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Creating value in F&A outsourcing

by By Ferenc Szelenyi, VP EMEA, Public Sector Services, Dell Services

In today’s global marketplace, competition dictates that businesses do more with less — keeping costs low and quality of service high while generating and sustaining growth and profitability. For many businesses, improving back-office processes such as finance and accounting (F&A) is an effective way to cut costs and improve service while redirecting vital resources to business-building core capabilities. However, often executives have little time or sufficient expertise to fully analyze their F&A operations.
While most organisations use F&A processes to free up additional resources, there are often many added efficiencies they could also gain that until now, they have been missing out on. For example, assessing current processes and identifying opportunities for improvements, along with establishing standard operating procedures and performance metrics, have the potential to add significant business value.
Often, a service provider can offer a disciplined and dogmatic approach to F&A services based on industry best practices. It is important that they change this approach so they can implement technology tools and security solutions to enhance system functionality. Concentrating on people, processes, and technologies can offer synergies that help optimise F&A programs and best align them to overall business goals. So, what are the key benefits for companies looking to implement these three processes?
People: Listen and learn
It is my view that the best approach to providing IT and business processing services is to first listen to customers’ specific concerns, unique situations, and business objectives. Often the unspoken items, such as an organisation’s culture, adaptability, preparedness for change, or recent acquisitions or divestures are critical to understanding immediate business needs. All of these factors must be incorporated into a comprehensive strategy to achieve success and harmony when undertaking organisational initiatives. I believe that understanding these ‘people values’ are especially important when building a business case to outsource services.

Processes: Lots of Data, No Information
Over time, in many organisations, processes are established and inefficiencies settle in. A frequent contributor is out-dated or partially implemented financial systems. Even if 90 to 95 per cent of your tasks are fully functional, the 5 to 10 per cent that do not operate as intended can balloon into oversized problems. These seemingly small inefficiencies drive up the overhead and costs of an organisations accounting services. Even though technology is often a contributing issue, it is likely that inefficiency issues are not solely attributable to an organisations financial application system.
Currently, in our business assessments, a key point frequently noted is the lack of standard operating procedures (SOPs). In addition, many organisations do not establish or measure basic service level metrics. For instance, most firms have invested in an array of Sarbanes-Oxley flowcharts to ensure that financial transactions are properly controlled and recorded. However, most do not adequately focus on efficiency or exception processing. Furthermore, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between the accounting groups and their business units are often not defined. Establishing meaningful SLA’s is an excellent initial step to identify and agree upon what business managers really want and need to improve their operations and build overall margins.
Technologies: Tools/Data Security
There are many technology tools designed to streamline and improve financial processes. Systematic workflow, electronic invoices, online portals, web-based reporting solutions, and scorecards are just a few common tools that can improve your processes, inside or outside of your applications systems.
Confidentiality of corporate data is a concern in all business environments. Currently at Dell, our data center facilities are subject to frequent SAS70 Type II audits, conducted by a major global accounting firm, to validate that our security procedures are effective and provide the best possible secure environment. Another key practice is that whenever possible we process financial transactions within the secure firewall of your company’s IT environment using your firm’s enterprise financial systems. Those environments are typically even more reliable when you opt to allow the service provider to manage your corporate applications within our highly secure data centers.
Looking ahead
In summary, through detailed analysis and knowledgeable advice, organisations can benefit from their F&A operation’s performance and seize opportunities for significant process improvement. This, in turn, enables them to make informed, objective decisions about when to outsource or offshore, and whether an investment in business process management or re-engineering will be worth the cost — before they invest.
I believe that bundled and customisable standalone services that focus on people, processes and technologies can help organisations improve their operations and achieve measurable results, including order-to-cash and procure-to-pay processing, document management services, and Web-enabled process management tools.

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