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The Back Office Gets a Promotion

The pandemic has changed many things. It has turned things on their head, it has shone a light on our shortcomings both as individuals and as businesses, and it has brought into sharp relief the roles of people who look after our personal wellbeing and that of the businesses we work for. And whilst I won’t pretend to compare the importance of a frontline nurse, doctor or paramedic to that of an accountant or finance professional there are some parallels.

All these people need the right tools, equipment and support systems to do their job effectively to ensure the wellbeing of their patient or business and based on the facts they have available, have to make life-changing decisions.

Over the past few weeks and months I’ve spoken with many customers as they seek to manage the impact of the pandemic on their business. In the early stages valuable time was lost as CFOs struggled to re-forecast their businesses using cobbled together spreadsheet models that had to be populated manually. This led to the loss of precious insight because there was no time to gather all the vital information and data.

By contrast, those companies that had modern agile finance systems could simplify, focus and re-forecast their businesses in the space of a few hours. According to some leading analysts, over the last five years, investment in front-end or customer facing systems has outstripped investment in back office finance systems by a factor of 4 to 1.

This crisis has brought home the foolishness of this under-investment and neglect, if it was foolish when times were good, it is positively reckless now in the “new normal” state.

During the crisis, the significance of back office systems has been promoted, they have effectively become front-office systems, the systems that people are turning to for answers. When your customers aren’t spending money, you won’t find the answers on how to manage your business in the CRM system!

In my view the pendulum needs to start swinging back, now is the time to think about innovation, modernisation and begin the process of change. Now we are re-inventing everything and there has never been a better opportunity to build a compelling business case and the finance community must not let this opportunity slip through its fingers.

I am not suggesting for one minute that CFOs change systems in the middle of a crisis. But now is the time to plan for change and to convince the Board and other stakeholders to innovate and change.

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