Steve Georgiou: Could a charity digital strategy give you more from your finance system?

05 Feb 2019 Expert insight

Steve Georgiou from Xpedition explains how charities can get the most out of their finance systems.

As charities turn towards AI to help them reach their goals (the British Heart Foundation has started to use the Amazon Alexa donation capabilities while Breast Cancer Care has developed skills, including a breast awareness tool for Alexa), how can your business do the same? How can you ensure that your finance system is working in a way that offers you the most up to date and secure processes?

Include your finance team in your decision making

"For charities in the midst of digital transformation, finance and IT leaders can add value by using the ‘line of sight’ across the organisation to understand what is happening, acting as a force for good in championing successful change”. – Charity Finance Group and Eduserv

Does your finance team find the functionality of your current system limiting and unable to perform tasks as required and in a timely fashion? By understanding those financial “day-to-day” tasks, and how best to refine them, you can start to see the real benefit of an effective digital strategy. With next generation financial management software, users can complete purchase orders, manage partial VAT and produce SORP reports with ease. Further flexible and accurate impact reporting can be achieved by using Microsoft Power BI to integrate your data across your organisation to gain “one version of the truth” across not only financial system data but also fundraising and grant management too. 

Use the cloud

Another benefit of using an up to date ERP is that you can enjoy access to the cloud. For a charity that needs to keep all of its donors and recipients details safe and secure, this has to be the best option, and should make up part of your charity digital strategy. 

“Organisations that do not have a high-level cloud strategy driven by their business strategy will significantly increase their risk of failure and wasted investment”. David
W. Cearley. Vice President, Gartner Research

Data security is one reason that charities would want to utilise the cloud, but equally as important is the fact that they may outgrow their current system, and if that were to happen there would be lags and delays. Storing everything in the cloud would prevent this. There is no need to deal with an outdated system that just doesn’t do what you need it to.

Past performance is easy to read

In any kind of business, charity or not, to succeed, past performance must always be part of the upcoming strategy. Finding this information may once have been a laborious task, but with today’s technology, it is now simple, enabling a charity digital strategy to easily be created in which the necessary changes can be made. Charities currently often rely on highly manual processes. Not only does this take time, but there is room for human error too. Automating and integrating as much as possible will ensure that time is saved and information is accurate.

AI and machine learning within your charity digital strategy

During conversations with organisations now, we are having to ask ourselves what foresight and insight AI can add. System bank ledgers can be automatically reconciled with the bank statement, by identifying patterns in the entries and references.  Cash flow forecasting and purchase planning can draw upon system data, manual inputs and machine learning to predict what is likely to happen over the coming days and months.  Supplier invoices can be read by the system, 3-way matching performed and purchase invoices created and presented for approval, all without a single keystroke.

Using out of the box functionality, our clients in the charity sector are increasingly using the standard machine learning models provided for forecasting and speeding up the flow of their organisation. The largest emergent trends bringing direct effects are in mining their available data for foresight that is enabling them to react ahead of time to threats and opportunities. A modern system should integrate effortlessly with your existing platforms too. With most organisations using Office 365, the proposition of seamless and minimal cost integration is great news. By unifying these assets you can add real value and streamline processes: with just a few clicks you can complete all invoicing tasks without even leaving Outlook.

The essentials for a charity digital strategy

Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic. - Arthur C. Clarke

Even if your budget is a limited one, creating a charity digital strategy that can be implemented simply shouldn’t be out of your reach. Involving your finance team is hugely important; they are the ones, after all, who understand where each penny is being used and how effective that use is. Using a system that can be adapted to you and grow with you is also vital. It should utilise the cloud ensuring that your data and processes are secure, and enable you to gain untapped insights that will help you to make decisions in the future. Plus, where possible, it should harness the power of AI and machine learning.

With a system like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, these capabilities are well catered for. And, with a potential discount of 60 per cent for charitable organisations, it is certainly a significant option that will enable your organisation to achieve value for money. 

For more information on our digital strategy for charities, join Xpedition's free upcoming event this February. 

Steve Georgiou is a senior account manager at Xpedition

Civil Society News would like to thank Xpedition for its support with this article. 

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