Why Lean Thinking is the Future of Finance

At its core, practicing lean in business involves maximizing value while minimizing waste, essentially creating more value using fewer resources. Lean made its first big impact on business in 1913 with Henry Ford before being improved upon by a team at Toyota in the 1930s.

But what does car manufacturing have to do with finance?

Despite its origins, lean is not only relegated to manufacturing. Its focus on continuous improvement and doing more with less resonates with every facet of business, from logistics to distribution, retail to construction, maintenance to government. Lean accomplishes this by eliminating waste from entire processes. And—surprising as it may seem—that translates to finance too.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Today’s business environment demands big results with fewer resources, which leaves accounting and finance functions tighter than ever before. Since lean by its very definition is doing more with less, many teams have begun implementing lean to improve efficiencies and work smarter.

How much smarter? When your finance practices go lean, you could be spending up to 20 percent more time on insights rather than data gathering; you could also pay your staff 25 percent more while running at costs that are 36 percent lower than your peers. Less tangible but equally as valuable is improved staff motivation, which results in a very measureable reduction in turnover.

That’s pretty smart.

The Lean Impact on Finance

In 2016, KPMG surveyed companies on intelligent finance functions to learn more about how lean can impact financial processes. The survey found that lean financing gave companies the ability to:

  • Perform certain transactional and high-volume activities via shared services or outsourced providers;
  • Create or develop IT infrastructure to automate data consolidation, processing, and reporting;
  • Automate routine processes to save time and reduce the opportunity for and quantity of errors; and,
  • Standardize processes with aligned roles, responsibilities, and measures.

Right now, less than a quarter of finance functions involve strategic thinking. That means most finance and accounting roles spend upward of 75 percent of their time simply extracting and manipulating data, leaving minimal time for actual interpretation. Lean opens up the opportunity for finance roles to expand insight exponentially by automating many tasks. Better financial insights can then drive stronger strategy and better decision making for the business.

Go Lean with Excel

Implementing lean anywhere in a company can be tricky business. But automating and streamlining your financial processes to go lean in finance and accounting is easy. You can do it all from the comfort of the ever-familiar Microsoft Excel®. That’s right: We said Excel.

First, you’ll need access to live data. Without live data, you could be looking at reports that are at best 30 days old. It is difficult to make accurate decisions on the future based on stale data. With Spreadsheet Server (for use with SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards, Viewpoint, Infor, and more) or Atlas for Microsoft Dynamics, you can link real-time data right in Excel, giving you unprecedented access to the exact numbers you need, exactly when you need them.

With this new instant access, you have the ability to drastically reduce complicated reporting processes that involve multiple downloads and manual data manipulation. Both Spreadsheet Server and Atlas allow you to refresh data with a single click, whether you’re looking at a new month, a new year, or ensuring you have the most updated information on the current month.

The best part, perhaps, is that all of this is available right in Excel. You don’t have to access ERPs and other data sources individually. Using templates and your existing Excel knowledge, it is easy to build the exact report you need and access both recurring and ad hoc reports at a moment’s notice. Additionally, Spreadsheet Server and Atlas adhere to the permissions set for each user within the ERP, increasing the security of your reporting.

Lean is all about doing more with less. Of surveyed Spreadsheet Server users, nearly 70 percent have saved between 50 and 300 hours in one year on their reporting processes, and nearly a quarter have saved more than 300 hours! Atlas users have similar outcomes, with more than half saving 50 to 300 hours, and 23 percent saving more than 300 hours. That certainly sounds lean to us!

Are you ready to see these streamlined processes in your accounting department? Get lean with us!