What corporate finance and Amazon Go have in common

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Amazon recently made headlines for the long awaited and highly anticipated public opening of its first-ever cashier-less convenience store, Amazon Go. By pairing tracking capabilities of innovative technology with the Amazon Go app, the newly unveiled store in Seattle allows consumers to buy products without physically waiting in line to pay.

In my opinion, it’s not the time savings that resonates most with an evolving and experiential generation of consumers. Rather, it’s what the Amazon Go concept represents: using technology to streamline processes and remove bottlenecks.

For shoppers, cashiers are the human face of those bottleneck processes. They are subject to technical vulnerabilities of point-of-sale systems and understaffing, both of which are process issues that can result in lengthy checkout times.

Bottleneck processes and surrendered time don’t just affect hurried convenience store consumers. They are challenges that finance teams face firsthand within their own work environments. And, like Amazon, they can use automation and technology to help eliminate them.

Common bottlenecks that plague finance teams

Organizations today are evolving their operating models. In many cases, they are influenced by factors that simply didn’t exist 10 years ago: rising globalization, the value of big data, technological advances, regulatory changes, and demographic shifts. In other cases, the driving force is the pursuit of business growth with the same or—in some cases—fewer resources.

Yet as organizations evolve with emerging market or business conditions, financial planning processes have remained largely the same. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review survey found that 9 out of 10 of today’s enterprises still use spreadsheets for planning. According to the report, it is these tools that block executives from collaborating effectively, streamlining processes, and responding quickly to market changes.

What are some of finance bottlenecks caused by manual processes and tools?

  • The annual budget process is one example. When executed through a spreadsheet-driven environment, this activity quickly becomes laborious and requires significant time to collect and validate hundreds of spreadsheets that represent various data sources.
  • The monthly forecast process is another example. The majority of companies continue to rely on spreadsheets for their monthly forecasts, which adds latency and is error prone.

Streamlining these types of processes through automated technology allows an organization to shift significant time and resources away from cumbersome undertakings to help financial analysts liberate trapped capacity and focus on more strategic, value-added initiatives.

The Amazon consumer vs. the finance consumer

One of the reasons behind Amazon’s success is its ability to tap into consumer demand and redefine the world of commerce. Consumers today—most notably, Amazon loyalists—continue to prioritize speed, cost, and convenience over other factors in the shopping experience.

But what do finance “consumers” want?

Today, finance has an opportunity to better partner with the enterprise and equip them with financial insights that enable leaders to make better, more informed business decisions and investments. This can be achieved through processes that are facilitated with speed, agility, and forward-looking business views.

However, the use of inflexible tools and manual processes can prevent the development of this trust. Planning platforms that can automate processes that cause and sustain bottlenecks—and also support a strategic partnership with the business—can help finance teams redefine the world of finance through greater facility of financial planning and analysis.

After all, although Amazon Go and corporate finance might initially seem unrelated, they do share a common vision: Where Amazon looks to liberate the capacity of its consumer, corporate finance liberates the capacity of its staff. They both aim to unplug the unproductive processes that consume unnecessary time.

Are you attending AFP’s inaugural FINnext conference? Meet with FP&A experts at the Anaplan booth and find out where financial planning technology can take your organization.

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