Is technology driving your Finance Transformation – Or DEFINING it?

Finance Transformation is enabled – not defined – by IT

Barbara Hodge asks Ken Lee, Vice President of Global Business Services and Transformation at Avery Dennison, about technology’s positive role in enabling global services.

Barbara Hodge: Ken, thanks for joining me.

Ken Lee: I’m happy to be here.

BH: To date, what does the shared services operation look like at Avery Dennison?

KL: Our operation is quite small, as shared services is at a relatively early and growing stage. Our focus is on expanding Finance shared services where penetration is especially low. One of the ways in which we are doing that is by enabling shared services through our technology.

In terms of scope, from an IT standpoint the penetration is far greater, especially amongst infrastructure, helpdesk, application support, etc. Within HR we tend to do the typical payroll, benefit administration, HRIS support. And in Finance we do have some shared services mainly transactional activities but the intent is to expand penetration quite significantly.

BH: What’s your priority right now?

KL: My highest priority right now is to transform our Finance function. And we plan to use technology to enable that transformation.

BH: Describe to me the lead that IT is taking in this transformation.

KL: Well, with any functional transformation, especially Finance, IT can be a significant enabler to success. I think it’s important to understand how this happens. Often, when people think about systems, especially from a Finance perspective, they think of the pure operating system that Finance utilizes; but this limits the extent to which value is maximized. When we set out to transform our Finance function, we really embraced IT as an enabler or as a catalyst to transform our function – and therefore "IT" became one of three legs on which our transformation was built. The other two legs were "process" and "people".

BH: So if we dig a bit deeper … what have you changed? What have you invested in? How is this panning out?

KL: In the past when we have tried to implement system change we approached it as a system implementation – in other words, we thought about how we were doing things already and how we would utilize the system to automate or execute the processes that we already had in place. However, when we decided to do the transformation this time around we looked at it differently we realized that a lot of the ERP platforms or financial systems already incorporate a lot of best practices, so, rather than trying to force-fit a system to accommodate our current processes, we thought, ‘why don’t we learn from what other people have done, and what they’ve incorporated into their financial systems, and let’s see what best practices we can adopt – and therefore help us transform’. So this really served as laying out a roadmap for helping us to transform.

BH: So if I understand you rightly, Ken, what you’re saying is that you’ve shown flexibility on the process end, a willingness to adapt in order to benefit from some of the technological innovations that exist today?

KL: Exactly. We definitely were willing to adapt. And secondly, we were willing to standardize. I think in the past, we were sometimes a victim of excess customization, in other words: thinking that the system had to perform according to the way we were doing things today, rather than saying, ‘so many people have already gone down this path, so rather than recreating the wheel, let’s learn from them, adopt best practices, and try to standardize across our different business units,’ – which then opens up a whole bunch of different levers from both a process and a people standpoint.

BH: But now here’s the challenge, I guess: do your customers see it like that? What are the pros and cons from their perspective, given they are giving up some of the ‘customization’ that I imagine they are pretty attached to?

KL: Again, different from previous system implementations, we involved our customers from the very start. We started with workshops to introduce them to best practices that were already incorporated into the systems and processes that the financial systems would include. We then asked why they felt they could not adopt these new processes and systems, and we brought in external advisers to explain how other companies were utilizing these best practice processes and systems to drive improvements through their Finance functions. I think that approach – of involving customers early and providing compelling evidence as to how other companies were utilizing these processes and systems – helped convince them and gain their buy-in from the very start. Thus the game plan became our "collective" game plan and not just the "project team’s" game plan. By comparison, in the past we had perhaps made the mistake of creating systems, doing unveiling it at the end, and then getting the backlash from customers who were sure that the systems wouldn’t meet their needs, simply because they didn’t understand the changes and weren’t involved in the development.

BH: What kind of forums did you establish for this customer interaction?

KL: We led facilitated workshops from the very start, where customers met us to explain how they were currently doing things. Our plan was never to simply automate their processes based on the status quo. However, we really wanted to understand the current processes and their objectives. Then, as we started to do gap-fit analyses between current processes and best practices, we again hosted workshops and involved those stakeholders so that they understood how their needs would still be addressed, even if the processes and systems were different.

BH: When you go through big transformations like this, I suppose one of the challenges is: do you take it step by step, or do you take a long view? What was your approach?

KL: We’re taking quite a long view. We’re looking three to five years out and then we’re stepping back and figuring out how much change the organization can bear along that three-to-five year journey. So our milestones include the flexibility to change aspects of our processes, our systems and our organization along the way, should that be necessary. As a result, we’ve had to make some difficult decisions as to what things would or would not be in scope for now. However our intent is, over the three to five year timeframe, to bring some of those geographies and functional areas that weren’t originally in scope back in, so that we can fully transform our function around the globe.

BH: Ken, in closing, if you were to share some tips on how to get the best out of technology investment, which is obviously a major expense, what would you say?

KL: I would say a couple of things: Oftentimes, when companies try to implement systems, they tend to be IT-led initiatives and, therefore, end up as mere system implementations that reflect current "as is" processes, which can result in excessive customization, rather than incorporating the best practices that a system can really provide. Secondly, I truly believe that, in order for you to transform with IT as an enabler, the function needs to fully partner with IT. If you look at our project work structure, it’s almost ‘two in a box’, where we have a functional Finance lead and an IT lead. And throughout the project structure you’ll see that mirrored, starting all the way at the top, where our CFO and our CIO both co-chair our governance steering committee. That same sentiment is carried throughout the project structure: From a project leadership standpoint we have a Finance VP partnered with an IT head and they share joint accountability for the execution of the program. And then within each of our process teams it’s the same. I think that close partnership throughout the structure keeps everything in balance so one side doesn’t drive it unintentionally one way versus the other. I think that balance is really important.

I think the other key piece is that from the beginning, even within our own company, we had to fight the impression that this was just another Oracle implementation. We had to remind ourselves constantly that we were not just implementing Oracle, because it’s just so easy to put a label on your transformation. We really had to pull ourselves away from that thinking and that’s what helped open our minds to challenging ourselves around other process and organizational changes we could make to truly transform.

BH: Ken, thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure speaking with you today.

KL: Thank you.