Prepare for the future, it's already here (Part 3): Universities meeting digital demand

Finance leaders have no choice but to prepare themselves and their workplaces for the digitization revolution. Workplaces are already reaping the benefits of automation and AI, and to remain current, CFOs need to embrace self-education along with any formal training that they can lay their hands on.

At a time when universities globally are being criticised for not skilling students for a digitally demanding future, the University of Cape Town began its ambitious Shared Services Project in 2017.

CFO Ashley Francis has a deep respect for technological advancements: “The way we work and the way we live, we are aligned with mobile technology.”

Ashley says his department began collaborating with a university in the Netherlands, with the goal of automating all transactions in the university and make it a paper-free zone. The project incorporated Robotics, AI, RPA, as well as redesigning jobs, and an introduction of new skills.

“It was a bit daunting for the team at first, but now we’re full steam ahead,” he says. “Eighty percent of the budget will go towards training chain management. Staff are definitely not prepared for the digital era, that’s why we are focusing on reskilling a year before we implement the shared services system.”

Ashley says one of the immediate goals is getting people comfortable with tech, “A debtor’s clerk will not be a debtors clerk in three years’ time.”
So what does the next decade look like? It can be argued that finance is Entering the golden age of technology.

While no one can accurately predict the future, there are glaring changes sweeping across the industry that will see vast job displacements in the reporting sector – but it is up to finance professionals to be ready and prepare for a massive overhaul. In its report “Finance 2025, Digital Transformation in Finance, Deloitte predicts that cloud-based ERP, automation, and cognitive innovation will evolve rapidly, radically simplifying processes and freeing up people. Adding blockchain or distributed ledger technology to the mix in the future will only accelerate this trend.

As roles become automated, we can expect to see financial institutions doubling down on business insights and customer service.

This era will also bring finance into real time, meaning periodic cycles will no longer drive decisions and operations.

Finance companies will be operating in the era of Self-service, so it is paramount to get the customer experience of this segment operating seamlessly.

Automation will lead to bigger data sets which can be advantageous, but it’s still going to be difficult and tedious to work with. CFOs will need to have a new or renewed understanding, if not appreciation, when it comes to solving data problems, as the devil is in the detail!

The Deloitte report states: “What are we talking about? Commas, abbreviations, data-entry fields, nomenclature, and hundreds of similar factors. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not glitzy. But it is important.” CFOs must learn to appreciate the heavy lifting required to fulfil their requests.

Lastly, get ready for a changed work environment. As companies migrate to digital platforms, expect teething problems with workflow. Staff will need room to think on their feet and come up with different approaches to the newer emerging roles. This means many of them will start doing things their own way.