In the lead up to the Future of Finance and CFO Summit 2019, we spoke with Ian Brimicombe, Senior Vice President Group Finance, Burberry, and Camilla Thorsager Trendell, International Director & Finance Director itsu [grocery], to gain an insight into what the future of finance looks like for two businesses that sit at drastically different ends of the scale.
Like many business seeking to keep up with the demands of a rapidly changing market, both Burberry and itsu [grocery] are looking toward automated technologies to improve the finance function in a time of transformation.
With the opening of Burberry Business Services, a new shared service centre, in Leeds a little over a year ago, Burberry performed what Ian describes as a “lift and shift”, transporting transaction processes (sales order to cash, purchase to pay and record to report) from London. The move is an opportunity to standardise and automate processes underpinned by improved systems and master data management. However, while there is seed capital to explore their application, Ian reveals that RPA and AI are not a significant part of Burberry's current tool kit for process improvement.
Since Camilla joined itsu [grocery] in 2015, the business has increased from 13 to 27 employees, expanded its product range and grown +30% turnover CAGR. To manage this growth, Camilla explains that the business it setting its sights on the introduction of automated processes. She explains, “We essentially want to remove the paper trail and cut down on processing time, whilst improving our controls and transaction records. By taking this next step, our finance function should be able to spend less time processing and more time analysing, which will ultimately help drive decision-making within the business.”
As each business goes through a cycle of transformation, the role and expectations of the their finance professionals are changing.
As the existing processes are transformed and improved within the shared service centre, those within Burberry’s finance function are gifted with the time to offer the business more value added activities. "There is significant demand and opportunity for finance business partners to re-direct their activities and skills to supporting [the] business functions", he explains. To meet this demand, the next 12 to 18 months will be dedicated to ensuring that the business offers the right ongoing skills training for all members of the finance function.
As itsu [grocery] grows, Camilla has identified an opportunity to expand the role of those who work for her and introduce new opportunities for their empowerment. As the business adopts more automated processes, she has offered those who report to her with a chance to apply their expertise and identify the best solutions. The intention here is not only that these employees will learn a great deal in the process. but they will also add value and make a positive financial change within the business.
While Burberry and itsu [grocery] have identified and are executing a strategy to address the future of their finance function, some challenges, inevitabley, still prevail.
As a FTSE 100 company with a market capitalisation of over £8 billion, Burberry is an undeniably substantial enterprise. As a result, it is presented with the challenges of managing obligations to governments and compliance alongside its other stakeholders and shareholders. “In Finance, we have to ensure that we can deliver against all those requirements within a constrained budget, as business wide resources are directed to front line commercial activity,” says Ian. However, one of the biggest challenges currently being tackled by Burberry and its finance function is the transition from its legacy systems into the next stage of finance.
"I think the hardest part of growing a business is the impact it has on the team and processes," shares Camilla. When itsu [grocery] started as an FMCG subsidiary of the itsu restaurant chain in 2007, the focus was to grow quickly. But, as the business progresses in its journey and makes the move from the league of a start-up into that of a smaller sized business, itsu [grocery] now intends to implement more structure. One challenge that Camilla foresees is the ability to maintain that internal communication is still "quick, clear and reaches everyone".
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