Innovation in finance is essential - don't get left behind

BlueBridge One's Jonathan Ryan explains how to foster innovation in your finance team.

In the modern workplace of today, innovation is critical to business success. Yet finance departments and the technology that they utilise generally fail to react quickly or to allow for new business models.

“Innovation is what makes companies successful, but finance has traditionally been a back-office function, and innovation hasn’t usually been nurtured or encouraged there,” says Jonathan Ryan, the managing director of BlueBridge One. “But if you consider companies like Uber and the other disruptors of today, they wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t innovated the entire business model – finance included.”

The real problem, he says, is that finance is often hamstrung by the systems it uses. “Business can’t wait and hope that things are going to change while using the same technology – it has to try to be an early adopter.”

He says that to create an environment in which this is possible, innovation has to be nurtured. “It’s really important to incentivise people in finance to find new processes, and not to punish mistakes along the way.”

At the same time he says, you can’t just innovate for the sake of innovation. “It needs to be driven by a genuine business need. You need a balanced approach between people, process and technology – a blend of the three.”

He adds that there’s also a need for a balanced approach between front and back office. “The initial  customer experience is managed by the front office experience, but ultimately investment  in the back office is what’s needed to support higher level customer expectations, including a personalised customer experience by improving delivery times through smarter order management, and avoiding customer disappointment with enhanced inventory visibility. This all impacts investment decisions you need to make as a finance team member.”

He explains that technology enables a number of things to support this. “It enables you to compete quicker in response to a business model that’s changing all the time. When you are up against competition, it enables you to think out the box, and to quickly adapt. Flexibility is key.”

Scalability is also crucial. “You have to be able to scale quickly. You can’t change systems each time you reach 10 users, then 100 then 1,000. You need a scalable technology platform to allow you to scale your business, rather than migrating from one platform to another, creating upheaval each time. Flexibility and scalability are the key components of technology supporting that.”

Businesses are becoming increasingly global, so Jonathan says you can’t have a system that only complies with South African trading requirements. “If you’re going to expand operations to other countries, it has to be able to support their local tax reporting requirements, there are many different compliance requirements in different countries, you might need to communicate in different languages. You need a platform that’s going to support access to a wider breadth of customers and employees.”

He says that BlueBridge One’s focus is to try to help those organisations that want to innovate and grow. “Mid-size organisations that are growing fast want to scale globally, that are looking for an enterprise business system that supports scalability – it’s our focus to help those customers to bring benefits from cloud technology.”

He says that this is supported by the Oracle NetSuite platform, which is currently used by 18,000 customers in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. It’s a multi-tenanted cloud environment that’s relatively new to the South African market. BlueBridge One will be making customers aware of the platform, its applications and benefits at the Finance Indaba on 16 and 17 October.