The Journey to Automation: how far along are we?
by Royston Da Costa, Assistant Group Treasurer, Ferguson plc
Historically, the mantra of “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has served us well in treasury. The sheer complexity of the many functions we may be running means that established structures and procedures are trusted to get the job done, in a way that new tech or platforms aren’t. But the missed opportunities for businesses, from leading-edge AI opportunities to the more commonplace like STP, mean that treasurers need to be wiser to the downsides of failing to act.
Automate to accumulate
The first steps in analysing exactly where automated processes can assist a business are crucial, because adopting or upgrading technology can be costly, time-consuming and distract from day-to-day business.
In all walks of life, technology is an enabler and business should therefore be no different. Each company will have its own challenges for its treasury function. For example, compliance processes may be a particular time burden relative to payments or currency hedging. Whatever the key areas for your business, the balance must be struck between healthy scepticism of emerging technology and boldness to implement a new, innovative, value-for-money initiative.
We only need to look at the rise of cloud solutions in recent years. This technology has gone from requiring significant investment in hardware – and the expertise that goes with this – to simple subscription models from big hitters like AWS at scale across all markets. Conversely, companies may wish to develop proprietary solutions – we worked on cloud-based TMS solution Bellin, which allowed us to automate and acts as the basis for our future strategic development road map. As costs come down and types of solutions become more familiar in to in-house professionals, we can make better-informed decisions about whether external or proprietary solutions can be the answer.
Robots or relationships?
At root, the difficulties for many treasury departments in adopting new technology can be found in relationships, not robots. The gatekeepers to many of the solutions available will be those you work most closely with – banks and vendors. There are some important questions that need to be asked of their current provision, which will guide the next steps in adopting technology to enhance your business.
Are your banking partners allowing you to reduce time by offering common interfaces, so you can manage the smaller details across multiple relationships easily? Does your TMS allow Straight-Through Processing across fully-integrated financial processes? Only thorough analysis of your business processes, and how your partners are supporting this, can provide an insight into where you go next.
Emerging challenges, emerging solutions
While areas like cash forecasting or payments processes can benefit from new technology that complements legacy systems, it is also crucial to look ahead to new types of challenges for your business. One such example is the changing regulatory challenges posed by GDPR. The legislation will require a new compliance regime, but its focus on areas like cybercrime actually present a real opportunity. Technology can be an enabler here to increase the resilience for your business. Perhaps more importantly, given the high-profile nature of GDPR there is likely to be buy-in throughout the company putting real momentum behind positive change.
Ultimately, each treasury function will have its own challenges, rooted in established business processes. Keen analysis of your needs, coupled with frank discussions with banks and suppliers, will allow you to meet the emerging challenges head on. And some of the big challenges on the horizon may actually be strategic opportunities to enhance and upgrade your technology.
Royston Da Costa will be speaking at EuroFinance Miami, which takes places May 15-17, 2018.
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For more information and to book: www.eurofinance.com/miami