Solve, See, & Say: How to Evaluate Finance Software For ROI
A generation from now, the finance function will look very different than it does today. Thanks to increasing automation and artificial intelligence, finance is about to go through a period of transformation: exchanging the procedural, mostly-manual work it does today, like bookkeeping and AR/AP, for a more analytic role.
For today’s finance leaders, getting their teams from here to there requires implementing technology that optimizes work in some places, eliminates it elsewhere, and everywhere provides data that can drive intelligent decisionmaking. But finding these capabilities in the market for finance technology is tough. The space is more crowded than it’s ever been, and amid the many futuristic capabilities available, identifying where to invest in new technology is often unclear.
The simple solution is to do what finance professionals have always done: seek return on your investment. Finance software still needs to deliver value in the near term, no matter how powerful it promises to become in the long run. Driving ROI is the primary rule of investing in new finance technology.
Assessing that return, however, requires you to account for more than just increased productivity. Finance teams need to appraise any new approach in the context of how it will aid their transition from process-driven managers to in-house consultants.
To unify the goals of maximizing ROI and preparing for the future, teams can leverage the Solve, See, & Say framework of thinking about the value that finance technology and workflows need to provide. This model asks of any potential investment:
- Solve: What problems or inefficiencies can this help me eliminate?
- See: What data visibility will I get?
- Say: What strategic insights will it empower me to offer?
This framework encapsulates the three main tasks the finance team will face over the next decade: clearing out the noise, owning and understanding more data, and influencing business decisions. Here’s how Solve, See, & Say can help finance live into the future.
What can I solve?
Every tool or workflow worthy of your investment should solve a problem you currently have. Sometimes this looks like eliminating a painful process or fixing a broken one. Sometimes it looks more like optimizing a process, leading to time savings and de-cluttered workflows. In any event, “solving” a problem leads to more control, more consistency, and more time freed up for creating greater value.
What can I see?
Thanks to the rise of automated, integrated systems, businesses are now generating an unprecedented volume of data. Buried inside it are insights that companies know can be used to drive decisions—if only they could be extracted. As the organization’s natural analytic function, the finance team’s ability to own that data collection and analysis is why your team stands in front of a monumental opportunity today.
To live into this new role, each investment you make should offer a new level of visibility into operational data. If you’re considering investing in a piece of technology, for example, find out how robust the reporting functionality will be at the end of every month. How readily will it yield an answer when someone asks a question in a meeting? If it’s a new workflow you’re considering adopting, will it help you identify opportunities for new efficiencies, or will it obscure them? All of these elements give you more visibility into your operations and, ultimately, your company’s performance.
What can I say?
Data is only as good as the answers it allows you to provide. That’s why the final question to ask of any prospective addition to your finance stack is how it can help you offer strategic advisory.
The finance team of the future is going to help management make decisions based on real time performance monitoring, market analysis, and a host of other windows. Anything you add to your team today should move you towards the ability to synthesize those data sources and offer usable intelligence.
In practice, what you can “say” is the proactive corollary to what you can “see.” If sales data reveals that your company tends to lose a certain type of deal on pricing, your finance team can model out the impact of offering a discount to that market. If one individual has a pattern of suspicious expense behavior, you can bring it up with their manager. In looking at the customer support team, you’ll be able to see not only how they’re performing, but to which customer segment they should be allocating their resources based on lifetime value and churn data.
In these examples, the CRM, expense reporting solution, and helpdesk software, respectively, provide data you can synthesize into action. Make sure all your software gives you that level of confidence in the advice you offer management.
A holistic concept of ROI
Yes, your finance tools need to be scalable, and accessible on a variety of platforms, and integrated with other systems. But a lot of software offers all that. The context that’s going to help you shop more intelligently is a clear idea of the kind of return you want to maximize. For forward-looking finance teams, that return is the ability to do more value-added work.
The Solve, See, & Say model of ROI accounts for that context. It helps you orient your current investments in light of the roles you’ll be moving to in the coming years. Assessing an investment by asking what it helps you Solve, See, & Say ensures that your finance team’s tools and workflows will be able to support your transformation into a center of business intelligence, while still maintaining the essential functions you own today.
To learn more about how the finance team needs to change in the next generation, read “The CFO’s Guide To AI Strategy: The Impact on Finance.”