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The Aptitude Blog

Changing the game

August 16, 2023
Posted by Sarah Werner

Previously published in The Digital CFO magazine (Summer 2023)

As the Finance category VP within Microsoft Dynamics 365, Georg Glantschnig has a clear vision for the future of finance and the role Microsoft Cloud solutions can play in the transformation of this key function.

Recently, he sat down with Aptitude Software CEO, Jeremy Suddards, to discuss how he sees the Finance function changing, the transformative impact of AI and the role of ISV Connect partners in meeting the needs of tomorrow’s finance teams.

Jeremy Suddards: I’m thrilled to be joined today by Georg Glantschnig, VP, Dynamics 365 at Microsoft, to discuss how we are equipping CFOs to drive transformation inside their organizations. Georg, welcome and thanks so much for joining me today – really excited about the conversation we’re going to have.

Georg Glantschnig: Thank you so much for inviting me, looking forward to the conversation as well.

Jeremy Suddards: At Aptitude, we’ve been working with finance leaders for decades and I know Microsoft has as well so I’m curious if you agree with the perspective that we’re seeing a real shift in the role of the CFO. Traditionally, the CFO was quite often ‘looking in the rear-view mirror’ and reporting on history rather than looking forward. In the last five years though, we’ve seen Finance become a key strategic driver in the boardroom and the focus of the organization is coming down to the data on which they sit. Curious to hear if you are seeing a similar shift. Also, I know you recently published some research and would love to hear some of your findings.

Georg Glantschnig: At Microsoft we have a deep history of working with CFOs as well. We actually just published our third edition of the Future of Finance Trends Report where we surveyed over 500 finance leaders to get their perspectives on the future of finance. It was interesting to see that the leading organizations we surveyed are all trying to strike a balance between speed of business, risk mitigations, cost reductions, growth, acceleration, human inventions, and AI. I think this study really showed that finance teams are facing calls to innovate from every direction within the organization. I also think CFOs are becoming more and more influential, specifically in companies that are taking digital transformation seriously because they want to see real outcomes and real impacts.

To your point earlier, about shifting from a back mirror view into forwardlooking decision making – you need to be able to simulate, to have these what-if scenarios, you want to have planning capabilities – so, I see the role of my organization and my team being to help these finance leaders shift from accounting and reporting to the role of innovators and change catalysts. I think the investments Microsoft is making in AI puts us in a great position to add value for our customers.

Jeremy Suddards: Absolutely, and I think that’s a big switch that we’re just going to see continue to accelerate. So, if you think about the research you just mentioned and you think about where Microsoft is investing, what are the technologies that you think are going to make the biggest difference for the finance teams of the future?

Georg Glantschnig: We are in the midst of such an exciting time for finance leaders and professionals. To provide some context from our survey, 79% of finance leaders believe that to meet the needs of the future, finance must play a significant role in owning business innovations and empowering transformation across the organization. And I think now more than ever, finance teams are focused on transformation, innovation, and specifically, on the future.

To your question about technology, finance teams are being pushed to do more – while not getting more staff. So, I think this new era of finance needs a technology solution that allows them, as the old saying goes, to do more with less. I believe that generative AI is an absolute game changer here. I think it creates this vision of autonomous financial processes where ERP systems are not only streamlining workflows and exceptions, but they can also use AI to solve problems, identify trends, and be more proactive. It makes connecting data and surfacing insights – especially on huge data sets – possible for the first time.

I also think AI provides, what I’ll call, this assistance to humans. So, we are not trying to take humans out of the equation, just allowing them to do more with less, as we said before. And in terms of this historically linear relationship between revenue growth and financial staffing, I think Microsoft itself has shown how we can break this relationship. If you think about Microsoft over the last five years, revenue has doubled but the staffing in the finance department has only increased by a couple of percentage points. That represents a huge increase in productivity. I think part of the mission my team is trying to deliver on is how can we help customers to overcome the traditional blockers of adopting AI, analytics, automation so that we can really boost their productivity.

I think this new era of finance needs a technology solution that allows them, as the old saying goes, to do more with less.

Jeremy Suddards: One of the things we’re thinking about at Aptitude is helping finance automate everything. To us, that means taking finance teams to a point where data flows are fully automated, the financial close happens instantly, decision-making is supported in real time and finance professionals are doing far more interesting and valuable things. If we take that ‘automate everything’ idea to its kind of natural conclusion, how do you think about that creation of a truly autonomous finance function?

Georg Glantschnig: At Microsoft, automation is one of the three A’s of finance innovation – automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence – and I think automation is critical for finance organizations as they transition into a more strategic role. If you say yes to strategic decision making, if you say yes to owning business model innovation and all the cool stuff we just talked about, you also have to say no to something because a day, unfortunately, only has 24 hours. So, I think customers have to say no to tedious, manual, error-prone processes.

I think you have to offer this automation at the pace of the customer. We work with customers at very different levels of automation so what we are trying to do at Microsoft is ask how we can ensure automation capabilities can be rolled out in a flexible way so it can be configurable and scalable. The ultimate goal, is an autonomous, continuous close process. You want real-time insights activated. You want, of course, to have this secure and at every level of the organization. I know it sounds like a dream, but I think this dream is about to come true.

The impact of generative AI on reporting, analytics, on insights, on planning, on forecasting will be major. Gone are these times where you need deep data science expertise, where you have to spend hours and hours just slicing and dicing data. I think with AI, finance professionals will be able to ask questions and get data and insights very quickly that they can use to make informed and better decisions.

Jeremy Suddards: The three A’s of finance innovation, I love that. So, we’ve talked about the changing of the function and role technology is playing. But I think we have to talk about how the role of the finance professional is changing as well. I’m seeing a very different kind of person in the finance function today. They’re very data driven, they want to be empowered to use technology rather than rely on other parts of the organization and there’s this push to create a narrative so that stakeholders can focus on the key points rather than looking at a bunch of data. How does Microsoft think about designing their products for the finance professional of the future?

Automation capabilities can be rolled out in a flexible way so it can be configurable and scalable. The ultimate goal, is an autonomous, continuous close process. You want real-time insights activated. You want, of course, to have this secure and at every level of the organization. I know it sounds like a dream, but I think this dream is about to come true.

Georg Glantschnig: I’d say that’s a very valid and important point. And I think empowering finance professionals to be more than, I call it the numbers guy – not meant in a negative way – to become a catalyst through storytelling, is a critical part of the technology we’re developing.

For example, we recently delivered enhancements for what we call a collection experience or a collection agent with Microsoft Copilot. The collection agent not only has KPIs, of course, but it also provides talking points to help you proactively have a conversation and communicate with your customers. This is critical because I think the modern collection process is not just about hounding customers for payments, it’s about working proactively with customers to keep these accounts in a good standing while driving customer loyalty.

I think you also have a lot of examples where you can use AI to improve accounts payable, and good examples for record to report. I think in every area of finance there are a lot of enhancements coming. And when I think about AI, you know, the A in AI for us is not Artificial. It’s Augmented Intelligence because we still feel that generative AI can help finance people to make better and faster decisions. And I think the enhancements we have seen now in, in ChatGPT and GPT-4 specifically for numeric data, I think for me is beyond impressive. We just did a hackathon with my own team in our development environment, and we delivered what we call summarization features for project managers and for financial analysts. Is it already a hundred percent? I don’t think so, but honestly, if I can get a proposal at 80% complete that I can work on compared to starting from scratch? I think it’s a huge game changer.

Jeremy Suddards: When I speak to our clients, the value of our accounting hub and subledger technology is all about the data that sits within them and the ability to create these great big data sets that people can start to mine. AI, of course, completely changes the game. The volume and the output just go up exponentially and start to make real-time data a reality. It also means that the decisions the businesses make can literally be in the moment as opposed to at a period end. How do you see AI specifically changing the finance function and what do you think organizations need to do to prepare themselves to be able to take advantage of the opportunity?

Georg Glantschnig: At Microsoft, we are really committed to revolutionizing the future of finance by harnessing the power of what we call intelligent, composable technologies. We are trying to infuse AI, automation, analytics – the three A’s I mentioned before – into every business process. This is allowing us to unlock a completely new era of productivity and help finance and operations teams shift how they are working.

If you look at generative AI capabilities from Microsoft, I think it marks a transformative chapter in the evolution of ERP systems. I strongly believe we are at an inflection point there and I think with this ability we talked about to speed up insights, intelligently automate processes, drive faster productivity, I think the AI revolution has the potential to help finance teams stay ahead of the increased complexity that every company is facing.

I really encourage everybody to listen to some of the sessions from Microsoft Build, the event we held recently. If you have time, watch the keynotes of Satya Nadella, of Kevin Scott, our CTO, of Scott Guthrie, who is leading Cloud and AI. They really explain and outline how we provide our AI platform based on Azure and how we are delivering on all these promises we’ve talked about today in a reliable, responsible, and safe way. This AI platform is the foundation my teams are using to build the scenarios we’ve talked about, it’s the same foundation our partners will use and the same foundation our customers will use. And because of this, I think we will see a huge acceleration of innovation and new solutions.

Jeremy Suddards: It’s interesting you use the word ‘composable’ there as it’s absolutely one of the key principles we have adopted in the development of Fynapse. I think part of today’s view of composable, which both our organizations share, is that clients expect us to drive significantly more integration work ahead of client implementation. That really is what allows clients to get the benefit of best of breed components with the tight integration that you get with a single stack, single vendor engagement. What’s your take on that?

Georg Glantschnig: It’s a very interesting point of view. When I think about these terms – best of breed or best of suite, versus full stack I think they were more relevant in the on-premise era. Innovation was delivered at a much slower pace – maybe every two years clients were receiving new updates. Now, in the cloud, innovation cycles are much faster – for example, we ship in monthly cycles. So, I completely agree with your statement, but I think the lines between best of breed and single stack are more blurry in today’s cloud environment. Today, I think for me it’s more like an and versus an or. It’s not a decision you have to make. Composability, extensibility are core with the products in the Microsoft Cloud we’re delivering.

As we look across the Microsoft Cloud, including of course, Dynamics, Power Platform, I think there’s no reason why a customer should lock themselves into a single stack or, as we call it, a black box suite, which is very difficult to change. I think organizations of all sizes need a flexible platform that can integrate with best of breed solutions and I think Microsoft AppSource supports this position for us.

Jeremy Suddards: So that brings me to my final question. We were thrilled to become an ISV Connect Partner last year and have seen incredible value in the relationship, both from engaging with Microsoft go to market teams, but also in making sure our technology integrations happen really quickly. Can you talk about some of the reasons why Microsoft selected Aptitude as an ISV Connect Partner and the joint benefits are delivering to our clients?

Georg Glantschnig: Absolutely. I think one of the main differentiators we have is our unique ERP marketplace for ISV solutions. Microsoft has a large ERP marketplace offering and I think it’s a very compelling for our customers because they will find a solution for almost every situation. They are not depending on the speed of our innovation but rather the platform we provide and the combined capabilities of our partner ecosystem.

So, in this context, selecting Aptitude as an ISV Connect Partner was a very smart decision! Our large, global customers hoping to consolidate everything into one single system – I think is a dream and I think it might stay a dream forever because these companies, they invest, they divest, they merge, they acquire. I think what they need is an affordable way of connecting data from across different ledgers to subledgers and to create insights and consolidated financial reporting.

I think the technology integration of Aptitude’s Fynapse solution and Microsoft Dynamics 365 will provide our customers with a single source of truth, real-time processing, reduced time to close, enhanced audit controls, and better financial analytics. I think with one cohesive solution, we will turn the complexity of finance digitalization into an opportunity to achieve more with less. I think it’s a huge game changer.

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This blog post was written by:

Sarah Werner
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