One of the biggest challenges in a mature and stable business is keeping current with relevant technology. While technology can be seen as an enabler to better business, it is not always seen as a necessity for business survival. Making that cultural shift requires time and mandatory support from the executive team.
Setting the Foundation
As CFO, I have championed the use of technology to increase efficiency and drive improved profitability. Peterson has prioritized technology in three ways.
First, we made technology a pillar in our strategy. Leverage technology is one of seven foundational factors that we must do well to be successful and achieve our vision. This has signaled to our team that leveraging technology is no longer something we might do, but something we must do.
Second, we formed a Technology Innovation team that reports directly to me. Peterson has an exceptional IT department that is well established and excels at keeping our systems and networks running on a daily basis. While our IT department focuses on the foundational side of technology, our Technology Innovation team is focused on identifying new technology that solves business challenges.
Third, we have set strict criteria for our new technology. We are not here to innovate for innovation’s sake. The Technology Innovation team exists to drive improved profitability through the use of technology. That means that every project we run must have an acceptable return on investment (ROI). If we cannot prove the ROI, we will not execute the project.
Getting the Work Done
With the foundation in place, our Tech Innovation team has taken off at a quick pace in looking for and implementing beneficial technology. Robotic Process Automation (RPA, or bots for short) is one type of technology we are focused on. A bot is a program that automates a business process by following a set script. Bots are quick to deploy and can significantly cut down on the time employees spend inputting data. The ideal process to automate is one that is repetitive and requires the movement of data from one system to another. A bot is set to run on a schedule, and there is monitoring software to assess the success of the bot so if there are issues, you are notified immediately and can respond accordingly. At this time, we have partnered with a vendor who is helping to program and deploy the bots. As we gain experience, we will eventually train our bot developers and have employees on staff who can quickly deploy these bots. In order to measure ROI, we look at the amount of time spent on the current process, monetize that figure, and compare it to the cost of implementing the bot. We require payback of less than one year to execute on a specific bot. We are looking for quick wins to help fund our Tech Innovation team and ensure we are adding value to Peterson.
"Leveraging technology is no longer something we might do, but something we must do."
Another area of focus is looking for best in class services and software. Using our ROI requirements, we have chosen to focus on travel and expense management in 2020. In the past, we have had both an internal and external team manage travel within the company. We have now implemented a best in class, self-serve business travel system. Employees will now book their travel through an efficient system that has all of their personal information and preferences. The system has been loaded with Peterson’s travel guidelines and will restrict travel booking outside of policy. In addition, it will enable workflow for travel approval and out of policy exceptions. We’ve also chosen to overhaul our expense management system. For years, Peterson has been on a homegrown expense reimbursement system that got the job done but took almost 100% of an FTEs time to administer. Before year-end, we will be implementing a best in class expense system. In addition to a modern system, with workflow, accounting system integration, and a simple user interface, the system will also be loaded with Peterson’s policies and will flag violations. The automation this system provides will cut down on our employee’s administrative time and will allow us to deny out of policy expenses that before were most likely to be paid.
The Tech Innovation team will continue to immerse themselves in current technologies. I’ve challenged them to attend conferences, read technology journals, and talk with experts to stay current on what’s available today and in the future. Besides, the team needs to stay connected with the operations teams in order to understand the business needs and challenges. Our IT department and Tech Innovation team must work hand in hand to build out the infrastructure needed for future implementations. Finding the right leader for this team is critical, you will need someone with an aptitude for technology and an understanding of the operations of the business.
If you’re looking for the benefits technology can provide for your business, you will need to provide executive leadership and focus, embed the effective use of technology into your strategic roadmap, and provide the resources necessary to execute. Innovating with technology to drive profitability is a noble pursuit, but will fail if not given the appropriate support and expectations of an acceptable return. Innovative technology is no longer an option, it is a necessity for survival.