Digital transformation has been the catalyst for change for many industries, departments, and sectors—finance and accounting are no exception. The trend towards digitization is not new for F&A — in fact, it reaches as far back as the early 1960s, when the first computers and digital accounts stored in databases occurred.
As time went on, digital transformation became a more commonplace method for solving internal and customer-facing pain points in the financial industry: odinline portals to increase convenience, cloud computing to improve productivity, etc. Recently, automation has allowed for goifinancial teams to process data at unprecedented rates and artificial intelligence (AI) has allowed teams to make predictions that help better understand the business and set goals.
Today, finance teams look to tools to help keep them agile so they are able to spend more time driving business insights and adding value to the business. According to a 2025 predictions report by Deloitte, the role of finance will double down on business insights as the operations function becomes more automated. Automation will be key to the success of finance operations going forward: “traditional processes—and the silos around them—will disappear as the focus of finance shifts to design, configuration, and maintenance of systems.”
First Things First: Digital Requirements for F&A Teams
The optimization of F&A has trickle-down effects to the whole business and ultimately leads to more satisfied employees and customers. This is a strong motivator for CFOs looking to enhance satisfaction, efficiency, and compliance with digitization, but understanding where to start can be overwhelming.
As leaders of F&A teams approach going digital, we recommend organizing priorities into two major categories: documents and processes.
Documents to Digitize
The key to understanding the digitization of documents in 2021 is understanding the capabilities and benefits of a digital document management platform. Digital document management helps accounting teams develop better control when preparing for audits, creating audit trails, automating workflows, delivering budget planning, supporting cost analysis, and more. This control is critical to a team’s ability to complete agile sprints and have leaner operations.
To really drive value, F&A departments look to content management systems (CMS) that go beyond simple digitization. Once digitized, CMS systems can be implemented to manage information through its entire cycle. Here are some, but not all, documents a document management system can help F&A teams digitize and streamline:
- Direct deposit forms
Processes to Automate
Beyond documents, the digitization of processes has never been more essential for F&A teams. COVID-19 and social distancing has catalyzed the process of digital transformation for F&A teams, now teams are starting to take it a step further with process automation. Digital process automation is the digitization of end-to-end processes—it’s the natural step after accounting departments turn their paper-based documents digital. This process can improve historical accuracy and compliance while reducing operational costs. Here are some processes to think about automating:
- Accounts payable
- Invoice processing
Download our Digital Process Automation Playbook for a complete guide on how to successfully automate your processes with digitization.
The Role of the CFO in Digitization
After being surveyed by Gartner during 2020, 173 CFOs reported advanced data analytics technologies and tools and workflow automation technologies as their top digital priorities for 2021. The expectation of CFOs has changed: they are expected to take the lead in digital transformation. Due to their closeness to data across the entire enterprise, CFOs have a critical role in breaking down the barrier between information, systems, and finance.
CFOs need to be increasingly adaptive and involved in pivotal growth areas for the business. In a survey done by EY, 100% of the CFOs included in the survey envisage major involvement for their role in ecosystem or platform strategy development. A key part of that is harnessing the power of digitization for key tasks around document management and recurrent processes.
The first step in setting the precedent for digital-first is to identify finance pain points, like a lack of efficiency or vendor dissatisfaction, and think about digital processes that can help alleviate that tension. Once CFOs have addressed their own departments, they can take what they know about digitization and the companies’ finances to work with other executives and establish company-wide initiatives.
Who’s Doing It Right?
When it comes to digital transformation, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Some of the best strategies come from learning from the mistakes and successes of others. Commercial companies and government agencies alike can use each other’s experiences to better understand the best optimization techniques for each industry. The Florida Department of Health, for example, faced inefficiencies associated with their paper-based voucher process causing a lack of confidence in the system. By digitizing files and automating processes, Florida DOH was able to create digital voucher documents and a future-proof voucher process.
Other organizations are looking to scalable strategies that support a remote workforce. Public sector and higher education organizations like San Diego State University, and the State of Hawaii and Utah are benefiting from advanced e-signatures tools. A modern and secure e-signature platform has helped cut down on bottlenecks and not disrupt the workflow of a mobile workforce. Beyond that, employees get better visibility and accessibility so important documents don’t get lost in inboxes or fall through the cracks in communications.
As time goes by, finance departments are increasingly able to lean on technology to handle many of the traditional responsibilities of F&A teams. CFOs will be expected to use what they learn from the digitization of their department’s responsibilities to help drive growth and transformation across the whole business. As the champion of data, the road to process transformation will run through finance and the CFO will be the main architect. 2021 is not a time to sit still; what entities and processes can you optimize today?