Microsoft aims for phased FP&A tool rollout
Microsoft is planning a phased rollout of a new artificial intelligence tool capable of assisting corporate finance teams with cash flow forecasting and other analytical tasks, as the software giant looks to minimize risks to users in areas such as data security, according to Georg Glantschnig, Microsoft vice president of Dynamics 365 Finance.
The previously announced tool, which is intended for users of Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Finance platform, is currently being tested with selected clients in a “private preview” phase, the senior executive with the software giant told CFO Dive.
“The biggest thing for us is, of course, that it has to live up to Microsoft security standards,” Glantschnig said in a recent interview. The company could be ready by as soon as this fall to announce a public rollout plan, he said.
Software vendors from startups to industry giants are flooding the market with new or enhanced offerings powered by generative AI, which is widely viewed in the business world as a groundbreaking technology. This comes in the wake of last November’s introduction of ChatGPT, a popular generative AI tool created by Microsoft-backed startup OpenAI.
Nearly three out of five corporate executives responding to a Salesforce survey released in March said generative AI is a potential game-changer, while one-third viewed it as over-hyped. In addition, two-thirds said they were prioritizing business use of the technology in the next 18 months, with one-third calling it a top priority.
However, the technology also prompted concerns, with seven in 10 executives saying it could expose company data to new security risks. A skills gap and integration troubles with businesses’ existing tech stacks were among other top implementation concerns.
For its part, Microsoft in recent months has begun adding generative AI to a variety of its products and services, including its Bing search engine; its suite of office software products like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook; and its Azure cloud computing platform.
The Redmond, Washington-based company has also begun to incorporate AI features into its Dynamics 365, an enterprise resource planning platform designed to automate a range of business functions including finance, sales and human resources.
In May, Glantschnig penned a blog post announcing Microsoft’s plan to make an “extended planning and analytics” tool available to Dynamics 365 Finance users.
“Empowered by our new solution, organizations can continuously plan, looking across the enterprise at timely operational and financial data with AI-assisted insights providing critical strategic direction to accelerate innovation and guide their businesses toward sustainable success,” he wrote at the time.
The tool prioritizes “critical modern capabilities that are top of mind for today’s CFOs, such as predictive forecasting, zero-based budgeting, what-if analysis, and uncovering hidden drivers with AI-powered insights,” according to the blog post.
While CFOs have a reputation for being risk averse and slow to embrace change, many of them are now eager to adopt AI for tasks such as financial planning and analysis as they grapple with the pressures of doing their job at a time of macroeconomic uncertainty, Glantschnig told CFO Dive.
Still, he indicated that Microsoft is being careful to address data privacy issues and other potential business concerns surrounding AI, particularly in the context of uses cases such as financial planning.
After its current “private preview” phase, the new planning and analytics tool will advance to “public preview” status, providing further opportunity for refinements before it is fully rolled out, Glantschnig told CFO Dive.
“We’re not playing around with data privacy,” he said. “It’s not something to compromise on.”