Financial Executives International Daily

A Practical Guide to Emerging Technology

Finance executives who want to get started with emerging technologies can simply focus on one word: Data. CFOs are swamped in data, coming from ERP, payment processing, business intelligence, and other structured databases. They also have a treasure trove of unstructured data, from legal contracts and emails to videos and interview recordings. The ability to work with that data to improve transactional cost efficiency, address risk, and harness deeper, more real-time insights to identify new sources of company value is a competitive necessity for finance functions.

Three promising technologies are robotic process automation (RPA), which automates processes across multiple systems by using software tools accessible to non-technical users; artificial intelligence (AI), which includes a set of technologies like machine learning that sense and analyze data, learn from it, and perform actions based on it; and blockchain, which is a decentralized ledger of all transactions across a secure peer-to-peer network that can replace processes where transactions need to be verified by a third party.

These technologies may seem like daunting and unproven exercises best left for future leaders. But the reality is that they are here today and CFOs can use them in discrete ways to create immediate benefits. In so doing, the projects pave the way for future success. For example:

Those are a few examples of projects that generate immediate benefits and that suggest pathways to build capabilities for the future. There are many other possibilities, which underscore the fact that there isn’t a single approach for implementing emerging technologies in finance. Still, certain catalysts will help to facilitate their adoption.

To be sure, while RPA and some basic AI can be implemented in the near-term, more advanced forms of AI and blockchain will take longer to roll out. But the organizations that begin to deploy emerging technologies now will be in the best position to exploit them in the long term.

Mike Baccala is Assurance US Innovation Leader at PwC.