We’re almost half-way through 2020 and what a year it’s been so far. While many businesses have spent months and, in some cases, years trying to digitally transform their operations and practices, COVID-19 has acted as an accelerant like no other, forcing companies, willingly or not, into the 21st century. Business leaders and managers have had to identify and drive efficiencies in record time not just locally across multiple departments but also across different territories. While we hear pessimistic news of decreasing sales, increasing unemployment and a looming global recession we should also be heartened by the stories of businesses, both large and small, turning their operations on a dime to adapt to our new, virtual way of working.
Our newly dispersed finance and tax teams, working from home, are doing their utmost to keep costs as low as possible, taking advantage of tax breaks and temporary changes in deadlines, to keep as much cash in our businesses as possible as we all weather the storm. While the majority are digging deep and finding new ways to work and operate, staying on top of regulatory requirements, in all areas of finance and accounting, will continue to test these departments’ skills and knowledge. Ensuring compliance across existing regulations that impact organisations, regardless of territories was a challenge in a pre-COVID-19 world and will be more so now. For multinational companies, working across multiple jurisdictions, the problem is magnified further, as the impact of the virus continues to ebb and flow around the globe.
When evolution becomes a revolution
Many of our finance and accounting colleagues have proved to be exceptionally agile by very quickly assessing their organisations’ identifying funds that could be quickly pulled back into the business to give a bit of financial breathing space. Business units and countries have been identified where extended deadlines can help. With over 125 countries changing their tax and accounting regulations the disruption has been immense but with companies and governments working to find a way forward the immediacy of these actions will have saved many jobs and, ultimately, many businesses.
Businesses that once lacked streamlined, standardised processes have had to jet propel their operations into the realm of cloud technology. If the infrastructure didn’t exist previously, it does now. IT departments have been able to accelerate deployment of various cloud services at an impressive rate, surpassing all expectations. The barriers to productivity have been broken down and now crucial tools such as workflow management are helping people to collaborate and move forward, despite being miles apart. Key decision makers are realising that if they invest in the right tech and support their people properly, they can work smarter and seamlessly from their homes.
It’s an understatement to say we’ve reached a watershed moment, a time when business leaders have come to a halt and questioned some of the archaic practices, technology and attitudes that once held their organisations together.
The changes are not only evident in how we now do things, but also in how we behave. Many will agree that it’s been a long time coming, but we have seen a re-balance between the workplace and our personal lives, and a desire to see that continue. We are having to adapt and cater for everyone’s needs. The make-up of our tax and finance teams was already feeling the pressure to evolve thanks to the increase of millennials and Gen-Xers in the mix but with enforced lockdown and people working from home our teams’ abilities have just advanced more than any of us could have ever imagined. People are no longer fighting change, they’re supporting one another in a united effort to see businesses survive.
And what’s most important, is we are trusting and connecting with one another, as humans, in our personal lives, at work and across the C-suite, to find better ways to run our businesses and make more informed decisions not just for the bottom line, but for our futures.
We’re witnessing a sea change already with business leaders modifying processes to support their people in their roles as well as emotionally. Technology will go a long way in helping and supporting organisations but for employees, the human touch should never be underestimated. Creating water cooler moments and social events, albeit remotely, where people are able to chat about non-work related issues is key. Empathy and trust are starting to shine through.
As we settle into this changed way of working; many will, quite rightly, continue to carefully question their spending. Do we spend vast sums on an office space that’s going to remain underutilised or do we invest in better equipping our workforce, removing barriers and enabling them to do their jobs better?
Countless numbers of people will wave a cheery farewell to presenteeism and long commutes as businesses adapt to discover a happier and more productive workforce. Some of the largest businesses in the world are leading the way, such as Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon, WPP, and Barclays, to name a few and many more will follow.
The knee-jerk reaction that every business has had to go through in the face of the global pandemic will stay with many for a long-time, but the adrenalin felt will subside as businesses move from survival mode back to their longer-term business plans. Those plans will need reviewing, some companies will have found themselves bringing forward plans they had scheduled two years now. Others will have realised they need a wholesale rethink of business models, and perhaps widely, a rethink on their whole technology strategy.
A moment on technology strategy
Any technology strategy starts with making the business case for investment. That case may be to lower risks, improve efficiency, speed, or cutting costs, but the case must be clearly made. These are of course all benefits, but when it comes to convincing decision-makers, they must also understand why change is needed: What is wrong with the current setup? What is the threat to the business? This should be the starting point of any strategy – understanding what needs to be fixed and why.
When it comes to signing off the strategy and subsequent projects, the CFO is likely to be involved as well as CIO, which is clearly beneficial. He or she, will be someone who immediately understands the needs and challenges of the department. Making the case to IT can be tougher, but that is only because they are trying to serve the whole business, are not financial experts, and will be juggling priorities across the business. This is why a clear explanation of what is wrong with the current set-up, and a clear understanding of how the world of tax and accounting is changing over the coming years with the digitalisation of tax is so critical.
Strategy approved and budget assigned, implementation is the next step and there are two key considerations here. The first is to make sure that a cross-section of the finance team is involved early and throughout the project. They understand better than anyone what is needed. A technology-enabled approach to tax requirements has proven to be a huge advantage for tax departments, allowing them to work quickly, efficiently, and accurately through this crisis. A silver lining to this crisis might be the willingness to invest more resources in technology in the future. If you are interested in learning more about what your peers have to say about technology strategy, why not take a read of our “2020 Corporate Tax Departments Survey: New Technology Demands New Skills and Attitudes”.
Throughout this series, we have seen how technology has saved the day, not just for businesses, but in a very personal way. At a time when the routines of work and home life have been thrown into disarray, it has given businesses control and freedom over their destiny. Every CTO needs to think about how they mobilise what they have learnt about the capabilities of employees and the business, to forge a future strategy that not just addresses business continuity, but ensures that technology brings benefit, freedom, and control to everything it touches.
This post was created in response to the COVID-19 virus and its impact on tax and finance professionals. For more information to help support you and your business, visit our COVID-19 resource center.