As CFOs and accounting leaders juggle growing expectations with rising costs and responsibilities, automation is “getting more and more attention” as a way to complete that balancing act, said Emily Daigle, VP and GM of enterprise software provider Zuora Revenue’s business group.
Seventy-nine percent of accounting leaders agree that there is a greater need for more automation as part of their revenue accounting processes, according to the company’s 2023 State of Revenue Accounting report released this month. More leaders are beginning to see benefits from such technologies, “and so teams who maybe before thought that they were automated are realizing they're not as automated as they could be,” Daigle said.
Doing more with automation
CFOs and other accounting leaders have taken steps to bring automation into their processes in recent years, adding in new ERP systems, software and tools as the need to digitize all parts of their business grows.
However, while this is a change from past days of paper documents and spreadsheets — leading many to feel as though they are using automation effectively — “it’s all of that manual work on top of some system that really is leading to be able to do more with that automation,” Daigle said.
Daigle joined the Redwood City, California-based company — which, among other software, offers a platform to help businesses better track their revenue data — in 2018 after serving as director of revenue for NETSCOUT.
Having a clear understanding of the businesses’ automation level is essential for CFOs and financial leaders who want to get ahead of the automation curve, she said.
“A lot of times as businesses get more complex, there's this tendency to just throw more headcount at the problem,” Daigle said. “But as we see CFOs who are understanding the benefits of automation, they're thinking, ‘Well, I can take that same dollar that I would put towards a new person coming in and sitting in a seat, I can put that towards automation.’ And what that does is allows more confidence in the data.”
Zuora has had conversations with businesses leaders who may have previously felt they were tapping the technology effectively, but through the course of the conversation “it becomes very much apparent that there's a lot more that can be done,” she said.
Automation can also help CFOs make quicker strategic decisions, a must as revenue teams are facing rising pressure to help bring new products or offerings to market, 76% of revenue accounting leaders said in Zuora’s recent study.
Bringing a new product to market always introduces a “significant amount of complexity” into the business, Daigle said, adding to the strain of teams who already report a lack of confidence in their revenue data. Ony 44% of leaders say they had a high degree of confidence in their data, Zuora’s study found, with 39% stating poor data hygiene was their biggest challenge.
Part of that lack of confidence is simply due to the fact that revenue data is often siloed across the organization, leaving revenue teams tasked with consolidating information from disparate ERP or CRM systems and combining it all manually into something like an Excel file, Daigle said.
“Then with every step that requires manual intervention, it introduces the concept of risk being there that something is not complete and accurate,” she said.
Attracting accounting talent
Adding automation can also help ease the burden for CFOs and accounting teams who are increasingly stressed about difficult, time-consuming processes: 76% of revenue accounting leaders say that poor revenue processes impact their mental health, according to Zuora’s report. Nineteen percent report having nightmares about these processes, while 59% say their team members feel “unfulfilled” when it comes to their work.
Adding in automation can help not only to save money, but to attract accountants at a time when many are leaving the profession in droves, according to a January report by the Wall Street Journal.
That loss of accounting talent only adds to the pressure CFOs face both when it comes to keeping the business on track as well as remaining compliant with their financial requirements: a dearth of accountants is likely to lead to more audit failures, CFO Dive reported in March following the failure of Silicon Valley Bank.
Auditor attention has also increased over the past three years, according to 76% of leaders surveyed by Zuora, with 65% concerned about the risk of misstatement because of a reliance on manual processes and control risks.
Coming from the accounting world herself, Daigle has seen great talent slip away because of time-consuming manual processes, she said.
“There's accountants who go through a lot of school, they get certified, they're ready to hit the ground running, and then they just end up in a spreadsheet, cobbling together reports, whereas they really want to be more strategic business partners,” she said. “And so they'll go somewhere else to find where that automation is.”