Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Gartner recognises IDU as one of the top Corporate Financial Planning Applications for the second year running!



IDU is recognised by top industry experts for its award-winning Budgeting and Reporting Solution for the second year in a row. “Gartner, the world's leading research and advisory company have published their 2018 Market Guide for Corporate Financial Planning Applications, and we are proud to be included”, says Kevin Phillips, CEO of IDU Holdings.

The Gartner Market Guide is independent and insightful, it highlights the rapid development of financial analytics technology, and the considerable opportunities that exists for finance professionals to take advantage of these developments.

The best Corporate Financial Planning Applications are determined by customer satisfaction (based on user reviews) and market presence (based on products’ scale, focus, and influence.)

Gartner’s confirms that finance leaders have only just begun to exploit the planning technology available to them. IDU streamlines the budgeting, forecasting and reporting process, saving a considerable amount of time and freeing up financial managers to be more strategic. This in turn allows business to be more agile and responsive, which is essential in a disrupting market.

IDU has over 300 clients and 35 000 users in an ever-increasing global footprint with users spread across 33 different countries, we are constantly innovating and are rapidly becoming a globally recognised brand. 

“According to the report, the cloud, and more-powerful embedded analytics are providing new opportunities to significantly improve the corporate planning process and to more effectively optimise organisational performance and guide strategic direction”.

IDU are at the forefront of these trends and our software is available via the cloud using Microsoft Azure as well as Amazon Web Services, the latter has opened the door for smaller and medium sized organisations across the world to access our cutting edge financial management solutions quickly and cost effectively.

We also offer Bring Your Own Licence (BYOL) model via our partners CipherWave, using cloud hosting and hardware and reducing capital expenditure in on site IT infrastructure. The BYOL offering allows the client access to the full Enterprise edition of idu-Concept, and all the additional modules available within the software, yet with the benefit of no capital expenditure in on site hardware


About IDU

IDU makes budgeting, forecasting, performance management and reporting tools to simplify financial management. Our flagship product, idu-Concept, provides easy, effective budgeting and financial reporting for medium-sized to large businesses. It is the most widely deployed dedicated budgeting system in South Africa. idu-Concept integrates easily with ERP software, but unlike more cumbersome offerings, idu-Concept can be implemented quickly, requires little or no ongoing consulting fees and reduces budgeting cycles from months to weeks. idu-Concept addresses this establishing a platform of ownership and empowerment that inevitably leads to radical improvement in the effective management control of every business. 


Gartner Disclaimer
Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner's research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.
Gartner “Market Guide for Corporate Financial Planning Applications” by Christopher Iervolino and John E. Van Decker and Ranadip Chandra.  Published 9 August 2018. 



Thursday, 2 August 2018

Don’t put new, square pegs into out-of-date, round holes


Image result for square peg round holes

I’ve previously written about how succession planning is going to change in the Information Age. That, instead of grooming mini-me managers and leaders, we’re going to have to focus on reskilling people as their roles get encroached on by artificial intelligence. Plus, we’re going to have to start hiring people who, firstly, can work with machines, and, secondly, are flexible enough to adjust their roles and careers as the machines get more proficient – in the near future, in any case, it seems that humans working side-by-side with robots, both physical and software, is going to be the productivity sweet spot.

But there is a more significant role that these adaptable, machine-friendly recruits are going to have to play. For many companies, they are also expected to drive the digital transformation that is going to help the company ride out the fourth industrial revolution. Companies, it seems, are hoping to growth hack their digitalisation from the bottom up.

And this approach has a lot of merit. For instance, a 2018 PwC report on emerging trends points out that, it’s one thing to appoint a chief technology or chief digital officer and to hire more people with science and engineering backgrounds. But, for real change, the report says, an organisation needs to make a generational shift. And that this means driving change by hiring a lot of people at entry level who understand technology and its impact.

Put simply, hire the people who understand your future market because they are your future market now. That makes total sense. These are people who are extremely comfortable with technology because, for them, it’s always been around. This means they are not constrained by the way things have always been done, and they can see new and innovative ways to apply digital technology in your company. This ranges from new products and services to extend your market share, to better ways to get things done on a day-to-day basis.

But this creates something of a catch-22. Just as twenty years ago you wouldn’t have been able to recruit the top entry-level accountants if you insisted they worked with comptometers, today you won’t attract and keep top talent if you insist they work in old-fashioned ways. No matter how many trendy perks you whitewash your job ad with, all the foosball tables, popcorn machines and barista coffees won’t retain a new hire who is being forced to work in an antiquated way and made to do boring, repetitive work that could be done in a better way. Not if they are good, in any case.

And the thing that businesses need to realise is that the adoption of technology should be a manifestation of a deeper and more existential shift companies need to make to ensure their success in the future. Take, for instance, a subject close to my heart, the budgeting and forecasting process. Traditionally this is done ineffectively and inefficiently using spreadsheets. This takes time and is open to errors as spreadsheets get emailed from pillar to post. It is also typically a top-down process, with the finance function dictating budget parameters to non-financial managers.

Inappropriate software is used because “that’s the way it’s always been done”, and “it’s worked fine up until now”. Spreadsheet errors, lack of tracking and version control, the time taken, and the sheer, mind-numbing tedium of it all is assumed to be unavoidable. Strike #1 for that millennial new hire who can see from a mile off that there is a better way to do things. They digitalise and automate things in their day-to-day life, so why should they grapple with spreadsheets or any other out-dated systems and processes in the workplace?

But more alarming is the top-down, hierarchical, command-and-control culture that goes hand-in-hand with this old way of working. This style of leadership might have suited the industrial revolution and its assembly line culture, but it is no longer relevant, or helpful today. Strike #2 for the millennial, who by default assumes responsibility.

For companies to be nimble and responsive, they need to prioritise transparency, collaboration, trust and the free movement of the information people need to get their jobs done. They need to enable better decision making and more ownership through the ranks.

You are not going to be able to hire the top candidates to take you into the future if you don’t make some profound shifts now. Start questioning those “this is the way we’ve always done it” processes and pave the way to attract and keep the top talent that will assist you as you navigate your path to the future.

The alternative - strike #3 and you’re out, and your top talent is very quickly going to move on, perhaps to a competitor, leaving you a treacherous path to navigate without a seasoned guide.


As published in Accountingweb - 19th July 2018

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The unintended consequences of POPI and GDPR



It feels like it is one step forward and two steps back at the moment. Yes, we’ve beefed up the protection of personal identification data with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) in South Africa, as well as its big brother, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

But I’m wondering what that means for ongoing digitalisation and innovation, as we disrupt our businesses and markets to ensure we survive in the fourth industrial age. At the heart of much of this innovation lies data, and I’m wondering if POPIA and GDPR might be cutting off, or at least severely curtailing, this lifeblood.

A crucial part of business transformation is tapping into the massive amount of data we have from customers, our internal business operations, and the multitude of devices that connect on our behalf without us even thinking about it. Look at Uber, the poster child for disruption of an established business model. It uses location data to link drivers with fares, and pricing and traffic algorithms to set the price for the trip. And many (most?) of us, especially millennials, are more than happy to share our personal identification data – in this case, location and credit card details, with services that give us value in return.

These laws appear to be taking a sledgehammer to the fact that we “pay” for services such as Facebook with our data, and that many of these digital services rely on our, and others’, data to work their magic. Organisations absolutely should be transparent and ethical with how our data is stored and used, and which third parties have access to it. But I am worried we have gone too far in the other direction.

Certainly, if you do not like Facebook’s use of your data, you can delete your Facebook profile and not use the social media platform. (The company is researching the option for a subscription-based, ads-free option, but I have my doubts over what the uptake would be.) But, take for instance my car insurance, which includes vehicle tracking to monitor my driving, reward me for good, safe driving habits, and also sending out emergency services to me and my car in case of an accident or breakdown. If I were to withhold my geolocation data, as I could do under the GDPR, it would be impossible to offer me this service, which is unquestionably of benefit to me.

Another example. There is no doubt that smartphone-based traffic information services such as Google Maps and Waze have made navigating cities at rush hour less of a chore. Yet services like these rely on a community willing to share their location data. The more data, the better the service, and conversely, the sparser the data, the less helpful the service, until, if everyone opts out, the service fails.

Although the GDPR is an EU legislation, you’ll have noticed the flurry of updated terms and conditions when it launched in May this year. It goes to show how borderless the digital world is, as it affects South African companies who have European customers, newsletter subscribers, or shareholders, as Liberty Holdings may find out after its June hack. And with the US, Australia and India already indicating they will follow the European Union’s lead, there is no doubt this will soon be the global standard.

There are a couple of rights that the GDPR grants individuals that I am specifically concerned about in terms of our data-driven future. Notably the right to have all or some of your personal identification data erased; the right to request a company stop processing your data; and finally, the right to ask for manual, not automatic processing.

How does this synch with a data-driven world where insights about our individual and collective data drive progress and a better life? With quantum leaps forward in computer processing power just around the corner, I wonder what life-improving discoveries are going to be made by data crunching algorithms that we can’t even dream about today. Yes, some of these are likely to be better ways to sell us stuff, but others could be breakthroughs in medicine, or climate change, or smarter cities or smarter apps making our lives easier. We need to be careful about hamstringing our digital future, before we’ve even got there, and unfortunately current legislation, if applied to the letter of the law, may well be doing just that!

As published on ITWeb - 10th July 2018 











Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Re-writing history with the GDPR time machine



I recently had a conversation with someone where they told me that they had to politely explain to an employee that yes, they could delete their banking details from their HR system. This would be in line with the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements that say that people can check all the personal identification details a company holds on them, and then request that all, or some, are deleted within 30 days. The person then went on to explain to the employee that if they were to delete the banking details, the company would have no way of paying them their salary at the end of the month.

Similarly, on leaving a role an employee can ask their previous employer to erase all of their personal information. However, this obviously prevents the ex-employer from providing them with a reference in future.

Without taking away from the importance of having control over how our personal information is collected, stored and processed, I wonder if we haven’t gone too far with the GDPR. How would an ex-employee’s right to erasure work in practice? Personnel files would be reasonably easy to find and delete, especially if they were digital. The company would need to figure out if any hard copies had been made, and where they were. Formal archives are one thing, but random copies in the back of the finance director’s filing cabinet or on USB sticks are another.

Now consider last year’s budget, or the year before, where Pete was included and identified in the detailed salary budget. Erasure would mean that the budget does not balance, so instead we would “anonymise” Pete, retaining his values, but masking his name. Think that one through for a minute in the context of staff churn ratios… Looking back a year or two to understand how the budget was made up could result in a list of “AN Others”, depriving the reviewer of the ability to analyse or understand the context and build-up of the budget.

Another thought, what happens in an audit, external or tax (potentially going back seven years), when you cannot provide details to support entries in the accounts because the person’s personal details have been deleted as sanctioned by GDPR. Will the taxman accept this as satisfaction of an audit query? I suspect not.

Furthermore, in a digital world, our personal data footprint spreads far and fast. Sure, on the one hand it’s probably easier to search than paper information, but on the other: what a tangled web our digital lives are. That former employee’s email address in a chain of emails involving other people? A company newsletter with a captioned photograph of a team-building event, including the employee? A LinkedIn post written by that employee on behalf of the company, with a lively debate in the comments? Does other data, communication and content simply get razed to comply with the GDPR? “Sorry John, I know this was a valuable conversation with a customer and it would be good to keep a record of it, but it’s got to go because it mentions Pete. And, by the way, please delete all the copies you might still have of the newsletter from four years ago and replace it with this redacted one. Yes, I know we’ve ruined the picture by blanking out Pete’s face, but it is what it is…”

How is this workable? And is this even necessary: unless you are Jason Bourne, does it matter that you appear photographed with the winning company quiz team of 2014? Yet companies of all sizes could potentially get bogged down in administration, hunting down the most ephemeral of mentions within the 30-day compliance period. In the long-term, companies may reassess their corporate communications, or the systems they use – favouring one-system-to-rule them all to make searching for data easier, rather than best-of-breed systems that allow their people to do their best work. Or do companies start asking employees to opt out of their right to erasure to cover themselves for that one-time Pete is mentioned in the company newsletter? And would that even be legal?

One needs to ask when does personal data become company data? History can’t be changed, Pete was a part of the company, Pete’s salary was a part of the budget last year. The blog and the company newsletter represent the history of the company. Both the budget, the blog and newsletter are company property and reflect, in different ways, the company’s history. Does GDPR extend to changing or re-writing that history?

Some of the examples may seem a bit tongue in cheek but if one applies the letter of the law in it’s most draconian interpretation…. It is early days yet: the GDPR has only been in place for a month and no doubt some of these details will get ironed out as we go. But with the US, Australia and India already indicating they will follow the European Union’s lead, there is no doubt this may rapidly become the global standard. And the number of GDPR notifications I am seeing from South African companies today is an indication of how borderless the digital world is. I hope we haven’t just hamstrung our ability to operate in an increasingly digital, data-driven world, by bogging it down in bureaucracy.

 As published in AccountingWeb 26th June 2018
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/community/blogs/kevin-philips/re-writing-history-with-the-gdpr-time-machine 

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Sailing the digital sea



That the world is a much smaller place thanks to the internet and digital communication technology has probably not escaped anyone’s notice. But are you truly harnessing this to do your business better, and to grow beyond South Africa’s borders?

Gone are the merchant vessels of yesteryear circumnavigating the globe by sea to sell your products. Today the internet creates an even more extensive marketplace at the click of a button. To me, this presents three clear benefits for South African companies. Accessing best-of-breed, up-to-date and fit-for-purpose technology for your organisation is one of them; working more closely with your team, wherever they are, is another; and finally, growing your business beyond South Africa’s borders in a low risk, low cost, incremental way.

Thanks to advances in cloud computing, and the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, you can pick and choose from a myriad of vendors offering a range of services, not only the ones who have (quite expensively) set up shop locally who may or may not have the exact solution you require. The difference is a bit like that between going down to your local mall, or shopping via Alibaba – except with instant delivery via the cloud.

Indeed, some of the services you access online may be the collaboration, video conferencing and chat tools that enable your team to work better together, wherever they are. Think of these tools as FaceTime for business! You’ll know I am a big fan of involving those at the coalface of your organisation in the budgeting process, and cloud-based collaboration is a great way to get this right.

But what about support for these web products? Interestingly enough, this can also improve, thanks to the providers’ use of many of the same online chat and collaboration tools, giving you instant and secure access to the exact experts who can solve your problem. And in here lies possibly the area of greatest interest for the SME to mid-market company in South Africa looking to expand.

Today globalising your business does not mean that you have to open an office on the other side of the world, employ a range of staff and train them to do what you and your team can do here. This is costly and has been the root cause of many great plans coming to nought as the start-up and initial day-to-day operational costs overseas sink the dreams before they have a chance to flourish.

The cloud-based communication and collaboration services that are now available are the key to you expanding your business outside South Africa. Online video conferencing tools have replaced many face-to-face meetings, and collaboration software is keeping everyone on the same page. This reduces travel costs and all but eliminates otherwise dead travel time, is less invasive for clients, and means you can keep face-to-face meetings for when they really matter.

I can’t promise it will be plain sailing at the outset, as there is always a degree of resistance to the digital world and the lack of a physical presence of a company from the organisations still invested in the 20th century, but the tide is turning. So weather the choppy water as you leave the harbour, look out to the widened horizon, and ride the globalisation wave.

As published in ASA Online Magazine - 1 June 2018
https://www.accountancysa.org.za/advice-sailing-the-digital-sea/ 



Tuesday, 15 May 2018

GDPR is coming: lessons from the South



On 25 May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force. Thereafter it will apply to those of us around the world doing business with customers in the European Union. As a region, the EU is the third largest global trading partner of South Africa’s, so we’re certainly paying attention. 

It is worth saying that in principle it is essential that data protection laws move with the times, especially in a digital, cross-border world where your personal data is stored in the cloud, potentially anywhere around the globe, even though you might be dealing with a local company. I, as much as anyone, am annoyed by relentless unsolicited marketing calls and direct mail. And we’ve seen enough data breaches recently to know that they are a very real threat, and that companies should be obliged to report them speedily to minimise their impact. 

The devil is in the detail, however, and the burden on small and medium-sized businesses – ostensibly the lifeblood of economies that want to grow – is potentially crippling. According to the World Bank, formal SMEs contribute up to 60% of total employment and up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging countries. In South Africa, SMEs added 36% of the GDP in 2017, and the government has pegged its hopes on this sector contributing 9 out of 10 new jobs by 2030.
 
So, what’s the problem?

Well, in South Africa we are also planning for the enforcement of our own local data protection law, the Protection of Personal Information Act, affectionately known as POPI. And to ensure compliance, corporate South Africa is starting to get its ducks in order. However, it seems what this roughly translates into is the large corporates (with seemingly endless manpower and budgets) pushing their compliance protocols onto their supply chain with an instruction that they must implement the same or be registered as non-compliant. One has to ask whether the, typically SME, supplier can realistically and financially replicate the security protocols of their larger clients?  

And then along comes the double whammy. Enter large customer number two, with a similar volume of compliance protocols, except they are only similar, not identical to the first customer’s protocols. To illustrate, let’s assume large customer number one insists on security IDs for your staff to provide access control to your building, but large customer two insists on biometric security. Are you really expected to put both in place to be compliant with each customer? And then expect your staff to actually jump through these hoops just to enter the building? 

I am currently reviewing a number of 40-pages-plus contracts to ensure POPI compliance from various of our blue-chip customers and can confirm that, to ensure compliance across the board, it’s not entirely implausible that, for instance, we may indeed need fingerprint and retinal scanners to be installed at our offices to meet specific prescribed access control requirements. Or for our employees and consultants to never be able to take their laptops home with them – and if they were to, they would have to be transported by a security company. I’m not sure what these requirements would mean for access control and other compliance in employee homes, nor for smartphones, which are typically owned by employees and have full access, thanks to the cloud, to most information available via a laptop.  

This sounds ridiculous, but it is not impossible based on how POPI is being implemented on the ground, and the fact that as a business, we simply can’t walk away from our largest clients. Nor can we risk non-compliance, where the penalties would be a breaking point for SMEs. The fine for contravening POPI is R10 million (around GBP600,000), and maybe we have it light when you consider the fines for GDPR contravention is EUR20 million (around GBP18 million) or 4% of global turnover. Ouch! I don’t know that many SMEs that could handle that!  

Expense and practicality aside, these requirements also fly in the face of modern working practices, which enable collaboration, reduce distance and the need for traveling time and costs. I am of course referring to new technologies coming into and changing our daily work environment such as video conferencing, screen and machine sharing across the web, and being able to pull the best team together, from anywhere in the world, to work on specific projects. These are all exactly the sort of benefits nimble SMEs and independent contractors offer to big corporates and yet they will be effectively outlawed by the corporate, “belt and braces”, approach to implementation of this legislation.  

So, while I agree with the need for data security, I feel like the legislative approach is one step forward and two steps back, and that we have erred too far on the side of protecting individual data, over enabling the building of our digital futures. Perhaps we need a bit more common sense and forward-looking thinking when tackling these challenges. GDPR is coming, be prepared for the unintended consequences of compliance!

As published in AccountinWeb - 8th May 2018

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

idu-Concept Distinguished as a Budgeting Software Rising Star by Platform for SaaS Reviews


The team behind idu-Concept has worked tirelessly to provide businesses with a robust platform that simplifies and streamlines both financial budgeting and reporting, and we are glad to announce that our software has resonated well with users. B2B software review website FinancesOnline awarded idu-Concept with the Rising Star award for 2018 after we recorded a high 100 percent user satisfaction rating from their Customer Satisfaction Algorithm.

FinancesOnline utilizes its Customer Satisfaction Algorithm to determine the general perception of users about a product. It gathers the user reviews, opinions, and feedback of our users across the internet, including various social media channels. Because of our good traction with clients, we received the esteemed Rising Star award for best budgeting software. This distinction is given to new SaaS solutions on the market that are perceived as an efficient solution by clients, thus resulting in an increase in popularity for the product.

FinancesOnline also conducted a thorough review of our budgeting software. They highlighted several key benefits of our product such as accelerated budgeting and forecasting, detailed financial reports, easy tracking of assets, and effortless handling of administrative tasks, to name a few.

FinancesOnline also acknowledged that idu-Concept can indeed simplify various complex processes, so much so that they awarded us their Great User Experience award for 2018. This award is given to software solutions that provide users with powerful functionalities while ensuring that the software remains pleasing and easy to ease for facilitating one’s work processes. Features that allowed us to receive this award include our “plethora of smart forecasting and budgeting tools,” centralized financial information for easy access of financial data, and much more.

Make sure to visit the FinancesOnline website for the full review and try idu-Concept today.


Thursday, 19 April 2018

In Google we trust

Image result for AI ethics and morality
There is a Tesla Roadster broadcasting David Bowie on repeat while travelling through space. What a time to be alive! And, I’d argue, the perfect time to rethink what it means to be human. But, we need to do it very carefully.
We’re welcoming robots into our homes, cars and workplaces. And they are enabling things that were impossible, or very hard, or very expensive to do. Doesn’t it blow your mind that every day you can use satellites orbiting the planet to find out if there is traffic on your route home?
There is also an understandable moral panic that we are in the process of losing our humanity. This is it: we’ve opened Pandora’s Box and the inevitable result is subjugation by our cyber-overlords. While I agree we’ve reached the point of no return and a digital future is a certainty, I think we should take this chance to re-examine what it means to be human, and code this into the software that is part of our lives. This will, hopefully, ensure technology delivers on its promise to be an equaliser, and not per-petuate the divisions in society.
Unfortunately we’ve already seen a few instances where the latter has happened. Take Google’s facial recognition system that only recognised white faces. Or Google Translate, that translated the gender-neutral pronoun in Turkish in a decidedly 1950s way: ‘He is a doctor, she is a nurse.’ Or LinkedIn, that, when you enter a typically female name, suggests that you might be looking for the male equivalent, but not the other way around.
But this is hardly surprising, as the AI field is new, and we are still learning. On the other hand, it does seem that the less pleasant side of humanity is rising to the surface, thanks to lack of diversity in development and testing teams, and lack of repre-sentative data in samples. Or, as in the case of the Google Translate example, which was based on existing common word combinations, the machines are simply reflecting our shortcomings back at us.
Nevertheless, it is time for some serious thought. Trust, ethics and morality need to be coded into our software now – consider the decisions self-driving cars are going to start making on our behalf. Who will define these rules and algorithms, and what choices will they make? Because at the moment it is corporates that are making them (or not making them), and the last time I checked, increasing profit and shareholder value still ride very high on corporates’ priority list.
In summary
Trust, ethics and morality need to be front of mind as we enter the digital age. This is how we’ll unlock all the benefits of AI and other technologies, and hopefully limit the downsides.
I leave you with the words of Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple: ‘You used to ask a smart person a question. Now, who do you ask? It starts with g-o, and it’s not God …’



Tuesday, 10 April 2018

APIs: enabling best-of-breed solutions for your business


 Image result for what is an API?

Think about your smartphone and the apps you have loaded onto it. Sure, it arrived with some pre-loaded, but most you have probably chosen yourself. In fact, you’ve no doubt swapped a few out as well, say when you discovered a weather app that had better wind information when you took up sailing. Or a news app that that aggregates all your favourite newspapers so you don’t have to clutter up your phone with multiple apps, all sending you duplicate breaking news apps. Or selecting the mail service of your choice, be it Microsoft Outlook, Gmail or Apple Mail, depending on your personal preferences and specific requirements. 

In fact, most of us can barely remember dumb phones. It was exciting enough having the Snake game come pre-loaded on our old Nokia 3310s, and the thought of customising what was on the phone wasn’t even a pipe dream. (OK, maybe we could change the phone’s cover.) And I’m pretty sure that some of the AccountingWEB readers don’t even remember life before smartphones. 

But why is it, that when it comes to something as mission critical as our companies’ enterprise resource programming (ERP) systems, we keep getting sold on a black box approach, akin to those dumb phones from the last century, when this is no longer necessary thanks to the magic of  application program interfaces (APIs) — basically windows and doorways onto software that allows you to tap into their capabilities, typically over the internet. 

Sure, in their day ERP systems made life easier for companies, offering a single platform and database with all business requirements being met from one application. This was revolutionary in its time, avoiding the need for huge effort spent on getting a range of incompatible standalone services to work together. Of course there were niggles: including a lack of flexibility and user-friendliness, plus a one-size-fits-all approach to business requirements. Because, despite what the vendors said about their integrated systems offering all the business applications you might need, it was impossible for all of these applications to be best-of-breed for every unique niche across the broad range of business requirements. 

Instead, it was often a case of jack of all trades, master of none. But still, far better than the myriad of incompatible legacy systems you previously had to navigate. And the reason for the myriad of incompatible legacy systems? There was no effective API environment to knit these disparate systems together. 

Fast forward to today, though, the one-stop-shop myth is even more inappropriate in an API powered world. You don’t need to hack your Nokia 3310 to replace Snake with a game you’d prefer. Which is what is happening to those black box ERP systems in an attempt to help them limp into the future. Their source code is so huge that any upgrade, or integration with new third party capabilities, requires an extensive, expensive and extended re-write. Not to mention that the systems no longer leverage the latest technology, such as in-memory processing, which is an essential part of getting the most out of future technologies.  

Thanks to APIs, today you can build your utopian ERP solution. It should be as easy as selecting your general ledger functionality and then adding to it stock, budgeting, accounts payable, reporting, procurement, and so on. All components can now be best suited to your business requirements and accessed via the cloud if you prefer. This will deliver a best-of-breed solution with no sacrifice of quality, which is so prevalent in a one-size-fits-all paradigm. Thanks to APIs, now prevalent across software applications, this is not only possible but indeed standard, as is having your preferred, best-of-breed software work seamlessly with all the other systems in your business, ensuring optimum effectiveness and efficiency.

As published in AccountinWeb - 4th April 2018.
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/community/blogs/kevin-philips/apis-enabling-best-of-breed-solutions-for-your-business

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Unlocking An Agile Accounting House

Image result for agile
With technology hurtling headlong into all aspects of life, from our homes, cars and workplaces, to banks, schools and hospitals, it’s no surprise that business looks to the IT world for inspiration on how to adapt and thrive. An example of this is Agile, a method of developing software that is spilling over into all aspects of business, including the finance department
Agile, and being an agile organisation, is coming to the attention of the business world as a plausible way to navigate the disruption all businesses face today. This disruption is thanks to the transition to a digital economy and from the unpredictable nature of the world at large.
Agile software development, as opposed to the Waterfall method inherited from the hardware world, uses collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams to set requirements and figure out how to achieve them. And, according to the Agile manifesto, the key to this way of working is embracing changing requirements at any stage, delivering work frequently and continuously improving. As important as the work that is done is the work that is not done: simplicity and speedy time to market is paramount.
It is clear that the old way of working and a top-down, regimented approach will not cut it anymore. Take annual reviews, for instance. In the past they used to make sense to plot the future based on past experience and benchmarks. Today, though, we know that seismic shifts that are impossible to plan for are in fact a reality. Look at Trump, Brexit, the Cape Town drought and the astonishing rise of crypto currencies in the last year. Not only were these events unexpected, their impact has yet to play out, and can’t be guessed at. Expect the unexpected is the only thing that anyone can say with any certainty.
As a side note, I believe that in South Africa we do have an advantage over the Northern Hemisphere. We’re used to absorbing a level of uncertainty as part of our day-to-day lives, and this has made us resilient and entrepreneurial, hustling to find the advantage and opportunity, even in tough circumstances. Possibly to a fault South Africans tend to adapt rather than complain, protest or debate. For instance, look at electricity and water shortages: the delivery of both should be inalienable, and the failure to do so speaks volumes about our leaders. So yes, we are all unhappy about the state of affairs, but we make plans to adapt to the new reality, and we do it immediately rather than waiting to realise our complaints have borne no fruit.
Nevertheless, it sounds like we are all going to have to be nimble going forward. Long-term planning needs to factor in that things might change dramatically, and that people and companies need to be prepared to weather and maximise these shifts. To do this, the ability to change needs to be built into any plan.
Sounds like we are going to have to be pretty agile, right? And especially the finance department as it ensures the right amount of money is invested in the right places, that innovation is both enabled, and culled, as necessary. That the business continues to optimise in ways that build up to significant change. And that, above all, the bottom line is stewarded into the future.
So far, so good. But how do you go about making finance more agile?
Well, I’d argue that tapping into business process management (BPM) principles might be the key that unlocks an agile finance department. While BPM has its origins in the 1990s, much of its philosophy resonates with the Agile movement. Practices such as having a well-defined strategy and understanding how core processes underpin it; consulting the coal face about better ways of doing things; of breaking down silos and getting different teams into the same room together to collaborate and feedback to the business; driving a culture of ownership, buy-in and continuous improvement; favouring iterative, time-based activities over slam dunk delivery. Change and improvement is considered a journey, not a destination. Documentation and system adoption is key to getting IP out of people’s heads (like complex standalone spreadsheets), as well as standardising and automating processes.
Once you have created a strategy, you need to translate it into a delivery model, and this is effectively the budget or forecast at a financial level. But how do you pull all these strands together though, to allow BPM to unlock your agile culture? You don’t get there with spreadsheets, that is for sure. Fortunately, as so often is the case, the very technology that has opened Pandora’s Box has also enabled a new generation of business tools that will facilitate this agile shift.
Budgeting and forecasting can generally be viewed as the ground zero of a financial cycle, so let’s start there. A web-based interface rather than a spreadsheet can make financial data input and review accessible to anyone in your organisation. Now, non-financial managers can easily give you the figures you need, in a standardised format that can be rolled-up into a single version of the truth. You bypass the ineffective, time-consuming, and soul-destroying spreadsheet go-round, shaving weeks and months off the budget cycle in the process. And, importantly, by providing increased visibility and transparency, especially of business strategy, you foster buy-in to, and ownership of, the budget.
This way of working also opens the door to considering zero-based budgeting (ZBB). This bottom-up budget approach, where instead of adjusting the previous year’s numbers you start from a greenfield site and build your budget around what your strategic objectives are, has traditionally been dismissed as a pipe dream. Nice in theory, especially as it has been proven to save money, but too difficult and time consuming to implement in real life … Really? If we accept that the world is rapidly changing across the board how relevant is trend analysis for the past five years as a basis for projecting the future? Or even the relevance of basing this year’s budget on last year’s numbers?
So, considering the arguments above, is ZBB not only doable but also a practical way to empower your new, agile, future-proofed finance culture? It ties the budget directly to corporate strategic plans and allows for rethinking of the way things have always been done.
Empowerment, transparency and ownership in and of themselves, whether you adopt ZBB or not, will lead to better budgeting and budget management. As the actual numbers become available for comparison with the budgets, the same transparency drives the empowered user at the coal face to be more invested in delivering against that budget. Compare this to a manager that is handed a budget that they have had little or no involvement in, and yet are still expected to deliver against.
So, a hat trick of agile, business process management and zero-based budgeting can transform your financial processes from drudgery and frustration, into a user-friendly, creative process that drives innovation in your organisation. Ultimately, if your budgeting and forecasting process is more effective and responsive, this will impact your bottom line positively.
As published in Accountancy SA - March 2018 https://www.accountancysa.org.za/viewpoint-unlocking-an-agile-accounting-house/

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The modern day alchemist: Turning busy into time


Image result for time as a scarce resource

Peter Drucker, the management consultant that coined the phrase “knowledge worker” back in 1959, nailed it when he said: “Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”

This is the catch-22 companies face today. There is no doubt that companies need to innovate to ensure their future success, but to do this their people need to find the time to think, research, experiment and develop new ideas.
Because we’re in the business of saving people time, last year we ran an informal survey of some finance team members working in a range of industries to find out what takes up their time, and what else we could do to create time in their days.

The results were interesting, to say the least.

Top three 'time blackholes' at budget/forecast time:

1.      Investigations or enquiries from source

2.      Incomplete or incorrect data

3.      Manual processes

Top three time blackholes at month-end reporting time:

1.      Report compilation

2.      Manual processes

3.      Investigations or enquiries from source

The top three time blackholes at other times:

1.      Ad hoc reporting requests

2.      Firefighting

3.      Ad hoc information requests

It’s astonishing that today, with all the technology we have at our disposal, manual processes are still taking up so much of our time. This is a triple whammy: the time taken by highly skilled staff to do the work in the first place; the knock-on effect of errors or incomplete data; plus, very often automation is the first step towards, and prerequisite for, further innovation. So the fact that lack of automation crops up twice in our survey as a drain on time is very worrying.

Ad hoc reporting requests are an indication of an unempowered workforce needing to defer all finance related matters to the accounts team. As well as the drag on time, this means the people at the coalface of the organisation aren’t engaged with the budgets they are responsible for implementing. This can be seen, unfortunately, as a proxy for a wider lack of transparency, ownership, trust and decentralisation of power in an organisation. Time and time again, these factors very factors are the keys that promote an innovative and entrepreneurial culture, while a command-and-control management style is an effective way to shut innovation down.

So where does this leave companies caught in this catch-22?

The companies that feel like they are running just to stay in the same place, but know they need to make fundamental, exponential changes to survive into the digital future.

The range of time blackholes revealed by the survey shows that there is no single culprit, and so no single solution. It’s a complex world, after all. What is clear, however, is that tired, ineffective, dated processes need to be sped up and automated. Your people need to be spending less time compiling the report, and more time analysing and thinking about the outcomes.

Automation will also improve the timeliness of your data for real-time decision making. And if, as part of the fix, you have included those at the coal-face in the process, your data will be more accurate, relevant and timely. Inclusive management also increases transparency and accountability, resulting in an aligned organisation that manages itself better.

So by resolving the catch-22, the outcome is not only winning the time you need to innovate, but also gaining the data, culture and other capabilities you need to succeed in a digital world.

As published in AccountingWeb 22nd February 2018 https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/community/blogs/kevin-philips/the-modern-day-alchemist-turning-busy-into-time