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How Ready are you for Autonomous Finance Operations? - SPONSOR CONTENT FROM APPZEN - Harvard Business Review

Few technological advances fuel the public imagination like the concept of autonomous vehicles. It’s easy to understand the broad appeal of self-driving cars, operating without any need for human involvement or intervention, potentially boosting safety and productivity and curbing energy consumption.

Now, imagine how implementing a similar complex technology could support businesses by using autonomous finance operations to significantly improve organizations’ spend strategies and finance management.

Corporate finance has traditionally remained reliant on largely manual efforts and legacy tools, making it one of the most time-consuming, labor-intensive, costly functions. Despite the introduction of automation software to manage repeatable, basic tasks, many processes remain fundamentally unchanged from the way they operated decades ago, with manual effort at the core of the undertaking.

But when those same finance teams have autonomous technology to support them and to provide critical spend insights, they are finally free to think bigger about how to strengthen their organizations and to have a greater impact on overall transformation and growth.

That future is now a reality for many modern CFOs and their teams. And, much like fully-self-driving cars, the promise of fully autonomous finance operations and all the advantages they might bring is growing closer and closer.

Human-Centered Hurdles

Spend management can be complex, as it is at the core of all business. Careful scrutiny, risk management, and sign-offs are critical, yet there are often matters of nuanced decision making and interpretation necessary to process spend. With the lack of reliable and intelligent finance software t hat can handle gray areas such as qualitative assessments or the intricacies of multifarious cross-checking, finance teams have understandably resisted end-to-end automation .

Even with the gradual introduction of such innovations as enterprise resource planning (ERP), procure-to-pay (P2P) networks, optical character recognition (OCR), and robotic process automation (RPA) tools, finance still largely depends on people to ensure employees comply with policies, audits are accurate, and spend is controlled. This manual-heavy model leaves finance exposed to the high costs of additional time, labor, and human error. Simultaneously, it inhibits greater agility and flexibility.

Every organization would benefit from autonomous finance operations, with many sectors having nuanced demands, including: 

  • For financial services companies, the pressures of adopting technology-enabled business models and increasing regulations call for finance teams to operate with heightened efficiency and reduced risk.
  • In life sciences, the fast pace of innovation, business partnerships and startups, and external research and development accompanies greater risk and a complex regulatory environment demanding full financial transparency.
  • High-technology organizations’ fast-moving cultures and appetites for risk-taking innovation mean finance teams need to stay doubly vigilant about spending, carefully reviewing and approving all expenditures.
  • For manufacturing, global competition, fragile supply chains, and complex compliance means finance teams must control expenses, forge strong sourcing and labor relations, and root out any fraudulent spending.
  • In professional services, finance teams must work to keep knowledge workers—lawyers, consultants, bankers, agency directors—focused on serving clients and winning business while also controlling spend and reducing risk.

Regardless of your sector, if your finance professionals are spending time continuously making decisions about manual and repeatable tasks, they can’t apply their full energy, expertise, and experience to other business-critical activities. With new technology, the choice is now easier. 

How Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Transforming Finance 

The pandemic era gave organizations a rare opportunity to reset processes and to shift strategies. Reimagining finance as an AI-driven, autonomous operation could transform your workforce and give your teams the time and space needed to offer ideas, insights, and strategies that help your company grow and compete.

The AI-driven capabilities of autonomous finance operations can bring such game-changing advantages as:

  • Extraction and reading that discerns and processes invoice and expense report information—not just numbers and text, but also logos and images
  • Contextual understanding that makes sense of the data—who’s buying what, and how to account for it
  • Autonomous expense and invoice processing that takes action—detecting and assigning any necessary reviews or next steps
  • Human-like flexibility to seek and incorporate human intervention and decision-making only when there are out-of-policy exceptions. 

Organizations moving from basic, automated finance to autonomous, AI-powered finance are finding significant performance improvements:

  • End-to-end AI processing with 100% confidence on as much as 80% of non-electronic invoices means lower error rates, less manual intervention, and greater cost efficiency.
  • Compressing invoice processing time from weeks to as little as one day helps generate discounts for early payment, saving as much as 0.3% a year across all third-party spend.
  • A faster and more thorough pre-payment audit, expanding from spot checks to 100% of spend, reduces overpayments.
  • Finance teams can upskill to work with new technology, as well as experience flexible work practices and operations, and shift their attention to more strategic thinking.

These organizations are mapping their transformation by first identifying where they are on the Autonomous Index for Finance (below) and where they want to be—and then identifying the technology, people, and new operations processes they will need to get there.

Autonomous Index For Finance: How Ready is Your Organization? 

The results of this transformation through AI-powered autonomous finance can be dramatic. A $5 billion company might save more than $8 million a year —and could see its return on investment within as little as three months of implementation. Additionally, reduced invoice-cycle times and lower barriers to supplier onboarding and invoicing make everyone from your partners to your workforce happier with the process.

The promise of a fully autonomous, AI-powered, self-driving vehicle may still be a few years off, but the path to 100% autonomous finance is now more attainable than ever. As you consider how to best navigate the road ahead, with the twists and turns of our changing economic and workforce landscape, the right technology will ready your finance team to drive your business forward. 

Learn more about how AppZen can help your organization start on the road to AI-driven autonomous finance.