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Five key considerations to help African finance professionals adopt technology successfully—and ensure they are competitive into the future.

By Theuns Holtshousen – Business Leader @ CaseWare Africa

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Technology is transforming our private lives. Social media, instant messaging, apps in general are in widespread use globally, and in Africa too.

Despite this, many finance professionals in Africa express reservations about the impact that technology might have on their working lives. Some of the key questions being asked are: Is it affordable? Is it secure? Do I have, or can I find, the skills to use it effectively? Will it replace me or my staff?

These questions must be addressed as a matter of urgency because one thing is clear: your competitors are already adopting technology, and you risk falling behind them if you do not. It is vital that you understand what technology can do for your business, and begin the journey now.

However, finance professionals must also take the time to understand all the issues. The following five considerations should guide their thinking when implementing technology:

Technology adoption is real, and it focuses on automation. As I have already indicated, the march of technology is fundamentally changing all businesses. Finance professionals simply have to keep abreast of this trend or they will not be able to offer the agile, expanding and cost-effective services their clients require.

The key concept driving the use of technology within the finance industry is automation. Your clients are using accounting systems, ERP systems, reporting tools and so on. You need to be able to integrate with those systems to transfer data seamlessly, thus eliminating duplication and enhancing accuracy. By the same token, automating your own processes will generate massive savings in both time and money, thus freeing you and your staff up to add more value to clients.

Take legacy systems and data into account. No company starts off with a clean slate; we all have investments in desktop systems and valuable data collected down the years. Both must form part of the road map for adopting technology. Data, in particular, is the key to understanding what clients want and how to service them more effectively.

Think carefully about cloud. Cloud is receiving a lot of media attention at present because it has such great potential. Companies are already gaining enormous benefits in terms of reducing capital costs and providing a platform for collaboration and automation. The cloud enables many, if not most, of the benefits that flow from technology.

But transitioning everything into the cloud at once is not always practical, especially if one wants to get all the return possible on existing technology investments. In reality, too, many African finance professionals are hamstrung by connectivity that is not yet ubiquitous or cheap enough. For them, as for the majority of companies globally, a phased approach is going to be best. The end result, now known as hybrid cloud, will already take them to the next level, technologically speaking.

For example, hooking up an existing desktop application to the cloud can add great value by enabling better collaboration and the creation of a single data store. The latter will immediately eliminate the problems that come with re-entering information, and set the stage for further automation initiatives when they make sense.

It is particularly important to integrate the collaboration potential of cloud into your business plan. The moment a company starts to move into the cloud, it becomes possible for it to collaborate with fellow professional practices in other areas, both within the same country or across borders. As African regional trade continues to increase, this will mean that an auditing practice in Kenya will no longer have to refer a client with Zambian interests to a Zambian practice, but will be able to participate in the work of servicing that client. This will not only strengthen the bottom line, it will also allow a relatively small practice to provide the reach that a much larger competitor offers.

Indeed, this ability to compete on equal terms with big competitors is a general benefit of technology.

Do not automate a sub-standard process. As noted above, to get the benefit of investment in technology, companies will automate as much as possible. It is surprising that so many companies simply automate their existing manual processes, failing to seize the opportunity to improve processes during automation. When automating: look at where you want to be in the future, and design your automated processes with the end goal in mind. That way, you will begin to build a company that is future-proof.

Integration is the key to harvesting the benefits of technology. This point is implicit in what I have been saying, but it is so important it needs highlighting. The aim must be a single file across the full life cycle of any client. Thus, for example, the data in a client’s accounting package must automatically populate the software used to produce the annual financial statements, thus avoiding the errors and time required to transfer them manually. Cloud-based storage can be used to hold the supporting documents, and for collaboration with multiple branches. The task of consolidating the financials can thus also be automated.

All of these considerations will help ensure that financial professionals “leverage the machine” effectively, and get the biggest return on their technology investment. In conclusion, though, never forget that leveraging the machine is only valuable if it is done in such a way as to leverage humans as well. In the end, people do business with people but the trick is using machines to maximise the benefits of that contact for both parties.

Biography: Theuns Holtshousen, Divisional Business Leader, CaseWare Africa Theuns Holtshousen, Divisional Business Leader for CaseWare Africa, an Adapt IT company, plays a pivotal role in the strategic direction and growth of the business across the African continent. His focus lies in market strategy and growing market share.

As an accomplished leader, with a track record for driving market growth, Theuns has presented CaseWare around Africa, from Kenya, to Nigeria and Mauritius. He is passionate about using technology and delivering the right software and products to improve and change the way business is done in Africa, not only in the accounting and auditing industry, but also within Public Sector and corporate markets.

Theuns’ leadership values centre on empowering others to lead in their spaces, as well as creating an open environment for knowledge sharing and originating ideas to ensure the best product and service delivery to clients.

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