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The Photograph

On my desk sits a black and white picture of myself and my father. I am perhaps no more than 7 years old in the photo, and I am standing next to a chair where my father sits. My hair is clearly in need of a comb, as I lean happily into his arms. A Toronto Maple Leafs jersey adorns my thin, bony torso. I love the picture for many reasons, not the least of which is that there simply aren’t many pictures of just me and my Dad when I was that age. I had 4 older, and dare I say, more photogenic sisters for whom the camera seemed a more natural fit. But there is also an odd happenstance in the photo. There is a double exposure that has taken place within the plastic casing of our old family Kodak, and growing out of our living room where my father and I share a light moment is an implausible forest of trees. Right beside him. I did not grow up in Jumanji, so I know this to be a trick of the photo.

We don’t see such photographic issues or inconsistencies very often these days as innovation has progressed in camera and film technology, and certainly the advent of the digital age has all but eliminated the double exposure. There is always the capability of PhotoShop to crop, tint or manipulate the image as we see fit, but the unreliable nature of old photography processes has largely been abated. This is very much the same for many of our core business processes. Technology and process awareness has meant that we are able to deliver more superior service and faster functionality than we were capable of even 5 years ago, but at times it feels as if some organizations are still running important processes with disposable flash bulbs and 110 film and waiting at the Fotomat to see the results.

Looking at near-cash processes—Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable—we know that capture, processing and analytical aspects of these critical business processes offer ways for organizations to turn these back office functions into strategic tools:

  • The reinvention of near-cash processes can provide tighter control to our treasury and finance teams and unparalleled visibility to cash flows.
  • Reliance on banks for lockbox processing or Supply Chain finance can be muted.
  • Accuracy in forecasting significantly improves.
  • Other productivity efficiencies are typically quickly realized.

These improvements can lead to reduced cost structures, optimized cash flow and minimized risk within the organization. So why are some finance organizations still shaking their critical cash processes like a Polaroid picture waiting for change? Oddly, many users within these organizations would like to optimize these processes, but either the need has not been identified or it has not been properly prioritized to get to a project acceptance state.

For these changes to be accomplished, we need to be able to take a snapshot of the current process—no matter how grainy or out of focus—and share it with the rest of the organization. Then move to the next page in the album where the future-state process is captured in full color with brilliant clarity. This can only be accomplished by understanding the current limitations and pain points of the process and then projecting the transformation that is possible. Benchmark against other organizations, participate in industry groups and conferences, and identify available options from the vendor community. High level ROI models will get the attention of the finance types, while SAP-centric solutions will appeal to the IT gurus in your organization. While change is often considered a four-letter word in many teams and organizations, some dose of radical new thinking must accepted.

It’s time to throw off the yoke of old, outdated technologies and processes and reinvent our organizations. In 2010 the final roll of Kodachrome film, originally pioneered for color photographs in 1935, was sold and processed. Paul Simon probably owns a digital SLR Nikon now. So too we should move forward with change, and take the leap to make these important ‘back office’ functions more strategically valuable. Nice bright colors and the greens of summer are ours for the taking.

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