By Jonathan Dickey, Associate Director, Audit and Assurance at Grant Thornton

Organisations wishing to improve data-enabled decision-making and increase productivity should be seeking to digitalise their finance function.

Digitalisation is the change in social, business and economic behaviour on the adoption of new technology, and it has become part of our everyday lives.

These new technologies are being adopted by businesses to improve quality and productivity enabling them to compete and grow.

Now it’s time for the finance function to join the parts and embrace digitalisation.

Digitalisation of the finance function is separated in to two main components; those of providing insight with real time, data-enabled decision support, and those improving processes and reducing risk.

Insight can be provided via Advanced Analytics software, which assists in collecting, cleaning and analysing the raw data contained within the existing finance system, to provide businesses with enhanced meaningful information, used to accelerate decision support and uncover hidden growth opportunities.

An example of a technology that can improve a business process while reducing risk is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This is the technology allowing computer software ‘known as a bot’ to emulate and integrate the actions of a human within digital systems.

The bot can perform repetitive tasks quickly, efficiently, 24 hours a day and without error, whilst also costing less than an employee.

Complete digital transformation within a business can be complex, time consuming and expensive.

Additionally, the ever-changing technologies and arrival of new solutions make it difficult for businesses to know where to start.

Before embarking on this process, it is important for business owners and finance staff to proactively and systematically identify tasks and processes within their finance function that would benefit from digitalisation.

Once these areas are identified, investment in the relevant technologies and capabilities can begin.

Communication of this process is important, as it will involve staff facing new challenges, including learning how to use new software, new processes, and understanding the potential impacts on their role.

There is often a ‘fear factor’ of automation replacing people’s jobs.

Our experience is this isn’t the case, and in fact RPA acts as a complementary tool allowing people to focus on more ‘value add’ activities in which they excel whilst the ‘bot’ takes on the mundane.

Digitalisation does not have to mean a complete redesign of the existing finance function.

On the market today, there are a wide variety of solutions that sit alongside and complement existing legacy systems. They offer a relatively cheap, well-tested enhancement to existing systems.

In order for digitalisation to be successful, it is key to focus on a phased or pilot approach to implementing these new technologies.

Focusing on successful delivery of smaller projects is a great way to build confidence around organisational change.

Digitalisation of the finance function will be an evolving process as new technologies emerge and create better solutions to manage the challenges of today’s fast-changing business environment.

Embracing these digital tools can transform the finance function and add value to the business, whilst improving efficiency and reducing risk.

Even small firms can benefit, so all business owners and finance managers should consider how digitalisation could help them now.

For further information or advice, Jonathan Dickey can be contacted at

Grant Thornton (NI) LLP specialises in audit, tax and advisory services and was ranked by Experian as the Number 1 deal adviser in Northern Ireland in 2018