Financing out of the cloud

Financing out of the cloud

A look at what is driving current adoption of cloud and financial management tools today

Cloud-based financial management systems facilitate this changing relationship by seamlessly extending the financial management platform through to customers and partners, with information about available credit, appealing payment terms and special offers that might benefit both businesses.

Another part of the attraction of cloud-based systems is that users want the most current version, but don’t want to invest a significant proportion of their revenue in maintaining or upgrading their systems.

“In the meantime, PeopleSoft has required a major investment over a number of years and there would need to be a major impetus for change for us to move away from it.”

Much of the financial innovation at UNSW is actually being driven by faculties and departments, Rees says. To recognise this shift, the university is embedding additional finance managers within different sections of the university to improve financial outcomes.

“The university is on a financial roadmap, requiring rigorous management. The finance managers will help us customise our services to get the best from [different parts of UNSW], for the areas within which they operate,” Rees says.

As the need for more rigorous financial management filtered through the university, the appetite for financial information has grown substantially, director for decision support and financial planning at UNSW, Julian Manche, says.

“Expectations from different areas have changed; people are accepting much more financial responsibility,” he says. “The management reporting system is becoming increasingly important throughout the university, and the number of users has doubled in the past two years to nearly 400.”

Everything hangs off IT, he adds, which has led to a real transformation. “IT now works closely with businesses to understand their priorities and to align IT with those and the university’s overarching strategy.”

According to Rees, this also reflects a broader change in the relationship between finance and IT. “IT is now so much more fundamental to the way the university is operated and managed,” he says.

“There has been a real change in mindset, with people taking their financial management responsibilities seriously. In response, we need to ensure information is made as democratically available as possible.”

Legal angle

CIO and knowledge director of law firm Sparke Helmore, Peter Campbell, says that while the relationship between IT and finance has become much more collaborative in recent years, innovation in the legal sector is about extending the functionality of existing financial systems.

A law firm refers to a financial management system as a practice management system, he explains. These move beyond general ledger, financial reporting, accounts receivable and accounts payable capabilities and are designed to help legal and professional services firms with people management, utilisation, hourly rates and fee agreements.

The platform also stores and tracks information on a matter by matter, or project by project, basis, which is then used as the source of information to propagate to other systems such as document management, workflow systems, reports for clients and document generation.

Their specific nature means there aren’t many vendors in the marketplace that provide practice management systems, Campbell says.

“The innovation in the financial systems occurring in our sector is really about adding modules, functionality or integrations that extend the functionality of financial systems further into the business,” he says.

Examples cited by Campbell include capturing more information about the matters Sparke Helmore runs to report to its clients, matter and client profitability analysis, reporting on and managing estimates for matters, providing information and tracking to support the use of standard project management methods to manage the cost, scope and timeline of complex matters, and capacity planning.

A changing relationship between finance and IT is also resulting in better outcomes for the rest of the firm. “Finance has become more savvy with technology as they have realised they can do so much more with it,” Campbell says. “This has made them more sympathetic towards the business cases around projects that involve technology.

“On a business level we are speaking a more common language. As we have increasingly crossed over in our responsibilities, such as in the area of reporting, we are pooling resources more than we would have 10 years ago. This leads to better outcomes and less cost.”

The Sparke Helmore finance team has a high degree of ownership of the finance systems. “They still come to us when they have to do upgrades – however, they are totally switched on to how their systems are configured, and what they are trying to do with them,” Campbell says. “We truly work together leveraging each other’s strengths.”

Collaboration on new initiatives has also become more prevalent. One of the current projects is mapping out processes followed by Sparke Helmore to take on a new client or matter. The aim is to speed up the process, reduce cost and cut out unnecessary steps.

“We have to balance this with important compliance steps like conflict checking and contract management,” Campbell says.

“Finance brings a lot of domain expertise and IT brings analysis, process mapping and project management methods.

“Together we consider the business process from all angles. Clearly with multiple perspectives looking at the same problem, we will end up with a better result.”

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