Navigating the Impact of COVID-19: How your Finance Function can Respond

Jun 02, 2020
  • people
  • finance
  • operations
  • SAP

By Jason Roling, Cloud Finance Solutions Architect and Finance Lead

COVID-19 has affected every business function within organizations across all industries. In some cases, the changes wrought by this pandemic have been positive for top line growth, such as for major grocers and some big box retailers, while in others the result has been unexpected bankruptcy. The impact is global and the resulting shift in priorities has caused changes in business models and supply chains, as well as back-office functions like finance and accounting. In this blog, we talk to one of our finance solution architects, Jason Roling, to understand what leaders are focused on in this new reality.

What should finance managers/leaders prioritize right now?

Jason: Continuing to close the books in a timely fashion while preserving cash carry the most urgency right now. I believe this will continue until we see business environments stabilize. Although economies are slowly reopening, remote and alternating on-site working hours will remain indefinitely. Companies will find it difficult to rely on spreadsheets and tribal knowledge to track their closing process across their organization. Global and remote teams are more prevalent since the days of outsourcing began in earnest, but further automation and systematic tracking of an already tight close process are essential going forward.

Managing cash and liquidity are also critical since businesses and consumers have tightened their belts. Most SAP customers have offline cash management processes along with sub-optimal bank integration architecture that is expensive to maintain. Automation, optimal architecture, and improved reporting are often pushed out as part of initial project scope and customers never ‘get around to it’ subsequently. Rapid solution deployments in this area are possible and this functionality should also be a key consideration for new customers.

I would also point out that timely financial planning has gained renewed importance. Uncertainty has made planning far more strategic in light of COVID-19, including the need for real-time predictive analytics and advanced modeling.

What recommendations would you make for these leaders to be proactive and plan for the transition back to work?

Jason: Personnel safety should always be foremost. We see this can be balanced with remote and flex-scheduling to maintain business continuity in many business functions, including finance. As the new normal continues to emerge, targeted investments should also be made to automate processes and drive analytics adoption further into the finance function to identify and  improve sub-optimal processes. Business model interruptions also highlight the need for companies to move to a digital core so they can transform at the speed of, or in advance of, economic change. I encourage leaders to investigate business processes that can transformed by new technologies in advanced closing, cash management, consolidations, and analytics. There are always areas to improve with more limited investment to become a value creating finance business partner.

How can they identify and minimize risk going forward in terms of systems, processes and people?

Jason: We see leading organizations doubling down on their investment in resources through training and continuous learning. Difficult decisions are being made regarding resourcing, but adoption of a digital core requires employees and employers to devote time and energy to learning. I also encourage leaders to solicit employee feedback on pre/during/post-COVID effectiveness to understand where an organization can improve. An engaged workforce that provides candid sentiment on how leadership performed, changed, or adjusted to the evolving crisis can help companies and their leaders become more versatile and approachable.

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What are we doing with customers to help tackle challenges and risk right now?

Jason: First, I’m proud to say that leadership has responded positively at delaware by doing the following extremely well:

  • Open communication with continuous dialogue to keep employees informed of the COVID-19 impact. 
  • Investing in personal growth via the SAP Learning Hub and certification courses for all who commit to their individual improvement.
  • Widespread adoption of new virtual working tools along with a commitment to collaboration across the entire organization.

These activities have kept employees engaged and motivated to deliver exceptional client services remotely. In fact, we’ve seen a number of customers initiate full-scale system deployments using a 100% virtual working model that I expect will be part of the new normal. Employees have successfully rebalanced their home/work/family routines for these global projects that I feel are progressing faster than the old accepted standards when on-site. Elimination of travel has made the team more productive.

I would also point out that regular communication has been emulated by our program, project, architect, and stream leads on the projects I’m involved with directly and indirectly. Frequent, candid discussion and an openness to evolving to meet client needs has kept our projects on the right path and our customers happy.

What technologies would have been beneficial to have had in place prior to the pandemic?

Jason: Several tools come to mind that don’t require a widespread systems implementation to achieve. For instance, automation and advanced monitoring of the financial close, improved bank connectivity and the associated architecture management, and credit and collections capabilities come first given leadership’s current priorities. We’re also partnering with SAP to introduce FAST implementation of a new consolidations and financial planning tool. I encourage readers to investigate our Finance Transformation Roadmap to get more details on how delaware can help organizations identify pain points and implement technology to achieve significant improvements. Explore my current blog series on this now. 

How do you see the world changing for finance leaders as a result of COVID-19?

Jason: Further automation of manual activities and ‘systemization’ of them rather than being reliant on employee-specific knowledge from a remote workforce will be an important initiative for every finance leader. I also expect greater emphasis on planning, advanced modeling, and adoption of predictive capabilities for performance review real time with delays being unacceptable.

Relationships with ‘known’ customers will also grow tighter in the new experience economy enabled by companies moving to a digital platform and bringing data together to exceed customer needs. This is true not only for professional services, but every industry. Businesses need reliable cash flow and this is best accomplished by keeping existing customers happy while also ‘smartly’ pursuing new business.

If you have pressing concerns or need urgent support in regards to your finance operations and management, reach out to Jason and his team.