When Generis Global Partners Corp. CFO Nadim Allidina started adopting technologies to help him scale the business-summit company he and his partners launched seven years ago, he hoped to create operational efficiencies. He accomplished that goal, but he also found that the technology brought something else to the mix — it made him and his team better at their jobs.
"For a growing company like ours, these technologies help us keep our thinking sharp, because they expose us to best practices," Allidina told CFO Dive. "They check and challenge our processes. Is there a better way we could be doing it? We see how the systems are designed, and that allows me to think about my processes. It helps keep me open-minded."
Generis hosts summits that bring people in industry verticals together to conduct business. Allidina uses Quickbooks for accounting, ADP for payroll, and Office 365 for documents and collaboration. About a year ago, he adopted Salesforce to track revenue, and he also recently adopted Invoiced to automate his accounts receivable function. Now he's looking to bring in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to replace Quickbooks and connect everything into one integrated system.
"It won’t just be another system bolted on so we’re spending time reconciling between one and the other," he said. "Everything has to be very tightly integrated."
Imperative for growth
For a company like his, Allidina said, use of these cloud-based technologies is an imperative for growth, because he relies on them to achieve operational scale.
"When we started, we didn’t have to spend $50,000 to build a server room," he said. "We couldn’t invest hundreds of thousands of dollars every year maintaining and upgrading IT infrastructure from a hardware perspective."
What’s more, he said, "we knew we were getting the latest and greatest. You can’t even go to market unless your security is top of the line. You expect these companies providing financial automation services will be at the forefront on this."
He also gets more productivity out of his finance and accounting teams because their work is directly related to the company's goals, he says.
"In this day and age, you’re not looking to just hire an army of people who do data entry," he said. "You want people to come in and add value, to be active thinkers. These kinds of technology projects really help to accelerate that, help drive ROI and keep everyone focused on the mission of growth. If you’re just doing data entry, you don’t really feel that mission."
CFOs see tech need
A survey released jointly in mid-January by CFO Dive and Invoiced reinforces the benefits Allidina sees in technology adoption.
The survey of more than 450 CFOs and other finance executives found that most of them look to automation of the accounting and finance functions to increase productivity, reduce human error and refocus staff on more strategic work. Other priority goals of automation include improving the customer experience and the work experience of staff.
Another finding: a relatively small percentage of finance executives see automation as a way to save money through staff reductions and fewer new-hires.
For a company like his, Allidina said, staff reductions are beside the point. Not only is his growing company adding staff, but it couldn’t operate effectively without the technology.
"We are coming at it from a different perspective," he said. "We’re not looking at technology as a way of reducing headcount; we’re looking at it as a way to manage growth more efficiently."
In the survey, CFOs said their companies face risks if they fail to automate. Among the top risks they identified:
- Inability to stay competitive
- Unaffordable labor costs
- Out of step with what consumers and company stakeholders expect
- Overall under-performance
- Unable to execute quickly
CFOs should lead adoption
Allidina says CFOs are in the best position to lead their company’s automation efforts, especially in the finance function, because while IT executives bring the technical know-how, it’s really the CFO who has broad enough visibility into all aspects of business operations to understand what technology is needed and how it should be deployed.
"As CFO, you have to [consider the impact on] downstream users and how that will ultimately flow through and impact the P&L process, and all the internal controls surrounding finance.
"Real leadership is required to make those changes," he said. "The head of IT really understands the technology, so they can think from a logical perspective of how to implement a CFO’s vision, but you need someone in the business who can create that vision."
And that person, he said, is the CFO.