4IR technologies like the cloud, AI, IoT, automation, and robotics provide powerful tools and capabilities which are fundamentally reshaping the way people buy products and access services.
Businesses therefore can’t be caught sleeping on this trend, as they stand to miss out on the benefits these technologies can bring – particularly with regards to how agile, resilient, and productive they can be.
One area where these technologies are having a profound effect is in the financial management of businesses, particularly medium and large businesses in South Africa.
This was confirmed by recent research from Sage, which detailed important trends in the finance function amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Automation and AI
A commonly-held fear about technologies like automation and AI is that they will replace human jobs.
In truth, Sage’s research shows that financial decision-makers in well-run organisations leverage these technologies to create greater effectiveness and the possibility of increasing employment.
Sage CTO Aaron Harris explained how this is achieved: “AI allows us to elevate the work that humans do to be more valuable and lets humans focus on the unique skills that AI will never be able to replicate,” Harris stated.
As the custodians of data, fraud, cybersecurity, and data privacy, financial leaders are increasingly looking to emerging technology to decrease risk, enable real-time decision-making, and help them to build a finance function that can withstand future challenges.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, financial decision-makers faced an additional challenge – ensuring compliance across a decentralised network and a scattered workforce.
With one in four senior financial decision-makers involved with remote worker management, compliance has risen to the top of the agenda.
Cloud enables resilient performance
The research also found that 72% of large businesses operate in the cloud from either hybrid or fully cloud-based systems, while 77% of large businesses use cloud-based solutions for financial management.
Notably, businesses who were already using cloud-based solutions reported positive growth in revenue and increased demand for services, despite the impact of COVID-19.
Most financial decision-makers claimed the cloud has allowed them to spend more time analysing data as opposed to gathering and processing it, which in turn has helped drive productivity.
An evolving role
The research ultimately found that the vast majority of financial decision-makers in many large and medium South African businesses are involved in their company’s digital strategy and believe new technologies can help identify opportunities and manage risk.
Executive Vice President for Sage in Africa and the Middle East Pieter Bensch explained this shows the financial role has evolved from managing compliance and accounting activities to providing strategic leadership and driving digital transformation.
Sage CFO 3.0
The research above forms part of the Sage CFO 3.0 – Digital transformation beyond financial management report.
Sage commissioned World Wide Worx to carry out the independent research, in which it surveyed 311 senior in-house financial decision-makers in medium and large South African businesses on the challenges and opportunities experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article was published in partnership with Sage.