can better prioritise payments.

* Insight: Better decisions for better business – AI apps, almost by definition, need to be connected to the enterprise through the cloud. This is because the cloud is the best way to cost-effectively build data lakes that provide the raw fuel for machine learning and AI-derived insights. AI and machine learning embedded within cloud applications specifically, are at the cutting edge of providing business benefit through end-to-end solutions. By connecting internal data, third-party data, open data and unstructured data in the cloud, along with relevant enterprise apps such as HCM, Sales and Marketing, organisations can create a data source that’s second to none. Intelligent algorithms can then analyse this data for hidden insights and present these insights, along with recommendations on the next best action, to CFOs; helping them make the right decisions for the business. This gives businesses the agility to be both responsive and predictive. This approach improves over time. Every occasion a CFO uses their expertise to accept or change a recommendation made by the AI, the machine learns from that decision and incorporates it into future analysis. In this way, the AI and CFO work together for the smartest and most efficient outcomes.

* Outcomes: Continuous innovation – By breaking down organisational silos through cloud computing, and then deploying AI applications, CFOs can accelerate workflow by creating a more cohesive, responsive and predictive organisation. By discerning long-term patterns in data, AI apps can then provide unprecedented insights into what the future may hold and how likely future scenarios might affect performance and growth. This is important in an era where uncertainty is the new normal. Ultimately, enterprises will future-proof their business and capitalise continuous innovation in enterprise applications.

Across Southern Africa, we are seeing organisations moving to cloud-ERP, and in doing so they are automatically joining the emerging technologies evolution. With embedded Artificial intelligence enabling organisations to stay ahead of the innovation curve, bringing automatic, secure, up-to-date, feature rich innovation to the organisation in a consistent manner.

Cloud-ERP paves the way for AI embedded in ERP, with the potential to improve efficient outcomes and inform board level strategy.

Artificial intelligence will help finance departments shift from filling out paperwork to focusing on business strategy and decisions.

The trajectory of this shows incredible potential, with IDC predicting that global spending on cognitive and AI solutions will grow 54,4% per year through 2020. AI will do this not by replacing humans, but by empowering them: taking on boring tasks and freeing employees for the more rewarding and strategic work.

In achieving this, CFOs will need to apply rigour to ensure that data quality and processes are up to scratch. If they succeed, they will find they’re able to meet their new responsibilities with ease.

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