Automation » Realising the value of AI as a CFO of a digital business

Realising the value of AI as a CFO of a digital business

AI will automate business workflows and remove mundane manual work, allowing finance teams to focus on problem-solving, which they are still better at than computers

Over the past decade, humanity has arguably taken artificial intelligence for granted – take for example asking Alexa to tell you what the weather will be today. Or having product recommendations driven to us by some of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms.

For CFOs within the digital business in a Software as a Service (SaaS) world, there is the possibility to derive value from AI—but you might not know it yet.

In this article, two businesses reveal where they are in their AI journeys and what it means for their products and services.

Gaining a competitive edge with AI

Forecast is a SaaS business that sells project and resource management software. It stands out from competitors such as Trello, Asana and Basecamp by using AI to help project team members understand their work.

In the past four years, Forecast has grown significantly, beginning as a Danish startup with a team of computer scientists and becoming an 80-strong business with offices in Copenhagen, London and New York.

They have received around $40m (£33m) of funding and were named in the Deloitte Fast 50 as one of the top 50 fastest-growing technology companies in the UK. The global online project management software market is expected to attain a value of $6.08bn (£5.05bn) by 2025.

Dennis Kayser co-founded Forecast to tackle the problem of chaotic projects that never came in on time or within budget. He wanted to create a holistic finance, resource and project management system with a best-in-class user interface and experience and used AI and machine learning to connect existing systems such as Salesforce, HubSpot and Sage.

The success of Forecast shows there is a strong demand for AI-based software for complex processes.

Getting an AI product to market

The founders of Forecast originally wanted to bootstrap the business, but as the complexity of the questions they needed to answer grew, they realised they needed external financing to accelerate development.

After a period of free usage, they started monetising and successfully attracted $40m in funding.

However, Kayser cautions that it is not an easy process, and recommends warm introductions and a knowledge of the target market and product as the key to successful fundraising.

Scaling the business

Forecast needed to bring in more people to scale and grow, especially in the US market.

They hired a finance director, CFO and VP of sales & marketing and are building a Centre of Excellence in New York. They also took a critical look at their technology to make sure it was fit for purpose and able to scale with the business.

Right at the beginning, Forecast’s founders were content with bringing in technology that worked best at the time. However, as the business matured, any tech that did not fit with how Forecast grew would have to be replaced.

For example, with financial accounting, Forecast started with a small Danish system, moving on to QuickBooks and other systems in different regions—it started to get complicated, and that is when it turned to Sage Intacct.

Simone Goodman, CFO of Forecast says: “At the same time as bringing people in, you take a critical look at the tech you have in place and whether it’s fit for purpose, today and tomorrow. “Does it play harmoniously with your systems, and can it scale with your business? If not, rip it out and replace it.”

Opting not to develop AI tools in-house

Pete Hanlon, CTO of Moneypenny, a communications provider, has been driving the company’s digital transformation since 2019. He has overseen the development of a cloud platform and is exploring the use of AI in customer service, telephone services and live chat.

He believes that deep learning, specifically NLP, offers many opportunities in the space. Pete suggests that businesses should leverage third-party SaaS platforms instead of developing their own AI technology.

“You could spend months building a scalable infrastructure that could never turn into a real product. Instead, leverage a SaaS platform. Don’t build it yourself. Let others build the technology for you who know what they’re doing,” he says.

Hanlon stresses the importance of understanding the business impact of AI for the CFO, which includes considering capital and operational expenditure and being able to explain the technology and its roadmap.

Opportunities on the horizon

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the limitations of current systems, resulting in a need for digital transformation. Tech leaders such as Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google have made highly publicised investments in AI while OpenAI’s ChatGPT has opened the eyes of many people to the potential of machine learning.

AI has proven to be a solution to real-life problems, attracting businesses’ attention. Forecast’s Kayser says AI technology has matured and advises digital businesses to leverage existing AI technologies instead of building their own.

He believes AI will automate business workflows and remove mundane manual work, allowing humans to focus on problem-solving, which they are still better at than computers.

To read more on this topic, see Sage’s latest blog post here. Similarly, if you’d like to know more about how Sage Intacct helped Forecast on its growth journey, watch the recent webinar here

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