In conversation with Rajesh Garg, Group Chief Financial Officer, Landmark group
Q1 – Your views on digital transformation in finance?
Every industry, company & function is undergoing digital transformation. Digital Transformation is obviously very Data Centric, and Finance is the fiduciary of almost all types of data and its implications on the business. As a result, the new adage – ‘Data is the new Oil’ means Finance are the new Oilmen and Shiekhs of Digital Transformation.
And its well beyond just digital transformation of the function on the inside which entails making all process totally digital, leverage of newer technologies such as Visualization Tools, Robotic Process Automation, High End Analytics tools such as SAS / R, Intelligent Work Flow etc.; it’s to be at the fore front of the entire company’s digital transformation.
Traditionally, Finance was mostly heads buried in Financial Data. But over time, all other Operational Data became more and more abundant – Supply Chain, In Store key metrics, employee data, customer loyalty data etc. And finally, external data that includes - commodities, social media, consumer behavior, marketing performance, live NPS etc. The digital Tsunami has made all these 3 types of data to grow and accumulate exponentially. As a result, High Performing Finance function must ride this wave and lead digital transformation journeys in many regards. Without mastering this data, and not helping make the right choices for the business, could make the finance function become a dinosaur.
Q2 - How has technology enabled to minimize financial risks in your firm?
The biggest impact to the business has been our E-commerce operations. Having made the investments for several years we were ready to take on the spike. With such a large proportion of our sales happening to our Shukran loyal customers, during the lock down, we saw them move to our online apps and we now see most of them as happy Omni Shoppers. This shift while in the making got accelerated by at least several years.
Digitization of all core processes is a key start, albeit just the foundation. As an example - The onset of VAT in 2018 was a great opportunity that we took to totally digitize our entire Source to Procure to Pay process. It includes, for example Supplier Self Invoicing and submission which cuts out almost all mistakes and almost eliminates noncompliance with VAT. This has helped us a lot even in the period of Corona as manual processes would have been much tougher to manage in the new normal.|
The other technology that we were early adopters was Robotic Process Automation better known by its short form RPA. We created a Center of Excellence for our chosen RPA platform UiPath and built a very large number of BOTS to give us efficiencies and also eliminated errors and enhanced controls. Payment processes, Export Billing & documentation, VAT returns, Ecommerce recon are some of the areas this has helped. One great example was the sudden requirement to comply with Saber in KSA, leveraging BOTS we were able to upload all the new requirements to register such a large number of SKUs.
Q3 - What are some of the noticeable achievements accomplished by your firm in the finance and accounting division?
Recently, together with HSBC we completed a first-of-its-kind transaction that connected two independently-built blockchain platforms, proving their interoperability and showing how collaborative technologies can further accelerate international trade in the future. This is a huge milestone for us at Landmark Group. Embracing new and emerging technologies like blockchain in our physical and financial supply chain not only aids in improving speed to market efficiency but also reflects our commitment to driving transformation in the retail sector and ultimately creating value for our customers. As a leading retail organisation in the Middle East, we’re proud to have taken the lead in this are
Q4 - How can we advance the accounting and finance industry in the UAE and Middle East region?
Select new innovative technologies for instance Blockchain need some collaborative effort to become successful. Given Dubai has announced its intent to lead the way in this space, Finance & Accounting centric applications should be conceived and promoted. These can be global firsts to put the region on the global Accounting and Finance map. So far, the eco system is welcoming but not concrete enough to make a serious dent in driving globally first i.e. bleeding edge or at least leading-edge innovation. Talent Development is another big challenge. We need to figure out the way to tackle this with the relatively higher mix of transient population. Increased participation of local education institutions with industry would help to develop the talent output.
Q5 - What are the top trends to watch out for in the accounting and finance industry of the region?
RPA is one of the key trends to watch and implement but is now quickly moving into Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) as all major players are introducing AI / ML into their core RPA fabric.
Blockchain is another important trend, whilst this is in somewhat of a hiatus right now, it still retains several fundamental benefits which can have a big impact on accounting & finance.
Finally, Embedded Analytics to help harness machine Learning is probably the biggest thing that is showing up for all players, where in core systems will automatically keep analyzing and helping the business make better decisions and service their customers better.
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