By Simon Williams, Global Product Owner, Fynapse, Aptitude Software
Previously published in The Digital CFO magazine (Summer 2023)
A dynamic user experience isn’t typically the first thing that comes to mind when you think of software solutions for finance teams. Between the legacy systems that many organizations still manage and the data security and governance requirements necessary to handle sensitive data and information, CFOs and their teams can be left with clunky and manual-heavy solutions.
However, as finance teams are increasingly tasked with providing strategic guidance to the business, backed by sound data and analytics, their ability to access intuitive, integrated, user-friendly tools are critical.
Why should the CFO care about finance user design?
Manual journal entries. Data lifting and shifting. Managing excel spreadsheets.
Subjecting finance teams to these sorts of manual, time-consuming tasks is a quick way to lose talent, drive up the cost of finance and limit the strategic value the finance function brings to the organization. Today’s finance professionals expect more intuitive applications that prioritize a positive user experience.
So, how does a CFO benefit from a solution designed with the finance professional in mind?
It’s not a secret that there is a talent shortage in the finance function. According to one 2022 survey, 75% of CFO respondents stated the talent shortage was impacting revenue. Additionally, Deloitte revealed that 82% of hiring managers at public companies feel that recruiting accounting and financial talent is a significant challenge.
While things like salary and benefits will likely be primary drivers for recruitment and retention, many organizations also want to ensure finance professionals have the tools they need to contribute to the strategic growth of the business rather than executing repetitive, manual processes which leave teams burnt out.
When finance teams are empowered to use a solution without IT assistance, organizations can save on costs associated with IT staffing, training and software maintenance. Finance teams that can access intuitive user interfaces and pre-built integrations to access the data they need, analyze it and make informed decisions can also reduce the burden on the IT department, freeing up their time to focus on other initiatives.
Speed to market
In addition to cost reduction, empowering finance teams to operate independently can also lead to improved efficiency, accuracy and speed to market. Finance professionals are experts in their field so by giving them the autonomy to operate within a solution, they can customize accounting rules, workflows or reports to meet their specific needs and more efficiently complete finance tasks. This can also streamline processes and reduce the risk of errors that can occur when trying to translate finance requirements to an IT audience.
Designing with the finance user in mind
There are a few key terms to understand as you think about software designed for the finance user. Most have likely heard of user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design. These are related terms but have slightly different meanings.
UX, or user experience, refers to the overall experience that a user has with a product or service. It encompasses all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product, including how easy it is to use, how enjoyable it is to use, and how well it meets the user’s needs.
UI, or user interface, refers specifically to the visual and interactive elements that the user interacts with. This includes things like buttons, menus, forms, and other graphical elements. UI design is focused on creating an interface that is visually appealing, easy to understand, and easy to use.
Overall, the role of a UX and UI researcher is to bring the user’s perspective into the design process by gathering data and insights about user behavior and preferences.
We all know that feeling when an application or solution is just intuitive and easy to use. Each feature and function make sense and works together to help us achieve the task at hand. However, enterprise finance solutions too often sacrifice user experience when compromises have to be made.
When we designed Fynapse, Aptitude’s finance management platform, we wanted to adhere to a number of core design principles. Fynapse would be cloud native, modular, easy to integrate into a broader finance ecosystem, deliver the highest quality data experience and, crucially, be designed with the finance user at its core. Below, I’ve outlined some of the key design considerations to ensure the best user experience.
With enough time and money, development teams can build just about anything. But when thinking about user design, simplicity goes a long way.
Development teams need to ask themselves what the client is actually trying to achieve and then find the balance between ease of use, functionality delivered, frequency of use and the cost to build. But too often, finance teams have to compromise on the user design and experience. Through customer research and data, development teams can focus on maintaining the needed balance between user experience and functionality.
One example of this in Fynapse is around the way finance users typically consume accounting and finance data. In solutions like Excel, users must move between transaction level details and balances by navigating between a series of tables.
In Fynapse, we created a visual flow of data that the user can view in one screen so they can see the entire data path from the business event level to the journal level and through to accounts. This makes investigating and interrogating the data much easier.
Today’s finance architectures rely on tightly integrated technology ecosystems that provide a network of best-of-breed solutions to deliver the capabilities needed by today’s finance function.
When designing finance solutions, developers need to take into consideration the overall experience of a finance team member as they move between solutions. Developing solutions to easily integrate with other products can help improve data quality, cross-departmental collaboration and increase the strategic value of the finance function.
In addition to integration with technology solutions from other vendors, designing a solution that is modular also allows finance teams to select what modules they need to solve their specific problem and forgo non-necessary components.
Creating a user experience that is visually familiar can increase ease of use. Ensuring that various buttons and signposts appear and function the same across all screens establishes familiarity for the user. The focus should be on ensuring the screen provides the expected experience and information.
Fynapse utilizes a library of design components to help with the consistency between screens. Similarly, all of the tables have the same structure for things like headers, filters or the way you drill into account balances for details. Finally, Fynapse takes into account accessibility criteria as defined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure it can be used by everyone.
One of the important design decisions we made when building Fynapse was building training and contextual help right into the solution, especially for those items we knew users were going to need to use over and over. This means users can access interactive guidance while using the solution to help them navigate the various elements.
Rather than require a user to consult technical documentation, they can click on the task they are looking to complete and there are templates and configuration accelerators that can speed the process.
For example, when a user wants to create a balance in Fynapse, they can quickly and easily enter a bit of criteria based on what they need, and the system will create the correct balance for them. The template can be saved for later reuse, helping finance teams work more efficiently.
Organizations that prioritize the selection and implementation of solutions designed for the finance user can reap the benefits in the form of increased retention, operational efficiencies and a lower cost of finance and IT.