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SAP Business One - Facilitating change for today's finance professionals

Finance Director, Aklin Carbide, discusses technology and its impact on the changing role of finance across today's small to medium business landscape.

A stalwart of the South African finance industry, Mark Stewart, Finance Director at Aklin Carbide, a surface engineering company, has been in the business of numbers for approximately 25 years. "I've seen it all," says Stewart. Having begun his career in the days when mainframe servers were considered high tech, Stewart has not only witnessed first-hand the extraordinary evolution of technology and its impact across business in general, but of even greater consequence its impact on the finance department, and the role of the finance executive in general.

"Previously, companies had entire buildings housing computers and IT departments," says Stewart. The technology was there, but it was far from instant with various departments needing to make ‘arrangements' or schedule time with IT for the processing of certain functions. "Finance also played a slightly different role," continues Stewart. It was primarily focused on ‘the numbers' for purposes of tax and auditing, regulatory compliance and the paying of bills. Any other information required a separate system, from sales departments keeping their own data through to production relying on its own recording keeping of factory processes.

"Businesses operated in silos," says Stewart, with each department having its own view of the data. Multiple data sources led to no single view of the business, with different information sources presenting different views. This often led to a lack of accuracy and data integrity, with ‘wrong' decisions being made as a result of inaccurate information. "This can sink a company," stresses Stewart. However, the last few years have seen massive shifts with technology now allowing for enterprise wide integration and collaboration.

"Reliable information is now available, in real-time, for use by everyone in the company," continues Stewart. Increased integration between systems and processes is resulting in one set of real-time and accurate data available across the organisation. This, in turn, is leading to informed and timely business decisions with the technology underpinning this increasingly becoming a key part of the finance department, particularly across the smaller to medium business (SMB) environments.

"In the SMB space, technology might not warrant a completely separate department," says Stewart, leaving it to be driven largely by the finance executive. However, with said technology now responsible for the capturing of every transaction, key to driving business performance and decisions, it is consequently rendering the role of the finance executive as far more pivotal. "Today, particularly within the SMB arena, the finance department often serves as the custodian of information, with other areas of operation able to access the required data." Hence the need for effective and accurate processes within the finance operation.

Citing Aklin Carbide as a case in point, Stewart goes on to discuss the critical importance of one reliable and accurate set of data in order to ensure both the competitiveness and sustainability of a business and the effective operation of its finance department. "A few years ago we found ourselves with an over reliance on spreadsheets, compounded by needless duplication," says Stewart. "There were instances of one transaction, or invoice, captured as many as five times across different departments." Not only was this a waste of time and resources, but the propensity for human error was enormous.

However, since its deployment of SAP Business One, from 4most, this is no longer the case. The initial solution, focused on the financials, general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, cashbook, purchasing, sales inventory and workflow approval procedures and alerts, allows for the once off inputting of data. Further, the processing of all data is much faster, with all relevant information instantly available, allowing for any business or customer queries to be easily dealt with and resolved.

"We are saving time and resources, whilst simultaneously becoming a lot smarter in how we operate -
both as a business and within finance." And a lot more accurate! "When faced with a situation requiring us to draw on information from a few years ago, we are now able to find the correct information within minutes," enthuses Stewart. "Gone are the days of having to rely on job cards where often the information was either illegible or completely missing."

Stewart also goes on to stress the need for immediate answers, imperative to today's operations. "We live in an instant world, with customers (both prospective and current) demanding answers within 24 hours. It is no longer acceptable for it to take days, or even weeks, to provide the required information. To remain competitive, we need to be able to see at a glance, and in real-time, exactly what stock is available, what is on back order or even the current standing of a customer's account."

Whilst Aklin Carbide has taken great strides in the automation of its processes in order to facilitate scenarios such as these, in addition to internal data integrity and reliability, Stewart feels strongly that there is still so much more to be done. Next steps will include the integration of the factory floor with regards to the recording of time and its automatic allocation to the actual job at hand, removing the need for manual timesheets.

"There is a lot more that can be automated," continues Stewart. He goes on to add that the more one works with technology, the more one realises the huge scope of what can be achieved. "Technology continues to evolve at a rapid rate, bringing endless possibilities," enthuses Stewart. "Consequently, whilst the final end goal may constantly shift, I have no doubt that the steps already taken with both 4most and SAP Business One has placed us in a far better position - both as a company, and as a finance department."

Stewart will form part of an industry forum, hosted by 4most, a leading supplier and implementer of SAP Business One and ERP software and technology, at this year's Finance Indaba (13 to 14 October, Sandton Convention Centre). It will provide attendees with the opportunity to explore and discuss the role of available technology across the changing landscape of today's financial professionals.

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