The accelerating pace of technology innovation is undeniable and whether it is in the home or in business, potential users face a bewildering choice of solutions. Smart Homes may be de rigueur in our personal lives but smart technologies are also transforming business processes. Natural language processing, social collaboration, robotic process automation, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, are just a few of the many technologies, impacting business. But few finance professionals claim to understand the technologies on offer. A 2017 FSN survey, found that only 6% of CFOs understand the technologies available to them, only 37% know what solutions are available in the market and only 25% of CFOs have the time to investigate opportunities for technology innovation.
This leads to a catch-22 of time-consuming, inadequate technology that is never updated because of a lack of time to find something new. As a consequence, CFOs remain time-poor, shackled to legacy systems and low levels of automation, unable to take advantage of technologies that would improve productivity and insight. So where can CFOs turn for advice to help them out?
The research suggests that many are leaning more heavily on the software vendors themselves. The gap between those businesses using consultancies for advice or turning directly to software vendors is separated by a mere 11%. But there are dangers for the unwary. Large monolithic ERP is on the rise, as the recent Oracle NetSuite and Workday acquisitions have shown. ERP vendors may sing the virtues of thee one-stop shop but, in many instances, it leaves gaps in capability that cannot be easily filled at a later time.
So where can CFOs find impartial advice? Appropriately enough in the era of cloud computing much of the information an evaluation team needs is available through a browser. It is estimated that around 60 percent of purchasers search the internet for reviews and commentary about products before making a buying decision and around 28 percent are willing to give their opinions in social media. But there is also no shortage of analysts’ commentary, blogs, crowd sourcing review sites, YouTube videos, and specialist resources such as the Modern Finance Forum on LinkedIn. And it remains important to talk to peers. There is no substitute for the reference site.
But there is also a wealth of information usually available directly from the vendor’s website as well. This might comprise video testimonials, pre-canned video demonstrations of key parts of the application, trial software, pre-recorded webinars, live webinars and software demonstrations, downloadable product specification sheets, case studies and white papers. So, information about the company and its products that could only be obtained through an RFP in the past is readily available on a self-service basis to the whole evaluation team.
These developments have been game-changing, allowing an evaluation team to perform much of the early data gathering and initial software evaluation outside of the traditional RFP process and with little direct contact with the vendor. It means that subsequent steps are much more effective, for example, a slimmer RFP is focused on information that cannot be gleaned in another way and the engagement with software vendors is focused and meaningful for all parties.
But above all, it allows the evaluation team to take a more holistic approach, considering the software giants alongside more specialist niche vendors.