Each year, APQC carries out survey research to explore the focus areas, key initiatives, and top challenges for the finance function. This year’s survey included 330 valid participants from diverse regions, industries, and organizational sizes.
APQC found that the top three focus area for finance in 2023 are:
- finance data management (cited by 62 percent of respondents);
- finance function process improvement (55 percent); and
- cash flow management (52 percent).
These priorities are largely unchanged from last year. However, there are meaningful differences in the ways that organizations are approaching them in 2023. Below, we unpack these changes and what they will mean for the finance function over the next year.
Finance Data Management
One major difference from last year is that finance data management has now become the top focus area for respondents, overtaking last year’s top focus area of finance function process improvement.
The increasing focus on data management makes sense. Organizations will not be able to make sustainable process improvements in finance (the second highest priority) until they get their data house in order.
Clean, reliable, high-quality data is also critical for technologies that provide decision making support—which nearly all finance functions are using at this point. For example, we found that 93 percent of our respondents leverage finance data analytics. Three-quarters of this group does so in order to provide an accurate view of KPIs, while 68 percent use data analytics for forecasting.
Assumptions built on inaccurate or incomplete data will have ripple effects that can massively impact an organization’s revenue and cashflow. For that reason and many more, organizations are right to prioritize and shore up this critical area for finance.
Finance Process Improvement
As organizations look for opportunities to improve finance processes in 2023, many are prioritizing core fundamentals. For example, about 97 percent of respondents are at least considering an ERP system, finance business partnering, end-to-end process documentation, and process automation improvements in 2023, and at least 63 percent of those respondents are piloting, rolling out, or will have fully implemented these improvements.
It’s not uncommon to see organizations prioritizing fundamental areas like business partnering and end-to-end process documentation. From a best practices perspective, process improvements like these should come before technology-based improvements like artificial intelligence (AI) or robotic process automation (RPA). Organizations often find that it's possible to significantly improve their processes without having to change existing technology by focusing on basics like removing waste from the process and ensuring the process steps are properly documented.
It’s encouraging to see how many organizations are focused on these fundamentals compared to respondents from last year’s survey. For example, 25 percent of respondents last year reported that their organizations were not even considering partnerships between finance and the business as a priority for process improvement. This year, only two percent say the same. The percentage of respondents who say they are not considering end-to-end process documentation has also shrunk significantly, from 11 percent last year to three percent this year.
Cash Flow Management
Cash flow management has been a top priority for the finance function for the past three years. In an environment marked by a global pandemic, supply chain challenges, geopolitical conflict, and other disruptions, it’s easy to see why organizations were focused on maintaining liquidity and working to ensure they could cover their operating expenses. For example, the two most popular cash flow priorities from 2022 included crafting budgets and forecasts responsive to a high-risk economy and developing post-Covid business models.
Cash flow management is still a focus area for finance respondents, but the priorities within this focus area have shifted in line with broader shifts in the business environment. In 2023, the focus on cash flow management is less about surviving severe disruption and more focused on gaining operational efficiencies and cost savings in response to inflation. Respondents said that their top two cash flow challenges this year were that the cost of goods sold is increasing due to inflation (44 percent) and that expenses are too high relative to sales volume (30 percent).
In response to these challenges, respondents say that their organizations will be investing in technologies that provide enhanced decision making support. For example, more than a third of respondents say they will be prioritizing technologies that speed up budgeting or forecasting (38 percent) and that allow for better financial data management and/or visualization (37 percent). Provided that organizations carry out the foundational work of finance data management before implementing these technologies, they will play an effective role in helping organizations track and adjust to inflation and related trends.
After working to adjust to severe disruption for the past two years, finance practitioners and their organizations are looking to build the foundations for a stronger and more resilient future. Prioritizing finance data management is a good first step that will help to set the stage for process improvements and technologies that provide better decision making support. Armed with these resources, organizations will be able to respond more quickly to whatever disruptions might occur in 2023 and beyond.
See the full survey results for more information and insight on FM priorities and challenges in 2023.