The road to achieving operational excellence comprises many intertwining routes. So many factors contribute to the success of the finance office that the road to becoming a world class finance function is more like spaghetti junction than a super highway.

Giving way to the right, Accountagility has earlier showcased the five key stages of the Analytical Maturity Model developed by the FP&A board. At the next junction, we gave way to the insights and importance of managing and motivating the finance team members. Now at a crossroads, we drive straight ahead, pedal to the metal, to take a look at agility in finance.

What is agile finance – and why is it important?

Companies need agile financial processes to enable the business to change and grow. From financial planning that has to adapt and respond to changes in market conditions; quicker month end closing, analysis and reporting, to automation of allocations. Businesses need automated integration of processes that removes the use of excel-based processing of data.

To support such innovation, organizations must embrace an agile approach – but this, by its very nature, means “out-of-the-box” solutions simply don’t work! What finance really needs is to take a journey in which they consider and overcome three main obstacles to being truly agile; these being flexibility, speed and prototyping.

Flexibility

By introducing flexibility, finance can clarify its vision of a project at an early juncture. Having the ability to change the processes – to simplify and streamline them based on what the business needs, not what technology can deliver, will result in a solution that is a close fit to the users’ needs.

Without the restrictions of a mandated architecture or components that an out of the box solution delivers, developers should have the ability to illustrate their initial understanding of the user needs.

Speed

Imagine being able to develop a solution that is not only flexible to meet the business’s needs, but reduces the overall elapsed time of a solution. With an agile and rapid development environment, it’s been proven quite literally, years can be shaved off traditional Business Intelligence development projects!

It’s not uncommon that in traditional software developments, the needs of the business moves on before the project is delivered – leaving a solution that’s not entirely fit for purpose. With a rapid and agile development environment, quick adaptions provide a solution that still meets their needs. Should those needs change, finance is in control and has the confidence and knowledge that the solution can be adapted again to meet the new demands of the business. This can be done quickly, and often independently from IT.

Prototyping

It isn’t practical nor recommended to uncouple projects entirely from IT, but taking a different approach from traditional developments increases speed, especially in major projects.

Bringing together and enabling an informed dialogue between developers, designers and users from the outset not only provides early visualisation that accelerates thinking, it offers significant time and cost savings.

Users can respond, clarify, correct and amend their requirements with speed. End user involvement and engagement throughout the design phase puts finance in control of the processes, enabling them to create a working prototype, and identify, check and validate their requirements and practicalities. Such prototyping enables the team to visualise a system early, learn lessons and insights, and removes the potential for delay or cost over-run.

This agile process also allows new requirements to be incorporated in the system as they emerge during the project, so that the delivered system reflects up-to-date needs.

Upon final agreement, the prototype is transformed into a fully operational solution, applying best practice and key IT governance aspects when moving the project from prototype into a live system, with wide access and compliance to all internal standards.

In summary, what businesses really need, is a rapid and agile development platform, one that provides flexibility, speed and agility.

To be able to initiate a major project without significant investment of resources or costs, to create early momentum and empower the business, whilst providing a commensurate reduction in effort expended by the organisation, now that is agility in finance.