Collins | Tech And Finance Departments Need To Talk
If you’ve been following the news about presumed Russian hacking that has affected more than 250 federal agencies and private companies, you can be forgiven for wincing at the thought of increasing your company’s reliance on technology. The news reports I’ve read indicate that we may never know the full extent of the breach and that the best, albeit impractical, solution might be to dump everything and start fresh.
Despite the risks, ignoring technology and hoping it will go away is not the answer. That also extends to the relationship between the finance department and the technology group. The better approach, says Ivan Ng, application security audit manager, finance operations for Hearst, is to find ways to improve communications between the two departments. That will pay big dividends as you select and upgrade financial management technology.
Ng’s recommendations for ways to overcome the communications gap, to build “A Bridge of Friendship,” appear in the “Last Word” column in the November/December 2020 issue of MFM’s member magazine, The Financial Manager. He breaks them into four areas, one of which includes security issues.
Choosing The Right Platform
Each company is going to have unique needs; there is no one solution that will work in all cases. At the same time, there are a number of different vendors competing for the dollars budgeted to “better process, store, secure, control and report on your financial transactions.”
While those with responsibility for company technology will likely take the lead in evaluating and selecting these new platforms, financial managers can and should be part of the selection process. Ng suggests that the finance team participate in demonstrations, work with the technology group to develop business use cases, and provide feedback that helps to ensure that the right option is selected.
Client referrals will be an important part of the platform selection process. Ng recommends asking the service provider for contacts at companies “similar in size and nature.” He also advises that both the technology team and the finance team participate in the referral discussions.
Design And Implementation
Once a technology platform has been selected, Ng says it is critical to keep the internal channels of communication open. More than just describing current processes and requirements, this is an opportunity for finance departments to engage by describing their vision of the future. He points out that modern finance technologies now include “robust automation features,” among them “machine-learning-enabled invoice-coding algorithms; configurable approval workflows for financial transactions; and reporting analytics.”
When finance teams are proactive in educating themselves and testing out features, they can confidently participate in design decisions. This feedback gives the technology department the information it needs to make decisions that improve workflow and process. Ng also believes that it helps the finance team become more efficient and leads to professional growth.
Planning For The Future
Technology is not static. After the initial implementation, there will be a number of opportunities for further “improvements in planned future phases and subsequent technology product enhancements.” While technology managers will have the primary responsibility for managing future upgrades and testing product enhancements, financial managers should continue to talk with them about issues with the current processes.
The finance team also needs to make it its business to know about new features included in upgrades. This will protect against both missed opportunities and unpleasant surprises.
Security And Compliance
Unfortunately, security tends to be an afterthought in finance system selection and implementation. That’s a mistake. Ng recommends asking questions about the approach to security and ongoing monitoring after implementation. This is also the time to consult the company’s internal audit and compliance departments; they will want to assess control considerations.
No one wants a system that is so loosely controlled that it’s open to exposure, nor do they want one that is inaccessible to those who need access.
Once the system is up and running, the finance team must continue to monitor for and report security issues such as “excessive access” or problems with “process control” to the technology team. This vigilance will minimize opportunities for fraud and risks of financial misstatement. As Ng notes, there are software solutions that can help to automate these reviews and speed reporting.
Ng concludes by encouraging ongoing and open communications between the finance and technology departments. Additionally, this sharing of information should not be limited to managers; it needs to be encouraged among all members of both teams.Mary Collins: Companies must find ways to improve communications between the two departments. That will pay big dividends as you select and upgrade financial management technology. Click To Tweet
Good ideas can, and will, come from employees at all levels; employees who are using the solutions daily will have particular and practical insights. He also suggests establishing project steering committees and periodic process-improvement meetings that include relevant finance and technology stakeholders.
Embracing your role as an innovative finance leader and elevating your partnership with your technology team will likely lead to improvements in budgeting, planning, competitive analysis, and differentiation. That is a great way to start a new year.
If you are interested in reading Ivan Ng’s column in its entirety, the November/December issue of TFM will be on the MFM website until about mid-January. After that, it will be available to members only.
Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at [email protected] and via the association’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.