Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Recent Posts

Finance Topics & Trends

Bridging the gap for remote workers through digital assistants

By Suhas Uliyar, Vice President, AI and Digital Assistant AI-based chatbots or digital assistants stand to change the way we interact with business applications, not just consumer ones. The main benefit is the ability to get immediate responses to queries via natural local language, without having to download apps or get training. While we have the freedom to engage in user-friendly experiences in our personal lives – such as Alexa and Siri – there have been few options for people in their professional lives. But that’s changing. As Steve Miranda, Oracle’s executive vice president of application development, remarked, “In HR, every common question or transaction has lent itself nicely to digital assistants. Within the next year, we will be calling HTML our ‘old UI.’ Every transaction you have will be through a digital assistant UI.” Work-at-home requirements associated with the spread of COVID-19 have made it all the more important to give employees easy access to ever-changing information – on company policies, insurance coverage, and public health guidance, in addition to the usual cadence of questions on vacation balances, status of expenses, and IT workarounds.  Here are a few key ways in which chatbots and digital assistants can help. An assistant for every employee Finding answers to simple questions can be a frustrating experience if there is no easy way to do so. Take, for example, basic questions like “how many vacation days do I have left?” or “what do I do if I have a change in marital status?” In some cases, employees need to log into their VPN to find the policy document or a web page, or the application – which they then need to further navigate to find answers to these straightforward questions. With a digital assistant, employees can simply speak the question out loud in a natural way or simply input the text, instead of having to navigate multiple screens or interfaces, and they will receive an immediate response. Not only that, the digital assistant can further help them by recommending or taking action as a follow-up to their original interaction and be a true assistant for the employees. For example, rather than just informing the employee on what to do to change their marital status, the digital assistant can actually trigger the change process by gathering the necessary information and then updating the relevant systems with that information.  Answering general policy questions With rapidly evolving governmental directives such as sheltering-in-place and social distancing, most organizations are quickly adapting their HR policies and guidelines. At the same time, employees need help and answers from their organizations more than ever. Questions may range widely from policies on employment, travel guidelines, and health and safety instructions, as well as guidelines on dealing with and working during the pandemic. In some cases, the information is very dynamic and changes by the minute. Digital assistants give employees a consistent channel, which is available 24x7, to ask their questions so they can get an immediate response – while freeing up the HR and IT/support teams to manage the more complex challenges they are facing today. In fact, you can also use digital assistants to send proactive alerts and notifications like changes in policies, so that employees don’t need to keep checking or search for the latest information time and again.  Supporting employee health and safety Practicing social distancing has also had an impact on recruitment, onboarding, and training processes for organizations. In effect, these processes provide resources and support that most organizations may seriously need in these uncertain times. Using a digital assistant, businesses can drive candidates’ pre-screening and interview scheduling online, across any messaging channel. You can drive virtual onboarding by enabling easy remote online access to relevant trainings, policies, and materials all via a digital assistant. Data can also be safely recorded to keep track of employee health status based on the organization’s health policy and guidelines. A digital assistant can also save the employee from the time-consuming task of completing forms or reporting on any health-related issues at work.  Employee self-service Whether working remotely or on-site as needed, employees may need access to both information and processes beyond just the HR systems. From submitting expenses to filing IT support tickets to making changes to travel plans, we touch a number of systems or applications as employees. Some processes even span across multiple systems, like role- or location-based expense reimbursement policies, where the system requires role information from the HR system before interacting with the finance/ERP system for reimbursement. A digital assistant is one common interaction point for employees, contractors, or partners across multiple applications and can provide a quick, consistent, and concise response.  Leading an organization through this unprecedented time has put an increased demand on the HR function. As a result, organizations would be wise to leverage AI-powered technologies such as digital assistants to scale their functions, create online connection and engagement, and provide dynamic updates on policies and safety guidance without bogging down human communication channels – which need to be available for essential tasks. A digital assistant can support an organization by providing benefits such as: Lowering operational costs via online self-service & automation Expanding HR availability 24x7 across different channels Enabling easy access to information and processes delivered via text or natural language Delivering consistent information and maintaining employee engagement Enabling proactive HR outreach Digital assistants can support the functions employees may need now while creating efficiencies for the long term. For more information or to discuss how a digital assistant can support your needs, email us here. Stay well, and be safe.  

By Suhas Uliyar, Vice President, AI and Digital Assistant AI-based chatbots or digital assistants stand to change the way we interact with business applications, not just consumer ones. The...

The Role of Digital Assistants in a Time of Remote Work

  By Suhas Uliyar, Vice President, AI and Digital Assistant As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, if you are in the human resources or IT/operations division of your organization, you are likely being pushed to the forefront during this extraordinary time. Your division may be actively leading efforts to communicate with your workforce or users as they adjust to a new environment such as remote work, while also complying with ever-shifting policies and guidelines. Given the significant upheaval in the way organizations have to operate these days, there are some common questions that many IT and HR leads are trying to address, including: How can our organization scale and make it as easy as possible for our ecosystem as everyone learns to cope with the new normal? How can we best provide access to policies, guidelines, FAQs, transactions, and data when information is so dynamic? How can we deliver information in real-time without employing more resources? While the more complex communication challenges will still need to be tackled by humans, a digital assistant may offer relief in some areas. For example, organizations may need to automate responses to most basic queries so human minds can be freed up to deal those more complex challenges. Enterprises and organizations may also need to enable more processes and transactions online and offer them in an easy-to-use medium – one that is easily accessible and intuitive.  Meanwhile, organizations are having to reconfigure how they engage with their customers, contractors, and employees – and in the case of public sector organizations and educational institutions, citizens and students, respectively. These various touchpoints include providing real-time, reliable information on health and safety guidelines; offering assistance in setting up a remote working environment; communicating up-to-date changes in policies; and enabling online self-service functions or access to relevant insights, information, and processes from within the organization’s systems.  Before COVID-19, AI-based chatbots or digital assistants were already changing the way we interact with our ecosystem – customers, employees, partners, citizens, and students. Enterprises had started to use digital assistants to provide 24x7 assistance to their stakeholders with self-service assistants for customer support; employee self-service across HR, ERP, CRM, and business intelligence systems; and vendors and partners for ERP self-service for quotes and invoice management.   A digital assistant can provide a consistent channel of communication and engagement in natural language text or voice, so users don’t have to learn an enterprise’s systems to interact or access information they need. Other benefits delivered by digital assistants include: Providing a 24x7 virtual assistant that is always there for stakeholders Offering users access to information on channels of choice like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Messenger, and more Streamlining employee queries, since there’s no waiting in line for the next available representative or help desk agent Freeing up employees to focus on the more complex challenges and queries that only human minds can solve Providing a natural way to access information and transactions across different backend systems, which promotes adoption of and adherence to processes and policies Proactively notifying users of changes in data so they can remain informed  Eliminating data searches, since a digital assistant powered by AI can be adapted to dynamic data changes so users don’t have to search for data  Reducing costs associated with support operations via self-service and automation As a result, digital assistants can help support the current need of a remote workforce and concerned citizens, students, and customers while creating long-term efficiencies for your organization.  For a more in-depth look into how your organization can derive quick value from a digital assistant in these uncertain times and the longer term, please contact us here.    

  By Suhas Uliyar, Vice President, AI and Digital Assistant As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, if you are in the human resources or IT/operations division of your organization, you are...

Emerging Technology

Tackling Your Cloud Applications To-Do List

Cleaning closets … organizing the garage … rearranging the pantry. Do these sound like projects you’ve been doing at home over the last few weeks? As social distancing and stay-at-home orders have become our new normal, many of us are finally getting around to our list of home organizing projects. I certainly have cleaned a few closets recently. Chances are, you have a long list of “housekeeping” tasks at work too. If you and your team have a bit more time these days, perhaps you can use this as an opportunity to tackle your cloud applications “to do list.” And even better, think proactively about how to position your organization and processes in this “new normal” operating model. Here are a few ideas to consider. Conduct a Cloud Security Review It may have been a while since you’ve reviewed your security access controls. Some companies use cloud applications with the help of consultants and contractors who need remote access to these applications. Similarly, employees may be initially granted access to applications based on prior roles, and then roles shift and processes change. Companies often can improve security by having a consistent user access review scheduled to audit appropriate application access. Now may be the time to devise and implement a security review plan. Be sure to look at these areas: • Do people have the correct access to systems, applications, functionality, and data? • Are there changes in your workforce that you should examine that may lead to altered or revoked access levels? • Does it make sense to ask departmental managers to review access and revoked privileges to validate your list of security changes? • Is your role-based access strategy still appropriate for your organization? Since the in-person work paradigm has quickly shifted, as most of the workforce has been working from home, you may need to rethink your long-term remote access strategy. This is especially important when relying on remote access and collaboration technologies for video conferencing. And looking into the future, is your access strategy appropriate for your organization if telecommuting remains in place as a permanent operational model? Analyze Cloud Reports If your organization has been using your cloud applications for a while, now may be a good time to revisit your reports to see what’s needed or can be improved. If you poll your departmental leaders and IT team, there’s likely a laundry list of reports that people need, such as exception reports or new data visualizations, to identify new trends and patterns or create scenario models that can help identify and forecast new business opportunities.  Once you and your team have created the reports, you can schedule them to run on a regular basis so you can incorporate the new intelligence into your business analysis and forecasting processes. Personalize Your Applications for Maximum Efficiency When people think of personalization, they typically think of adding a company logo and changing the colors in a cloud application so it reflects your brand. Once people start to use the solution in their daily workflow, you may hear rumblings that people would prefer to have certain fields in different places on the screen or perhaps there are fields that people don’t use.   Now could be a good time to conduct a quick poll of end-users to get some anecdotal feedback so you and your team can personalize application screens to gain efficiencies. Sometimes minor changes like these can go a long way to boost morale because you improved application usability and efficiency. Happy users are more productive. Learn about Emerging Technologies If you’ve got a bit of personal downtime on your hands, now may be a good time to learn about an emerging technology … digital assistants, IoT, blockchain, AI, machine learning, etc. For example, you may want to consider replacing repetitive tasks with digital assistants, or understand how smart sensor IoT devices could help to improve customer satisfaction.   Now may be just the time to learn about these powerful emerging technologies. Take some time to think strategically about how you can utilize them to enhance your business processes and gain a substantial competitive edge. Here’s a list of suggested reading if you want to dig into emerging technologies. •    Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, Third Edition by Russell & Nori •    The Second Machine Age by Dr. Andrew McAfee & Dr. Erik Brynjolfsson of Sloan MIT •    Machine, Platform, Crowd by Dr. Andrew McAfee & Dr. Erik Brynjolfsson of Sloan MIT These are just a few ideas for high tech house-keeping and business improvements that you can initiate within your cloud applications. Stay tuned for my next blog installment with some more ideas, so you can add some more polish to your business processes. For more information on a complete suite of cloud based applications, go to www.oracle.com/applications.

Cleaning closets … organizing the garage … rearranging the pantry. Do these sound like projects you’ve been doing at home over the last few weeks? As social distancing and stay-at-home orders have...

Finance Topics & Trends

SaaS Security Checklist for Business Managers

Cybersecurity hacks. Data breaches. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). Yikes! As a business manager, all this data security and compliance talk can sound like a word salad, right? However, there has never been a better time for a business manager to hone in on the implications of SaaS data security and compliance. According to a recent ZDnet article[1] “160,000 data breaches have occurred since  the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect.” In the world of GDPR and CCPA, it is important to know that data privacy violations and non-compliance with worldwide data security standards come with a heavy price tag. Here is a website [2] that cites recent GDPR violations, their location and associated costs. And there likely seems to be more hefty fines coming. Only 1/3 of organizations worldwide are said to be fully “GDPR compliant.” Essentially a #fail in security or data privacy compliance can affect your business’s bottom line. As business managers subscribe to more and more cloud software, often without the help of the I.T., it helps to know some top considerations when choosing a SaaS cloud provider. This can help to reduce risk in your decision. Top Security/Compliance Considerations When Choosing a SaaS Applications Provider: 1.    Provider viability- Is your cloud applications provider viable? How long have they been developing cloud security and data compliance services for their customers? What is the cloud provider’s rate of investment in protecting data and building compliance tools for every aspect of business? Do they invest in and develop a full complement of advanced data security/privacy tools at every layer of the stack; from financial risk management cloud software to machine-learning based, malware resistant hardware running in highly performant, scalable servers? 2.    Secure data isolation- Does your cloud provider co-mingle your data with all their other customers? A secure data isolation architecture reduces risk and increases performance eliminating the effects of degraded performance from noisy neighbors.  Does your cloud provider use multitenant database technology to easily extend applications/databases faster and more securely manage and relocate your data; (i.e. for growth expansion into other countries with data residency/regulations requirements?) 3.    Global unified access controls - Can you easily and consistently control access across all your cloud applications? Or do you have silos of cloud applications scattered around, being accessed all across your company? What if users leave or join your company – how fast is it to onboard and offboard users across all cloud applications to which they need/have access? Does your cloud provider have a unified data access strategy when integrating with on-premises systems or other clouds? 4.    Compliance & GDPR- Compliance and data privacy regulations are top of mind for many organizations worldwide. Now, with GDPR and CCPA – many organizations are finding it even harder to meet ever-changing data privacy requirements for their organizations. In addition, many industries require industry-specific data privacy controls such as PCI, HIPAA, etc. Does your cloud provider have strategies and controls in place to help support you in meeting changing regulatory requirements? Do they have built-in security tools to help you with audit-based risk management and compliance? 5.    Global cloud operations- Many organizations worldwide have data location requirements- where their business data needs to be within certain country or regional boundaries. This can be a challenge if your cloud provider doesn’t have a worldwide presence with data centers in those regions. Does your cloud provider operate enterprise-grade cloud data centers around the world? Do they have redundant and highly performant infrastructure to help support customers of all sizes with their changing business needs? Do they employ 24x7 cloud security experts that proactively look after data security globally or do they contract with security contractors? 6.    Advanced security options- What if your business requires additional levels of security beyond what is built-in? Does your cloud provider offer additional advanced security options? Often businesses require additional levels of security such as alerting/monitoring tools, or even tools to manage identity and access controls across multiple applications or between on-premises and cloud applications. Certain industries require even further levels of security. For example, in the financial services industry you may require additional software to concretely manage risk and compliance requirements. Does your cloud provider offer additional products and services to help you with the audit and risk management process? These are some of things to consider when it comes to SaaS data security, data privacy regulations and compliance reporting. Please note some of your considerations will vary depending upon the country or state of origin of your customer and/or employee data.   Oracle as a Top Security/Compliance Cloud Provider Oracle develops database, applications software and hardware in the cloud with a security-first design. With a clear, committed cloud security strategy and ongoing investment in development and management, Oracle runs enterprise clouds with millions of global business users every day for companies of all sizes,  with some of its first customers being the CIA, NSA among other government agencies. For more detailed information on Oracle’s SaaS Security Strategy click here .   References: [1] https://www.zdnet.com/article/gdpr-160000-data-breaches-reported-already-so-expect-the-big-fines-to-follow/ [2] https://www.enforcementtracker.com/          

Cybersecurity hacks. Data breaches. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). Yikes! As a business manager, all this data security and compliance talk can...

Finance Topics & Trends

Open Your Agency to a Cloud-based Financial Close Process

Citizens across the nation are quick to examine the financial spending patterns of their local and statewide government agencies. Fiscal accountability and taxpayer transparency are hallmarks of a well-run agency, and one way to achieve these benchmarks is through the implementation of cloud-based financial systems that have found favor in the commercial world. However, governments often overlook valuable business practices used in the private sector, despite the marked differences from the commercial realm. Fund accounting, encumbrances, GASB requirements and state-by-state regulations governing public finance all contribute to the differences. Likewise, budgeting in public sector is a dramatically different process. Public sector budgeting is both a policy setting and legal control device with different implications on how budgeting software applications are configured and used, while commercial entities use budgets for managing expenses and forecasting cash flow and profitability. Despite the difference, government agencies such as the city of Atlanta have adopted private sector solutions to dramatically improve the financial consolidation, reconciliation and close process. In particular, enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions address the following business functions: Budgeting, planning and forecasting Financial reporting, whether regulatory, management or citizen-facing Financial consolidation from different systems or departments Managing and streamlining the period close Managing exceptions, with reconciling sub-system or external system transactions Activity-based costing and cost analysis  Purpose- built applications widely used by the private sector can provide similar benefits to the public one.   Rather than using disconnected applications or spreadsheets, these private entities use Commercial off-the-Shelf applications from a variety of vendors (including Oracle) to support these processes. Current close processes can be inefficient. The majority of public sector customers lack a purpose-built application for financial consolidation and reconciliation, instead using inefficient manual processes, reports and spreadsheets. The majority must make manual adjustments during the close and reconciliation process. In short, there is great room for improvement. Oracle recently surveyed over 900 finance technology consumers, both Oracle and non-Oracle customers, to understand the value they received from using EPM cloud applications. The results were impressive: 33% of respondents who used EPM cloud increased their use of rolling forecasts 71% gained more visibility across the close process 79% reported a less complex close In addition, respondents who use account reconciliation were rewarded with instant visibility into the progress and status of reconciliations, reducing errors and speeding up the close process. Artificial intelligence and robotic process automation has been built-in to purpose built applications for financial consolidation, close and reconciliation is the introduction of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotic process automation. These emerging technologies can improve accuracy, reduce risk and streamline the entire financial close and reporting process. For example, a process that has eight steps now could be compressed to three steps with higher levels of automation. So what should public sector entities be thinking about? First, familiarize yourself with the purpose -built applications available today from Oracle and other vendors. You can start by looking at Oracle EPM Cloud, one of the most complete offering on the market. Second, examine inefficiencies in your current consolidation, close and reconciliation processes and think of areas for improvement. You’ll see how EPM applications can support changes in business processes that improve accuracy, efficiency and your ability to produce timely reports.

Citizens across the nation are quick to examine the financial spending patterns of their local and statewide government agencies. Fiscal accountability and taxpayer transparency are hallmarks of...