Out of the shadows: How the cloud can help back office functions drive growth

Old Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and small business finance applications simply can’t scale at the speed demanded by fast-growing start-ups.

But, with a modern cloud-based ERP system, back-office functions such as finance can automate many mundane processes. And ensure a real-time flow of clean and reliable data that supports the commercial sales-led front-office teams.

There is often tension between traditionally risk-averse back office functions and more commercially-focused front-line functions in start-ups and fast-growing businesses.

Back office vs front office

As a back office function, finance has important regulatory, compliance and auditing tasks to undertake. Yet the nature of fast-growing start-ups is that they are sales-led.

This can fuel a perception within a start-up that there are those in the front office functions such as sales and marketing adding value and helping it to grow and make money, while back office functions such as finance are holding the business back.

This can lead to a dysfunctional relationship with finance estranged from the rest of the business. But it’s an issue that needs to be nipped in the bud early on.

Supporting the business more directly is now firmly on the agenda for finance departments.

Finance must take on a wider role in disseminating information that can be used to help the business make smarter decisions.

And that means the data flowing from the back office to the front office must not only be clean and reliable but also available in a timely manner.

That requires processes and IT systems with as little manual intervention as possible to ensure speed and accuracy of data.

To achieve that requires the right technology and tools, and the fact is that most older ERP and small business finance applications struggle to scale at the speed demanded by the commercial functions in a start-up.

This slows the business down and hinders growth because information doesn’t get through to sales and business development teams in a timely fashion that enables them to make the best decisions quickly.

The finance director, chief finance officer (CFO), or whoever is responsible for the finance function in a start-up, must plan to implement systems and processes that automate as much of the drudgery and the manual processes as possible.

And, most importantly, these systems and processes must be agile enough to move fast and scale up as the business grows.

Realising the benefits of a modern cloud-based ERP system

A modern cloud-based ERP system can deliver that automation, agility, flexibility and scalability.

Not only does this help produce compliance-focused and management information more quickly, it reduces the amount of time finance and accounting staff need to spend checking data and releases them for more value-adding tasks working together with the front-line business teams.

This also brings new skills requirements for the finance team and the rest of the business.

Experts are needed to understand how the systems can manipulate data.

Importantly, these new roles will need communication skills and a commercial focus to be able to work with other front-line teams to understand how they operate and what information they need to run the business better.

Finance staff who are freed up from traditional manual compliance drudgery, plus good real-time data, are a virtuous pair for any start-up or fast-growing business. And it means no-one is ‘holding the business back’.

A modern cloud-based ERP system helps to break the barriers down between the back and front office and ensures everyone is playing their part in growing the business and making more money.

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