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Sage, a financial management software supplier that focuses on small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) customers, is bringing the cloud-based accountancy software it acquired with San Jose-based firm Intacct in 2017 to the UK.
At the same time, it is publishing research that advances the notion that the chief financial officer (CFO) role is undergoing a transformation to encompass data analytics, cyber security, and digital more widely. This is embodied in the report called CFO 3.0 – Digital transformation beyond financial management.
Sage is listed as a software and services company in the UK’s FTSE 100, with 2018 revenue of £1.857bn. More than half of all UK businesses pay their people through Sage software, the company claims.
In 2017, it acquired US software-as-a-service (SaaS) business Intacct for $850m. The company is focused on accounts, and was founded in 1999, around the same time as other SaaS pioneers, NetSuite and Salesforce.
Intacct’s financial management and accounting software system includes accounting, contract management, revenue recognition, inventory, purchasing, supplier management, financial consolidation and financial reporting applications, all delivered over the internet.
Sabby Gill, managing director of Sage UK and Ireland said, in an interview with Computer Weekly ahead of the Sage Intacct launch and the publication of the CFO report: “This is about getting beyond financial management, where technology like artificial intelligence [AI] and automation play a major part.
“The way employees consume data now is the most important thing. The days of big implementations taking a long time have gone. There is a widespread need for more agility. In that respect, we can leverage so much from the 20 years of cloud experience of Intacct.”
Gill said the research reinforced that the role of the CFO is changing. “It is the very nature of e-commerce that is driving the top three challenges that financial decision makers face – managing risk such as fraud and cyber security, compliance and legislation changes and adapting to changing role requirements,” he added.
The report states: “The role of a CFO has changed from managing compliance and day-to-day operations to providing visionary leadership and driving digital transformation.”
The report is based on a survey conducted in August and September 2019 by Sage among 500 senior in-house financial decision makers, with job titles including CFO, finance director, accountant, and controller, from SMEs (between 20 and 999 employees) in the UK.
The research was focused on digital transformation in the finance industry and their role as in-house financial professionals. According to the report, all participants have full or partial responsibility for business accounting and financial management software platforms.
“The introduction of AI and automation brings with it the opportunity to free talent to focus more on creative and strategic thinking,” said the report. “In effect, it removes the nuts and bolts of the traditional finance function.”
The report presents the finance function as the main driver of digitisation projects in the UK: “The role of the financial leader is much more than traditional reporting and accounting. Indeed, 94% of financial decision makers stated their role has expanded over the past five years and it is no longer just about fiscal responsibility. Out of those who tended to strongly agree, 60% were medium-sized businesses based in London (65%).”
Gill added: “Data is key. The big issue the survey brought out is that nearly half of finance professionals [42%] spend as much time gathering data as they do analysing it.”
Aaron Harris, chief technology officer at Sage, and a co-founder of Intacct, said: “The clear, unambiguous thing is that customer experience is going digital, which means that there needs to be more collaboration at our customers. Often, I am sitting across from the CFO, the CIO, and the CTO all together.”
He said the software makes possible “continuous accounting”, which “gives visibility” on a constant basis, not merely points in time, like a quarter end or year end.
“Continuous assurance, to supplement the annual audit, looks for anomalies as you go along,” said Harris. “All that provision of continuous insight from embedded analytics frees up the finance team to focus on more strategic matters. AI-powered predictive billing, for instance, can be done continuously.
“The most important thing is our software was born in the cloud, with the ability to integrate from the start. There is a major release every quarter, and we’ve always been focused on accounting professionals.”