After, spending a few days in Las Vegas, I am reminded how much having the right strategy is critical to one’s success, or even satisfaction, in the casino. Game theory and odds appeal to my left-brain, and who doesn’t love a big win? However, win or lose, I’m happy when I manage the full spectrum of outcomes with intention. That means before I sit down at the poker table and play a single hand, I have decided how much I am going to put in play, how long I want to play, how much I’m willing to lose, and what factors dictate when I get up and change tables or walk away for the night.
Because I am financially risk-averse, I am never gambling more than the cost of a top-rated Las Vegas show, so I’m still going to be able to pay my mortgage. Gambling with your corporate financial systems is a bit more risky, and the price tag can be staggering, whether you’re implementing one new system, or a complete IT transformation. As a user of financial systems in my controllership roles, and seeing both world-class practices and significant deficiencies in corporate financial systems in my roles as Chief Audit Executive, I can share a few tips and tricks to win big–or at least not bust.
"Once you cover some of the fundamentals like the budget, on-premise or cloud-based preferences, and other basics, the “lucky seven” mentioned can make you–and your finance partners–a winner"
Let’s talk about strategies for making the right bets in corporate financial systems.
1. Simpler is better: I can think of very few examples in corporate financial systems where complexity is your friend. Simplicity means fewer systems, user-friendly features, and ease of communication with other applications and tools in your systems environment. Guide your finance team partners to simplicity and they will thank you when you have more time and resources for innovation and spend less time and dollars on maintenance. Don’t order the Cadillac if a Corolla is going to get you there equally well.
2. Think “out of the box”: Going hand in hand with “simpler is better,” encourage your finance team partners to consider using solutions “out of the box” vs. over-customization. Not only does customization adversely impact how easy and cost-effective it is for the IT organization to support and maintain, it doesn’t let you leverage vendor-based upgrades and solutions easily. Companies willing to maintain strong discipline over minimizing customization will love the extra time to plan true innovation vs. figuring out why the last customization doesn’t work in the latest upgrade.
3. Prioritize differentiation: Simple, out of the box solutions is a good general guideline, but certain things require an IT solution with a few more bells and whistles. Determine what processes need differentiation. For example, if your business relies on complex multiple-element contracts that require sophistication in revenue recognition, but doesn’t execute any speculative hedging strategies, guide finance to invest in contract management and revenue systems that capture detailed information critical to revenue recognition guidelines and necessary for managing the operational aspects of contracts and use a simpler solution for your treasury operations.
4. Size matters: Help your finance partners choose a “right-sized” solution that will accommodate reasonable growth plans. Being the marquis client for an edgy software start-up could mean you’re putting yourself at risk with a vendor who may not be around to support your growth. But you also don’t want to buy the corporate titan-sized ERP solution with hopes of “growing into it” and discover you have features you’ll never use at your current growth rate and you’re #372 in their list of priority clients.
5. It’s not just a finance thing: Understand the business use case for corporate financial tools outside of the finance realm. The accounting department may be looking at the near-term priority of getting a more functional and reliable SOX-compliant general ledger system, but are they thinking about capturing information for critical segment or product-line P&Ls or legal entity or statutory financial results? Don’t let your finance partners buy or build systems that only operate in one dimension, or you’ll find their counterparts asking you to create separate tools that address their own needs.
6. Mind (or mine) your data: In today’s corporate finance environment, if you’re not using (or planning to use) data analytics, you’re missing a chance at the jackpot. Encourage your finance partners to select tools that will manage and use data to solve problems and provide insights. That means engaging them in those important conversations about master data management to capture all the most critical elements inherent in their data, helping them maximize the data analytics capabilities in the current environment, and building or buying analytics and visualization platforms that bring those insights to life.
7. Compliance counts: Keeping up with the regulatory environment is tough, but bring compliance partners in to the decision-making process early–internal audit, tax, data privacy, cyber security and other compliance partners to add value to the decision-making process or at least let your partners make informed decisions. I’ve seen a lot of corporate financial system projects focus on the operational aspects of a system, and compliance considerations such as SOX artifacts, access controls, security, and data privacy get addressed after the solution is bought/built which can be expensive and time-consuming. Betting on compliance by design pays off over time.
Once you cover some of the fundamentals like the budget, on-premise or cloud-based preferences, and other basics, these “lucky seven” can make you–and your finance partners–a winner in the corporate financial systems game. Make sure the odds are in your favor before you roll the dice.