Thursday, September 18, 2008

To Automate...or not to Automate

A Deloitte study titled “When CFOs Debate: What Keeps You Up at Night?” finds CFOs agree that “finance should be extending its focus from accumulating information to adding value through insight” and asks what role automation should play. Deloitte's report (part of a pdf workbook with 9 important issues facing CFOs today) cites two reasons LOB managers still make decisions by ‘gut feel’:
  1. they lack tools to unify finance and operational data, or
  2. they rely on homegrown tools that generate numbers which are out-of-synch.

Does this mean companies should go all-in on a fully-automated performance management initiative? Look before you leap, it says, cautioning companies to assess their readiness in 3 key areas: 1) business processes, 2) master data management and 3) business alignment. After shoring-up these areas, it prescribes an 80/20 approach to automation, suggesting companies “shouldn’t have to manually mine multiple systems or conduct a special study for routine decisions and performance reports,” but still need flexibility to accommodate decisions that “require unique, in-depth analysis” or those that warrant a special data repository with “a ‘play room’ for analyzing non-routine decisions.”

Is 80/20 the right mix in an economy when few decisions are routine? Therein lies the question. With technology available to support 24/7 readiness of all data and business logic needed for structured AND unstructured analysis, finance departments no longer need to compromise. Making critical business decisions based on partially automated systems that are almost urgent enough to present data that’s somewhat complete lets technology vendors off the hook. Would you bet your next decision on that?

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