Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Lockdown Time Thieves

 

In my May article I suggested that one of the biggest challenges to innovation and business progress is simply finding the time to think, research, experiment and develop new ideas.
 
The notion of carving out 20% time, à la Google, is a pipe dream for most. So I thought it would be interesting to figure out what is keeping finance people so busy. 
 
To do this we held a snap survey of finance managers and administrators across a range of industries to find out what takes up their time, preventing them creating space for strategic review thinking.
 
The top three time thieves at budget/forecast time were investigations or enquiries from source, incomplete or incorrect data, and manual processes, while the top three time thieves at month-end reporting time were report compilation, manual processes, and investigations or enquiries from source. The top three time thieves at other times were ad hoc reporting requests, firefighting, and other ad hoc information requests. 
 
Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no single time thief, which perhaps points to the complexity of the real world today, plus shows that there is not a silver bullet solution – companies need a fix that comprehensively tackles a web of challenges. 
 
Alarmingly, manual processes ranked in the top three for both budget/forecast time and during month-end reporting. Automation of these processes is the key not only to freeing up time in its own right, but it also results in timely, accurate data that you can confidently use for decision-making. In addition automation is the cornerstone for further innovation and new ways of working. 
 
What’s more, it looks like too much time is being spent on report compilation. This is a red flag because if you are spending your time compiling reports, you are not spending it analysing the information therein! 
 
Ad hoc reporting, information requests and firefighting also rank highly, though probably more understandably and, unfortunately, this is not an easy challenge to master. However, ad hoc reporting requests, in particular, are indicative of an un-empowered business that relies too heavily on finance to deliver and explain anything with a number in it. Consider how much time would be created by empowering the non-financial user through removing the frivolous queries, and freeing time for review and analysis.
 
The survey, though brief, did re-iterate that the key challenges we all face have not changed over the years. However, if we continue the status quo and fail to innovate, our relevance to the business will reduce and the spectre of robot replacement will become a reality. 
 
We are the principal architects of our own reality so it is time to start shaping our future! 
 
Unbusy your days
  • There’s no silver bullet for a complex challenge.
  • Automate, automate, automate – the tools to do so are out there.
  • If reports are taking up too much time, how can the data be timely?
  • Empowering the business will redefine our function from bean counting to strategic analyst.
  • The pace of change is only going to speed up, so start today.
  • We are the principal architects of our own reality, so it’s time to start shaping our future! 
 
As published ASA Magazine - July 2017
http://www.accountancysa.org.za/wordpress/viewpoint-lockdown-time-thieves/

Monday, 3 July 2017

The storm on the horizon for cloud computing


Like the wheel or the printing press, cloud computing is more exciting because of what it enables, rather than for its own sake. Much has already been written about what the cloud allows us to do: from launching new economy businesses such as Netflix and Airbnb, to saving money through processing elasticity, to gaining access to new services and capabilities.

And, despite security still being the number one concern when implementing cloud, we’ve recently been very starkly reminded how cloud-based infrastructure can be more secure than on-premise, thanks to the WannaCry ransomware attack and the unrelated catastrophic systems failure at British Airways. Both of these affected on-premise data.

For us, data security is just one of the many issues we deal with in running our varied businesses. A cloud provider’s business is data and its protection, so they should be better at it than you or me.

Too often we forget that, although the name sounds fluffy and intangible, cloud computing is based on some very real infrastructure, housed in complex, highly secure, and some might say, black box-esque, buildings very possibly located in a different country to you, your customers, and even your cloud provider.

This is where the red flag goes up. Not because sensitive private and personal data is being moved offshore though. Frankly, in terms of access, thanks to increasing bandwidth it is irrelevant whether your data is housed next door or on the opposite side of the planet.
 
Rather, a perfect storm is brewing as legislation attempts to catch up with technology and the globalisation of digital communications. In the balance is the protection of private and personal data, weighed up against a growing reliance on data, especially encrypted information, to predict and prevent acts of terror, and arrest those responsible.

The cloud spreads data around the globe, creating concerns around the protection of personal information, and as a result, a number of countries are legislating around this issue. In South African, for example, companies are required to comply with the newly legislated Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act. This law brings us in line with global best practice when it comes to how private data is collected, processed, stored and shared by setting the conditions for how companies can legally handle information. The new law prohibits businesses from transferring personal information to a third party in a foreign country, unless they get consent at the time of gathering the information. So far, so good, if a bit of an administrative headache, especially in time of such rapid change.

However, in response to the recent atrocities and the use made of internet communications by terrorist organisations, there are moves afoot in the US to legislate that data stored by an American company — wherever it is stored in the world — is accessible, unencrypted, by US law enforcement. Or the discussion of reciprocal agreements that allow countries to gain access to information stored in each other’s geographies, or indeed, the newly passed “Snooper’s Charter” in the UK, which mandates onerous and illogical demands for hosting providers to leave backdoors in their encryption for government access. All of these step on or over the line of privacy of one’s data.

Hosting companies that aren’t US or UK organisations will simply move their operations to other countries where these agreements are not in place. But the reality is that the hosting giants are US companies, not to mention that the country contains much of the world’s internet infrastructure.

So where does this leave businesses around the world, wanting to realise the benefits of cloud computing, but also needing to comply with locally legislated laws such as the POPI Act? Are they and their customers simply excluded from the benefits, growth and innovation opportunities presented by the cloud? What is certain is that they will be looking very closely at the implications of their cloud decisions, and where and how their data is stored.

To be sure, the fight against terrorism is vital, but let's not also, in the process, destroy the cloud’s silver lining.