Ahead of Naseba CFO Strategies Forum MENA, we spoke to Khurram Siddiqui, EY Partner – MENA Financial Accounting Advisory Services Digital Leader at EY to understand their take on the future of robotics, analytics and big data – and how this will impact the finance function.
Can you please introduce yourself?
EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and services they deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.
The MENA practice of EY has been operating in the region since 1923. For more than 90 years, we have grown to more than 6,000 people united across 20 offices and 15 countries, sharing the same values and an unwavering commitment to quality.
I lead the digital agenda for Financial Accounting Advisory Services (FAAS) in MENA. We provide these services to our CFO community who are grappling with modern day challenges (such as cost) and the increasingly strategic role of the CFO. We offer services like robotic process automation or RPA, which is proving to be the most important digital enabler for CFOs, and is largely required by the Finance departments at this point in time. Apart from RPA, we also support the CFO community with innovative solutions like Blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics / big data solutions. Our solutions are based on the Finance 4.0 agenda, as a result of 4th industrial revolution.
The role of today’s CFOs has been transformed with the progress of data, analytics and big data. How do you help CFOs make better informed decisions?
We live in an age of disruption and our clients know they must respond to digital transformation, which has become one of the biggest strategic imperatives facing them and critical to their survival. Digital is the defining mega-trend of our time and is expected to experience rapid growth in the coming years. We have already set our ground and have established strong teams across the globe implementing digital technologies and solutions for our clients.
Some of the key digital solutions we are currently providing CFO’s are:
- Data analytics, which enables the finance function with the tools to provide more insight by extracting value from large amounts of data. This can help CFO’s evaluate predicted outcomes to better understand the financial impact of key decisions.
- Cloud technology provides the opportunity for organizations to replace outdated, fragmented and inflexible legacy systems with a connected, flexible system.
- Robotic process automation (RPA), an enterprise-class software automation that mimics human execution of tasks via existing user interfaces; a fast, reliable and always-present method that can replace routine manual processes.
- Artificial Intelligence, which makes sense of large structured and unstructured data sets. It can recognize patterns and learn and adapt to new accounting or tax regulations
- Blockchain records transactions using a distributed ledger, which gives every network participant a secure audit trail of all transactions ever made in near real time. It allows trade directly between parties without the need for intermediaries.
How does process automation simplify the CFO’s job?
CFOs are required to adapt to the ever-changing finance landscape, and to create innovative, low cost and efficient working models. The move towards a new operating model is already underway, with robotic process automation (RPA) rapidly developing in the market.
RPA is the use of software that mimics human interaction with core systems, web and desktop applications to execute processes. RPA is an effective cost and time enabler, complementing any digital transformation journey to streamline business processes, achieve profitability and maintain a competitive advantage. This can be one of the largest assets to the CFO.
Technology can also bring important cost savings which cannot be undermined in today’s economy. Can you tell us more about this?
In today’s world, technology plays a very important role by simplifying and automating business processes. Traditionally, this role has been played by enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. With the advent of new technologies such as robotic process automation, Blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics, we are seeing multiple dimensions of cost savings, process improvement, transparency and efficiency. For example, RPA can provide cost savings ranging from 20%–60% of baseline FTE cost as it mimics human behavior with increased efficiency and productivity.
How do you see the CFO’s role in the future?
The CFO role is being disrupted by digital innovation, the proliferation of data, a volatile risk environment, increasing regulation and a growing circle of demanding stakeholders. While the core elements of the role remain true and relevant for finance leaders today, there are new forces changing the expectations placed on CFOs: digital; data, risk and uncertainty, and stakeholder scrutiny and regulation.
To fulfill their agenda of growing and protecting the organization, finance leaders need to transpose and embrace a digital business model. They must also play a key role in building the organization’s readiness and confidence to act and react with urgency. CFOs who don’t proactively define their role in response to these major forces could compromise their ability to shape strategy of their business.
What are some of the biggest digital trends in the finance function you foresee for next year?
The advancement of new technologies bring with it significant potential. Some of the trends that we can foresee disrupting the CFO role include:
- Robotics: Robotic process automation has the potential to impact the back and mid-offices in a similar way as robotic factory automation has on the shop floor over the last 20 years. Robots are fast, reliable and always present for routine manual processes. Their work can be clearly audited. The business case is compelling.
- Blockchain: Conducting business today requires an industry of trusted middlemen — bankers, lawyers, accountants and auditors — to record and assure what’s been done. Blockchain reinvents this through distributed ledger technology, which gives every network participant a secure audit trail of all transactions ever made in near real-time. It allows trade directly between parties without the need for intermediaries.
- Artificial Intelligence: AI systems such as Siri, Google Now and Cortana are capable of ingesting and making sense of very large data sets much more efficiently than humans. The key benefit over traditional data and analytics is the ability not just to follow rules, but also to recognise patterns, and to learn and adapt to new situations, including new accounting or tax regulations.
- Data and analytics: Analytics technologies give the finance function the tools to add significantly more insight to the business. Extracting and processing large amounts of data improves the ability to predict outcomes and better understand the financial impact of key decisions. To fully maximise the use of this technology, the finance community will need to build its capabilities around accessing, understanding and analysing data output.
Khurram Siddiqui, EY Partner – MENA Financial Accounting Advisory Services Digital Leader, will be speaking at the CFO Strategies Forum MENA on November 15-16 at the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai.