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Building a finance tech stack for uncertain times

Today’s heightened economic uncertainty, fueled by the headwinds of COVID-19 variants, inflation and the Great Resignation, requires an intense focus on employee experience and the right team mindset to adapt to whatever 2022 has in store. Accounting must reimagine its technology stack to stay nimble and adjust to the ever-changing, digitally driven world we live in.

COVID has forever transformed the way work gets done. Remote and hybrid work is now a workplace staple, as the traditional model of requiring five days at a desk job has become outdated and unnecessary. Moreover, the pandemic has changed the accounting team’s priorities. The tight labor market has placed employee experience front and center, and, for the first time, the finance department can see a direct connection to their ability to affect employee retention.

Traditionally, employee experience was not seen as accounting’s problem. However, with workers requiring access to technology tools from home, and companies fighting against labor shortages, hiring challenges and “the big quit,” that perspective is evolving — so much that nearly every department can now claim at least partial ownership of the employee experience. In today’s digitally connected world, employees interact with technology in every aspect of their lives, and they expect their work environment to be similarly seamless and pain-free. Accounting is no longer just about the end report; modern accounting teams need to think about how all employees use their systems and what can be done to make the experience as smooth and as positive as possible.

How to think like a product team

To foster a superior employee experience, it’s helpful for accounting teams to think like a product team, and consider the following questions: Who are our users? What is their experience from beginning to end? What is their desired outcome? How can they accomplish what they need quickly and easily?

Users (or in this case, employees) increasingly encompass tech-savvy millennials and digital-native Gen Z. Research suggests that the younger the employee, the more self-reliant and independent they will be. Having self-service, employee-facing accounting software available stands to create efficiencies and enhance user-experience.

There are many benefits to a finance team thinking like a product team. It makes them more agile and able to adjust in real time instead of waiting to assess how well they are performing. Perhaps most importantly, product teams are user-focused and recognize that a product that’s inefficient or difficult to use will fall by the wayside, benefiting no one. Employee experience is one of the key drivers of software success and can be the determining factor between widespread adoption and failed implementation.

Every good product team knows just how important it is to take inventory of current technology and evaluate room for improvement. This includes looking at the return on investment that is currently being delivered and identifying any pain points negatively impacting their user (employee) journey. Are systems being used properly, or are there common misuses and/or poor adoption rates? Are there areas that are particularly inefficient and time-consuming? Automation can create efficiencies and reduce redundant manual labor, freeing up employees to focus on the overarching company mission. For example, if submitting vendor invoices is a sore spot, implementing a SaaS platform could help simplify the process and cut down accounting’s time spent troubleshooting.

During the inventory process, it is also important to consider all of the company’s organizational needs (i.e., corporate card spend, purchase orders, invoices from contract/freelance staff, etc.) and determine which types of tools are required and at what level. Then, weigh out how seamless and intuitive integrations are for employees and the finance department. If employees frequently need to submit expenses and facilitate purchase orders on different platforms, how simple is it for them to navigate between the two? Adoption can be further increased by meeting users where they work. Collaboration tools are becoming more important pieces of the remote/hybrid digital office, so it’s imperative to consider solutions that can be integrated right into these platforms to maximize efficiency.

Additional considerations should include whether employees will be directly interacting with software, in what ways, and from where. On a most basic level, cloud-based employee resource planning software (which general employees typically do not touch) is almost crucial to maintaining a modern business that balances freelance/gig workers and a hybrid workforce. For platforms that every employee has the potential to touch (i.e., spend management, expenses, etc.), ease of use should be a key driver in what software is chosen.

How to create the ideal tech stack for 2022 and beyond

Now more than ever, accounting can support broader company goals regarding HR, recruiting and retention by creating solutions that serve employees. Adopting a product-team mindset and viewing the employee as an end user creates a superior end-to-end process. Plus, when employees are able to utilize platforms with greater ease, they’re less likely to bog down accounting with back-and-forth questions and needless submission errors.

A 2022+ tech stack empowers employees to make smarter decisions without having to hold the accounting team up. Automation guides users through software, helping them take the right action at the right time. The availability of data enables employees to make smarter decisions, without having to ask accounting to pull one-off reports. Any new system should be easy to implement and maintain. The less that admin and IT resources are required, the more sustainable and scalable the solution will be in the long run. Accounting can use their tech stack to simplify their work and worry less about fire drills, and employees should not consider expenses to be their biggest nightmare each month.

The ideal accounting tech stack serves to keep the company fool-proof in the face of uncertainty and change. Accounting leaders that successfully zero in on employee experience will usher their team into the future of finance.