A year on from COVID; how has it affected the finance function?

A year on from COVID

Thinking back to a distant February 2020, the finance function of a medium to large business was housed in the finance office, in a building!  In the majority cases, staff accessed their finance software via a local network, to query a server, most likely housed in the Company’s fileserver room.  Logging into their Windows pc or their laptop, an application would reside on their machine and be the interface for the accounting software.

Should anyone in the company be working remotely or, can you imagine?, even home working, staff in the Finance Department would be the least likely to do so;  due to the nature of the function’s security requirements and document access requirements.

Then COVID-19 arrived and, all of a sudden, people had to work from home. Suddenly, IT teams experienced unprecedented levels of requests for staff trying to log into their old software, but outside of the LAN. Yep.  People learned very quickly that their old software was never designed to be accessed remotely. In addition to having to address external network access with regard to speed and network security, there was an added factor with regard to most finance staff as the vast majority only had desktop machines.  This resulted in personal devices being used to do day to day business; devices that may also be shared with other family members – making the security issue far more than that of network access integrity. 

The instant solution for enabling such widespread homeworking was to provide remote desktop implementation tools, to enable users to simulate accessing servers as if they were local.  However, the shift in remote working escalated from say, an average of sub 10% of workers at any single time, to almost 100%.  The demands placed on IT both logistically and financially were significant, having to build banks of Remote Desktop Servers being accessed by much greater communications bandwidth than had ever been required before.

For most organisations, even if they could live with the security challenges and speed of access issues, it still left the finance team unable to access the physical documents residing in filing cabinets in their office!  Whatever the solution, the short-term fixes could only be sticking plasters to an inherently larger problem – the physical requirements of matching up and approving paper documents in a part digital workflow.  The problem was already there, but the pandemic exposed its weaknesses fully.

This exposure led many to realise that an aspiration towards a cloud system in the future, was no longer an aspiration but a necessity.  Paper workflows in a digital world were manageable when everyone was in the same office.  Post-it notes could provide the glue between the two, stuck on people’s machines and on the top of various documents, requesting feedback or approval.  Who’d have thought that COVID would have led to the death of the office Post-it note?

Fast-forward to today; we are now operating in a world where we recognise that the new-normal won’t be identical to the ‘old’ normal.  Remote and home-working are here to stay.  Workflows need to be effective without people being in the same office.  Security and speed cannot be ‘fudged’ for short term fixes and documents need to be accessed securely, from anywhere on any platform and anytime.

Organisations globally, now recognise the need to be able to make provisions to react in ways that we couldn’t have anticipated in the past.

True cloud solutions are the mainstream answer for today’s immense challenges.  Not old systems hosted ‘in the cloud’, still rife with antiquated design issues and architectural flaws from having been built in an era when cloud didn’t exist. 

Standing back from the day-to-day strains placed upon virtually everyone, by this pandemic, it seems like there could actually be a silver lining for those who remain.  What COVID has done is effectively accelerated the next revolution in IT.  As a catalyst for mandatory change, for those organisations wishing to survive, it has forced thousands of businesses to question outdated processes and applications that were ‘getting by’ but could not withstand challenges that we all now endure.

In some ways, we have been very lucky; cloud solutions have been maturing nicely for the past decade or so.  Therefore, while the vast majority will feel pushed towards change, it will be a change to something in which they are already partly familiar – with Office 365, or CRM systems within their organisation, most likely already being cloud-based already. 

When we get through this period of rapid change, systems will run more smoothly.  Workflows will be far more efficient.  Organisations will be more robust by their very nature of not being based around a central office. 

It’s a sobering thought to think that this pandemic could have occurred 20 years ago – at a time when there would have been no true-cloud systems to rescue us.


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