Simon Gray, Head of Finance and Operations at Agilisys discusses how modern financial management systems can help public sector finance directors embrace active financial planning and agile financial management in order to enhance strategic decision making.
If world events such as COVID-19 and global financial crisis have taught us one thing, it’s the fact that the world can turn upside down in double quick time. While significant uncertainty remains around the long-term impacts of the pandemic – and what this will mean for public sector – finance leaders will need to help their organisations digest new information and act quickly as circumstances change.
The need for responsiveness is acute. If you can’t make timely decisions, then you’re always behind the curve. Financial challenges are everywhere. The key is having real-time access to relevant information so priorities can be set for allocating budgets and financial management.
As a citizen, I want to know that when my council agrees on its latest budget, it’s planning for any potential challenges in the future, and therefore modelling is important. Revenue is relatively static, yet certain statutory services must be delivered, which accounts for a certain level of spend. The big question, therefore, is around what you do with the rest of the money?
If you don’t have the data to show how best to utilise available budget, you can’t make those decisions and you can’t communicate the reasoning behind those decisions to stakeholders at all levels.
Finance systems are all about data. Continuing the focus on councils, they have hundreds of systems, full of financial information, covering planning, highways, adult social care, children’s care, schools and so on. Effective finance systems take that data, normalise it and allow a budget holder to decide what they can – or can’t – do with their available budget.
For example, if you’re going to start switching off some library services in the community, what have you balanced that against in terms of priorities? What are you going to spend the money on instead? Right up to executive level, that’s the type of data they rely on to make those decisions. Scenario planning offers the opportunity for finance to support the organisation with a key strategic overview. This in turn enables informed decision making in a timely fashion.
Dynamism and flexibility
Earlier this year Agilisys partnered with HSO, an award-winning Microsoft Dynamics specialist, to add deep technical Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance know-how to our in-depth experience of delivering public sector transformation. This partnership means we can build the technology-enabled finance team that public sector organisations crave – and it’s clear from the work we’re doing with our partners that there’s plenty of appetite for modern, dynamic financial systems.
Those clients that have adopted these solutions are already beginning to benefit from the flexibility in the way systems can be configured to deliver scenario planning. They’re already enjoying the ability to fit systems to their unique needs and they’re successfully finding ways to deliver efficiency to employees and citizens through those systems. Mobile, portal-based solutions that are easy to access are a good example, given the need for flexible working.
The adoption of cloud-first policies is another key factor in the move to modern, SaaS-based ERP solutions. Purchase to pay, order to cash, expenses, project accounting and payroll are just some of the areas that benefit from a full cloud ERP experience. This is then supported by strong analytics and reporting with flexible on-demand working that adapts to organisational needs.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance integrates all relevant processes across an organisation, including finance, project control, purchasing and customer relationship management as well as billable hours and budget administration. All the information is immediately available, enabling you to carry out the detailed analysis and adjustments that ensure business agility, minimised cost, optimised spending across departments and process automation.
I read recently that today’s finance leader has four lines of sight: hindsight and oversight, focused on financial monitoring and historical figures, as well as insight and foresight, focused on anticipating the future and evolving to meet the needs of stakeholders like the board, investors and the community at large.
I think this is spot on and active financial planning, enabled by modern finance systems, provides those four lines of sight. They help financial directors gain data-driven insights into the potential impact of multiple scenarios, while agile financial management helps shift the focus towards effective resourcing improvements for frontline delivery. They also help finance leaders deal with uncertainty and disruption…an essential requirement as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Join the discussion: Powering organisational objectives with new finance solutions
Join the upcoming Agilisys finance webinar where we’ll discuss how modern finance systems empower finance teams to drive business objectives and deliver greater insight for successful decision-making.