Migration to the cloud is well underway in South Africa’s finance and accounting world. Financial leaders recognise the benefits of cloud-based business solutions, which enable them to become more agile and flexible. These solutions enhance responsiveness and provide accurate, real-time data needed to stay ahead of a volatile landscape and shift to remote or hybrid work models.
Recent research by Sage found that among South African finance leaders, 91% agreed businesses must use cloud-based software to thrive in the new world of work. The study also shows that finance leaders are eager to embrace cloud technologies to automate tasks, democratise access to data, and increase accountability.
Yet, there is another reason to adopt cloud technologies that are not yet as widely recognised – the fact that it will pave the way for finance teams to use artificial intelligence (AI) to elevate data-driven decision making and take automation to new heights. Among the respondents to the research, 92% said they would support their organisations investing in AI-powered cloud finance management solutions.
AI a proposition of the distant future
When asked to list their top three priorities, AI came in at number eight, compared to using cloud-based systems at number one. Finance leaders ranked digital transformation, digital upskilling and developing a hybrid culture as their top three priorities. This suggests many thinks AI is a proposition of the distant future rather than something already here and maturing all the time.
The potential use cases for AI and machine learning (ML) in finance and accounting are numerous, with cloud vendors embedding the technology directly into their business solutions. When integrated into accounting and financial systems, AI and ML can assist with automatically categorising expenses, flagging policy violations, and spotting trends and anomalies.
The power of AI and ML is that it can crunch through massive datasets at speeds, levels of accuracy and volumes that no human could hope to achieve. This, in turn, could enable finance leaders to access quality, real-time business insights that help them make strategic business decisions. It could also automate many routine and repetitive finance activities.
Unlocking the value of data and elevating automation
AI and ML could, for instance, learn how to tag and assign transactions to the correct ledger account based on prior tagging decisions and rules. During an audit, AI and ML capabilities could quickly scan large amounts of data to uncover anomalies. AI is also key to creating chatbot and voice interfaces, which can help make financial systems more user friendly.
In delivering these benefits, AI will support CFOs as their role evolves beyond compliance, recordkeeping and reporting, and more towards becoming digital transformation experts who articulate the future of the business. AI will free them from many routine tasks that currently take up much of their time and give them rich insights for an expanded role in the business.
The good news is that finance professionals who have embarked on cloud migration will be well placed to harness AI and ML in the years to come. Many of the features and tools mentioned above will begin to appear in mainstream finance and accounting solutions sooner than many finance professionals anticipate.