First things first: despite any misguided "Excel is dead" stories you may encounter in the upcoming weeks, Excel won't disappear in 2023. The humble spreadsheet remains an essential, if not critical, component of many financial operations.
Therefore, while we won't pay attention to what is or isn't happening to Excel (or Google Sheets), we can predict some CFO tech trends in 2023. In essence, it's all about the economy and promoting business partnering. As the outlook for the 2023 economy becomes more uncertain, finance professionals are looking to invest in technology that increases organizational efficiency and contributes to strategic decision-making.
“Anything that can help you with reducing costs is quite popular at the moment,” said Wouter Born, founder and managing partner at Born Capital, an investment firm specializing in CFO tech. “Of course, in the end, [organizations] always want to add strategic value as well.”
But that’s not the only thing that’s driving tech investment for CFOs in 2023.
Here are some technology trends and innovations that finance professionals may want to keep an eye on in the next year to 18 months:
Doing More with Less.
Although CFOs are optimistic about organizational growth in 2023, they see “cost control as their most urgent imperative” in the face of economic uncertainty, according to the Grant Thorton 2022 Q3 CFO Survey. In that same survey, 41% of respondents said that technology investments could be cut to save costs, but only 11% said that digital transformation expenses would decrease.
During economic downturns, organizations may prioritize finding digital technologies that can help streamline and save costs, particularly in financial planning and analysis, accounting, accounts payable, and accounts receivable, according to Thiago Sachs, co-founder, and managing partner at RVNA, a professional services firm specializing in finance technology.
“It’s all about cost cutting, efficiency, doing more with less,” said Thiago Sachs.
Maximizing ROI with Targeted Solutions.
In 2023, organizations may focus on investing in technology that addresses specific pain points and offers a clear return on investment, such as spend management or accounts payable, rather than broader, more comprehensive investments like enterprise resource planning platforms, according to Born.
“I think the market now trends towards these solutions that don’t solve a whole process but look for added value on a specific point,” he said. “I think those solutions go beyond just efficiency. They’re focused on an outcome: Either your revenue is optimized, or your spend is optimized.”
Not all companies will have the same technology needs, and the focus of technology investment may vary. Larger companies that have already invested in digital technology may consider expanding or supplementing their strategic technology solutions, such as enterprise resource planning platforms, while smaller companies may prioritize addressing tactical pain points, according to Sachs.
On the other hand, Babczenko, PwC's finance consulting leader in the US, predicts a trend towards larger platform investments rather than point solutions. “We expect to see into next year a significant push towards next-gen ERP and moving into cloud,” he said. “That is pervasive across all industries.”
Leading the Way with FP&A.
According to a September 2022 Gartner survey, companies are planning to invest heavily in financial planning and analysis (FP&A) technologies through 2023. As the economy becomes more uncertain, organizations will be seeking technology that increases visibility, offers predictive capabilities, and provides strategic insight. FP&A technology is a top priority, as it offers agility, particularly for smaller companies, according to Born.
“I think companies will need more simulation capability while still needing their formal planning process,” said Born. “More agile forecasts and at least [weekly] forecasting and assimilating on your latest forecast is probably really what companies need today.”
As CFOs increasingly play a critical role in shaping a company's strategic direction, predictive and analytics tools can help finance professionals offer valuable support and partnership to the rest of their organizations, Sachs said.
AI: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time.
Despite the buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) in the financial technology industry, neither Sachs nor Born believe it is quite ready for widespread adoption.
“There is actually a big disconnect between what people expect from AI and finance, and the actual practical solutions,” said Born. “In our strong use cases today, we might see some fraud detection, we might see AI and power forecasting, but it’s all very early stages.”
Despite this, a recent survey conducted by Strategic CFO and Vic.ai found that many organizations are planning to increase their investments in AI. The May survey of 145 CFOs revealed that 58% planned to "increase their investment in automation" through 2023.
Navigating the Talent Challenge in the Finance.
Even with significant investments in technology, companies still need human resources to manage and analyze data. In 2023, this may continue to be a challenge for organizations. A Tradeshift/CFO Dive survey of 300 finance professionals found that 37% said they "lacked the internal expertise to properly analyze their financial data." To address this gap, Babczenko believes it will be crucial for finance departments to find ways to build internal expertise in 2023.
“As technology gets applied, as you start to apply some of the new tools, as you try to become more of a business partner and provide more detailed analysis of the data, the skills that your finance function has needs to continue to evolve,” Babczenko said.
Born has a different perspective on the technical skills that will be in demand for finance professionals in 2023. As technology becomes more user-friendly and requires less specialized coding knowledge, finance professionals will need to rely more on soft skills such as communication and presentation to effectively utilize technology investments, rather than hard technical skills, he said.
“The soft skills around basic partnership—that’s already a trend,” and it’s increasing, he said.
It's likely that finance teams will prioritize technology that helps with efficiency in 2023. This may include investing in artificial intelligence and machine learning, cloud-based solutions, robotic process automation, and advanced analytics. By addressing specific pain points and leveraging technology to automate and streamline tasks, finance professionals can increase organizational efficiency and contribute to strategic decision-making. Additionally, as the economy becomes more uncertain, finance teams may focus on technologies that provide increased visibility, predictive capabilities, and strategic insights. Ultimately, the goal will be to find technologies that can facilitate better business partnering and support the overall strategic direction of the company.