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The Changing Role of the Finance Leader

by James Ritter, Chief Financial Officer

Considering the multi-dimensional challenges CFOs are facing, establishing a roadmap to transforming the finance organization to improve visibility and efficiency would appear a difficult endeavor. Here, we outline a series of recommended steps that CFOs can take to move the needle on their journey to digital transformation in finance operations.


The role of the Finance function has fundamentally changed in the past decade. Finance organizations have evolved from a back-office reporting function to a strategic advisory role to the CEO. In fact, more than 50 percent of the CFO’s time is now spent on activities that fall firmly outside the traditional role of accounting and focused more on risk mitigation, compliance, and organizational transformation.

To support this transition, Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) need greater visibility than ever into finance operations—cash flow and working capital allocation, financial forecasting, internal and external controls, and strengthening vendor relationships.

Accounts payable (AP) automation is an essential tool in providing this visibility. Realizing efficiency gains in finance operations, such as straight-through processing of invoices, empowers finance organizations to reallocate scarce resources to higher value activities. McKinsey research found that best-in-class finance organizations spend 19 percent more of their resources on higher value strategic activities.

While many organizations have already improved efficiency in their transactional functions such as accounts payable, there remains much room for growth and expansion. Research from the Institute of Finance & Management (IOFM) in 2022 found that more than 75 percent of AP teams report processing more invoices in the most recent quarter (up from 66 percent in the prior two quarters), and 80 percent report an increase in invoice spend, contributing to significant increases in invoice processing transaction costs.

So even today, accounts payable automation continues to represent significant opportunities for efficiency gains. But AP automation is just one dimension of what concerns finance teams today. What else is keeping CFOs up at night?

  • Continuous improvements to operating margins. CFOs are exploring ways to reduce transaction costs through automation of highly repetitive and labor-intensive processes to help improve visibility into cash flow and better allocation of working capital.
  • Getting data-driven visibility, end to end. Finance processes are complex and exceptions heavy. CFOs are investing in technologies to gain data-driven visibility to end-to-end finance processes, surface and remediate finance process inefficiencies, improve customer and supplier relations, and mitigate compliance risks.
  • Empowering their staff to harness new technologies. CFOs continue to seek ways to enable their teams that don’t have coding expertise to adopt new technologies to better leverage AI and machine learning tools, helping them to do their jobs better and focus on higher value tasks.
  • Lack of visibility into day-to-day activities. While remote working has proven to be beneficial, CFOs are concerned about the lack of visibility into day-to-day activities, oversight, security of employment, and challenges by shifting to a distributed IT environment.
  • Strengthening controls throughout the entire cycle. Given increased regulatory compliance burden, CFOs are focused on gaining better visibility to their entire report-to-report cycle.
  • Costs of supply chain disruptions. Supply chain disruptions cost organizations 45 percent of one year’s profits over the last decade. And customer loyalty is no longer a given. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, 77 percent of US consumers changed stores, brands, or the way they shop.

How to Finally Achieve Procure-to-Pay

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How finance leaders can approach digital transformation

Considering the multi-dimensional challenges CFOs are facing, establishing a roadmap to transforming the finance organization to improve visibility and efficiency would appear a difficult endeavor. Here, we outline a series of recommended steps that CFOs can take to move the needle on their journey to digital transformation in finance operations.

  1. Take a process-first approach. Use process mining to identify the precise process areas that are costing you the most time and money, surface process bottlenecks and their root causes, and identify potential automation opportunities.
  2. Achieve greater control through straight-through automation of invoice data extraction, matching, validation, exceptions, escalations, and final booking of all invoice amounts into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.
  3. Accelerate accounts payable process automation with a set of out-of-the-box and pretrained document skills that span invoices, purchase orders, expense statements, bills of lading, and shipping documents. Using advanced AI and machine learning, finance teams can remove redundant operations, reduce transaction costs, gain better visibility to cash flow, and realize higher returns on invested capital by taking full advantage of early payment discounts.
  4. Manage cash flow strategically by focusing on your most valuable suppliers and determine the value of early payment discounts to reduce your cost of goods. For example, taking advantage of an early payment discount of 2 percent paid in 10 days as opposed to 30 days will yield a 37 percent return on invested capital when annualized, thereby reducing cost of goods.
  5. Streamline and mitigate finance auditing compliance risks. Finance teams typically rely on tools such as spreadsheets and manual processes with only limited visibility to potential compliance risks. Automated process monitoring enables you to specify rules that must be followed and can even alert you to potential deviations of prescribed processes.

Tools for the CFO

The steps outlined above can be achieved with investment in two automation technologies that provide the visibility needed to effect significant change in finance: process mining and intelligent document processing.

For greater visibility into operations, process mining

Think of process mining as a first step in diagnosing inefficiencies in finance processes and enabling you to make data-driven decisions for process optimization. It’s kind of an x-ray of your process data that captures your processes and their variations.

Process mining can help you gain granular visibility into your finance processes by enabling you to visualize how they behave and develop suitable measures for optimization. You can continuously monitor whether your measures are effective and react quickly to changes by improving them. As Gartner has found, CFOs are now investing in process mining technologies as a cornerstone for their data-driven decisions related to finance process optimization:

Finance processes are complex, exception-heavy, and reliant on judgment and subject-matter expertise.

…CFOs are turning to a suite of complementary efficiency technologies, such as process mining, which will remain a future driver of growth for robotic process automation (RPA) in the coming years.

Gartner, April 27, 2022

Process mining helps you to answer the following questions:

  • What is really happening in my accounts payable processes, as is?
  • Where do process bottlenecks and inefficiencies exist?
  • What is their root cause?
  • Where do improvement opportunities exist?
  • Which AP process areas should be prioritized for improvement with automation?
  • What is the potential return on investment (ROI) that may be realized through process optimization?
  • Does your improved workflow remain in compliance with best practice processes?

For making data-driven decisions, intelligent document processing

With the data to support the answers to those questions, the next step entails making data-driven decisions about automation opportunities, such as investing in more advanced intelligent document processing that improves efficiency and throughput in processing large volumes of invoices and extracts not only invoice header information but complex line items. A low-code / no-code intelligent document processing service can enable your AP staff to access more AI and machine learning without coding.

For example, using a low-code / no-code platform of intelligent document services that are delivered as “skills” enables staff with no coding expertise to apply AI to understand documents in a fast and simple way. Business users can access a set of out-of-the-box, pretrained AI skills that form the bases for simplifying and scaling AP automation processes.

First, the solution digitizes the invoices, analyzing and perfecting their quality, resulting in high extraction and recognition accuracy for line items and tables on invoices. It uses advanced AI to classify documents regardless of their structure and variations, such as invoices, POs, expense reports, etc. Then, it extracts invoice data and turns it into structured and meaningful information that business users can analyze and use to make decisions. No coding, no training, no expertise needed to use these pretrained document skills. Drag, drop, and deploy into your AP application.

When these two technologies are implemented in finance organizations and used to facilitate process improvement and data-based decision-making, they deliver results impacting process efficiency, throughput, and reduced transaction costs. At ABBYY, we’ve seen customers experience results such as:

  • 400% increase in employee productivity
  • 91% lower invoice processing costs
  • 81% faster invoice processing time
  • 30% less time responding to inquiries
  • 12% fewer late payments

Learn more about ABBYY’s AI tools to support today’s CFO with increasing visibility and efficiency in procure to pay.

James Ritter 110X110 (1)

James Ritter

Chief Financial Officer at ABBYY

James Ritter is Chief Financial Officer at ABBYY, where he plays a key role in scaling ABBYY’s growth and continued investments in its market-leading intelligent automation solutions. James brings a passion for fostering a cohesive and collaborative environment is instrumental to building a sustainable business model based on serving our customers in the best possible way.

James holds a CPA and an MBA with over 20 years of experience working for international services and software companies, and has a background in accounting, financial controls, revenue recognition, financial management, operational improvement, and strategic development.

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