The Future of Planning Budgeting and Forecasting

The world of planning, budgeting and forecasting is changing rapidly as new technologies emerge, but the actual pace of change within the finance departments of most organizations is rather more sluggish. The progress companies have made in the year since The Future of Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting 2016 has been incremental, with a little accuracy gained but very little change to the reliance on insight-limiting technologies like spreadsheets.

That said, CFOs and senior finance executives are beginning to recognize the factors that contribute to forecasting excellence, and there is a groundswell of support for change. They’ll even make time to do it, and we all know how precious a CFOs time can be, especially when basic improvements like automation and standardization haven’t yet been implemented.

The survey shows that most PBF functions are still using relatively basic tools, but it also highlights the positive difference more advanced technology like visualization techniques and charting can make to forecasting outcomes. For the early adopters of even more experimental technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, there is some benefit to being at the forefront of technological change. But the survey suggests that there is still some way to go before machines take over the planning, budgeting and forecasting function.

In the meantime, senior finance executives who are already delivering a respected, inclusive and strategic PBF service need to focus on becoming more insightful, which means using smart technologies in concert with non-financial data to deliver accurate, timely, long term forecasts that add real value to the business.

Making headway

CFOs are making incremental headway in improving their planning, budgeting and forecasting processes, reforecasting more frequently to improve accuracy. But spreadsheet use remains a substantial drag on process improvements, despite organizations increasingly looking towards new technologies to progress the PBF landscape.

That said, respondents seem open to change, recognizing the importance of financial planning and analysis as a separate discipline, which will help channel resources in that direction. At the moment, a slow and steady approach is enough to remain competitive, but as more companies make increasingly substantial changes to their PBF processes to generate better insight, those that fail to speed up will find they fall behind.

Leading the debate

FSN’s insights gleaned from across the finance function shed light on the changes happening within the planning, budgeting and forecasting function, and identify the processes that make a real difference to outcomes. Senior finance executives are taking heed of these insights and making changes within the finance function. The most important one is the increasing inclusion of non-financial data into forecasting and planning processes. The Future of The Finance Function 2016 identified this as a game-changer, for the finance function as a whole, and for PBF in particular. It is starting to happen now. Companies are looking towards data from functions outside of finance, like customer relationship management systems and other non-financial data sources.

Senior executives are also finally recognizing the importance of automation and standardization as the key to building a strong PBF foundation. Last year it languished near the bottom of CFO’s priority lists, but now it is at the top. With the right foundation, PBF can start to take advantage of the new technology that will improve forecasting outcomes, particularly in the cloud.

There is increasing maturity in the recognition of cloud solution benefits, beyond just cost, towards agility and scalability. With recognition comes implementation, and it is hoped that uptake of these technologies will follow with greater momentum.

Man vs machine

Cloud computing has enabled the growth of machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions, and we see these being embedded into our daily lives, in our cars, personal digital assistants and home appliances. In the workplace, machine learning tools are being used for

  • predictive maintenance,
  • fraud detection,
  • customer personalization
  • and automating finance processes.

In the planning, budgeting and forecasting function, machine learning tools can take data over time, apply parameters to the analysis, and then learn from the outcomes to improve forecasts.

On the face of it, machine learning appears to be a game changer, adding unbiased logic and immeasurable processing power to the forecasting process, but the survey doesn’t show a substantial improvement in forecasting outcomes for organizations that use experimental technologies like these. And the CFOs and senior finance executives who responded to the survey believe there are substantial limitations to the effective of machine forecasts. As the technology matures, and finance functions become more integrated, machine learning will proliferate, but right now it remains the domain of early adopters.

Analytic tools

Many of the cloud solutions for planning, budgeting and forecasting involve advanced analytic tools, from visualization techniques to machine learning. Yet the majority of respondents still use basic spreadsheets, pivot tables and business intelligence tools to mine their data for forecasting insight. But they need to be upgrading their toolbox.

The survey identifies users of cutting edge visualization tools as the most effective forecasters. They are more likely to utilize specialist PBF systems, and have an arsenal of PBF technology they have prioritized for implementation in the next three years to improve their forecasts.

Even experimental organizations that aren’t yet able to harness the full power of machine learning and AI, are still generating better forecasts than the analytic novices.

The survey results are clear, advanced analytics must become the new baseline technology, it is no longer enough on rely on simple spreadsheets and pivot tables when your competitors are several steps ahead.

Insight – the top trump

But technology can’t operate in isolation. Cutting edge tools alone won’t provide the in-depth insight that is needed to properly compete against nimble start-ups. CFOs must ensure their PBF processes are inclusive, drawing input from outside the financial bubble to build a rounded view of the organization. This will engender respect for the PBF outcomes and align them with the strategic direction of the business.

Most importantly though, organizations need to promote an insightful planning, budgeting and forecasting function, by using advanced analytic techniques and tools, coupled with a broad data pool, to reveal unexpected insights and pathways that lead to better business performance.

As FSN stated, today’s finance organizations are looking to:

  • provide in-depth insights;
  • anticipate change and;
  • verify business opportunities before they become apparent to competitors.

But AI and machine learning technologies are still too immature. And spreadsheet-based processes don’t have the necessary functions to fill these advanced needs. While some might argue that spreadsheet-based processes could work for small businesses, they become unmanageable as companies grow.

PBF

Click here to access Wolters Kluwers FSN detailed survey report

The Innovation Game – How Data is Driving Digital Transformation

Technology waits for no one. And those who strike first will have an advantage. The steady decline in business profitability across multiple industries threatens to erode future investment, innovation and shareholder value. Fortunately, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) can help kick-start profitability. Accenture research shows that AI has the potential to boost rates of profitability by an average of 38 percent by 2035 and lead to an economic boost of US$14 trillion across 16 industries in 12 economies by 2035.

Driven by these economic forces, the age of digital transformation is in full swing. Today we can’t be “digital to the core” if we don’t leverage all new data sources – unstructured, dark data and thirty party sources. Similarly, we have to take advantage of the convergence of AI and analytics to uncover previously hidden insights. But, with the increasing use of AI, we also have to be responsible and take into account the social implications.

Finding answers to the biggest questions starts with data, and ensuring you are capitalizing on the vast data sources available within your own business. Thanks to the power of AI/machine learning and advanced algorithms, we have moved from the era of big data to the era of ALL data, and that is helping clients create a more holistic view of their customer and more operational efficiencies.

Embracing the convergence of AI and analytics is crucial to success in our digital transformation. Together,

  • AI-powered analytics unlock tremendous value from data that was previously hidden or unreachable,
  • changing the way we interact with people and technology,
  • improving the way we make decisions, and giving way to new agility and opportunities.

While businesses are still in the infancy of tapping into the vast potential of these combined technologies, now is the time to accelerate. But to thrive, we need to be pragmatic in finding the right skills and partners to guide our strategy.

Finally, whenever we envision the possibilities of AI, we should consider the responsibility that comes with it. Trust in the digital era or “responsible AI” cannot be overlooked. Explainable AI and AI transparency are critical, particularly in such areas as

  • financial services,
  • healthcare,
  • and life sciences.

The new imperative of our digital transformation is to balance intelligent technology and human ingenuity to innovate every facet of business and become a smarter enterprise.

The exponential growth of data underlying the strategic imperative of enterprise digital transformation has created new business opportunities along with tremendous challenges. Today, we see organizations of all shapes and sizes embarking on digital transformation. As uncovered in Corinium Digital’s research, the primary drivers of digital transformation are those businesses focused on addressing increasing customer expectations and implementing efficient internal processes.

Data is at the heart of this transformation and provides the fuel to generate meaningful insights. We have reached the tipping point where all businesses recognize they cannot compete in a digital age using analog-era legacy solutions and architectures. The winners in the next phase of business will be those enterprises that obtain a clear handle on the foundations of modern data management, specifically the nexus of

  • data quality,
  • cloud,
  • and artificial intelligence (AI).

While most enterprises have invested in on-premises data warehouses as the backbone of their analytic data management practices, many are shifting their new workloads to the cloud. The proliferation of new data types and sources is accelerating the development of data lakes with aspirations of gaining integrated analytics that can accelerate new business opportunities. We found in the research that over 60% of global enterprises are now investing in a hybrid, multi-cloud strategy with both data from cloud environments such as Microsoft Azure along with existing on-premises infrastructures. Hence, this hybrid, multicloud strategy will need to correlate with their investments in data analytics, and it will become imperative to manage data seamlessly across all platforms. At Paxata, our mission is to give everyone the power to intelligently profile and transform data into consumable information at the speed of thought. To empower everyone, not just technical users, to prepare their data and make it ready for analytics and decision making.

The first step in making this transition is to eliminate the bottlenecks of traditional IT-led data management practices through AI-powered automation.

Second, you need to apply modern data preparation and data quality principles and technology platforms to support both analytical and operational use cases.

Thirdly, you need a technology infrastructure that embraces the hybrid, multi-cloud world. Paxata sits right at the center stage of this new shift, helping enterprises profile and transform complex data types in highvariety, high-volume environments. As such, we’re excited about partnering with Accenture and Microsoft to accelerate businesses with our ability to deliver modern analytical and operational platforms to address today’s digital transformation requirements.

Artificial intelligence is causing two major revolutions simultaneously among developers and enterprises. These revolutions will drive the technology decisions for the next decade. Developers are massively embracing AI. As a platform company, Microsoft is focused on enabling developers to make the shift to the next app development pattern, driven by the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge.

AI is the runtime that will power the apps of the future. At the same time, enterprises are eager to adopt and integrate AI. Cloud and AI are the most requested topics in Microsoft Executive Briefing Centers. AI is changing how companies serve their customers, run their operations, and innovate.

Ultimately, every business process in every industry will be redefined in profound ways. If it used to be true that “software was eating the world,” it is now true to say that “AI is eating software”. A new competitive differentiator is emerging: how well an enterprise exploits AI to reinvent and accelerate its processes, value chain and business models. Enterprises need a strategic partner who can help them transform their organization with AI. Microsoft is emerging as a solid AI leader as it is in a unique position to address both revolutions. Our strength and differentiation lie in the combination of multiple assets:

  • Azure AI services that bring AI to every developer. Over one million developers are accessing our pre-built and customizable AI services. We have the most comprehensive solution for building bots, combined with a powerful platform for Custom AI development with Azure Machine Learning that spans the entire AI development lifecycle, and a market leading portfolio of pre-built cognitive services that can be readily attached to applications.
  • A unique cloud infrastructure including CPU, GPU, and soon FPGA, makes Azure the most reliable, scalable and fastest cloud to run AI workloads.
  • Unparalleled tools. Visual Studio, used by over 6 million developers, is the most preferred tool in the world for application development. Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code are powerful “front doors” through which to attract developers seeking to add AI to their applications.
  • Ability to add AI to the edge. We enable developers, through our tools and services, to develop an AI model and deploy that model anywhere. Through our support for ONNX – the open source representation for AI models in partnership with Facebook, Amazon, IBM and others – as well as for generic containers, we allow developers to run their models on the IoT edge and leverage the entire IoT solution from Azure.

But the competition to win enterprises is not only played in the platform battlefield, enterprises are demanding solutions. Microsoft AI solutions provide turnkey implementations for customers who want to transform their core processes with AI. Our unique combination of IP and consulting services address common scenarios such as business agents, sales intelligence or marketing intelligence. As our solutions are built on top of our compelling AI platform, unlike ourcompetitors, our customers are not locked in to any one consulting provider, they remain in full control of their data and can extend the scenarios or target new scenarios themselves or through our rich partner ecosystem.

AI Analytics

Click here to access Corinium’s White Paper

2018 AI predictions – 8 insights to shape your business strategy

  1. AI will impact employers before it impacts employment
  2. AI will come down to earth—and get to work
  3. AI will help answer the big question about data
  4. Functional specialists, not techies, will decide the AI talent race
  5. Cyberattacks will be more powerful because of AI—but so
    will cyberdefense
  6. Opening AI’s black box will become a priority
  7. Nations will spar over AI
  8. Pressure for responsible AI won’t be on tech companies alone

Key implications

1) AI will impact employers before it impacts employment

As signs grow this year that the great AI jobs disruption will be a false alarm, people are likely to more readily accept AI in the workplace and society. We may hear less about robots taking our jobs, and more about robots making our jobs (and lives) easier. That in turn may lead to a faster uptake of AI than some organizations are expecting.

2) AI will come down to earth—and get to work

Leaders don’t need to adopt AI for AI’s sake. Instead, when they look for the best solution to a business need, AI will increasingly play a role. Does the organization want to automate billing, general accounting and budgeting, and many compliance functions? How about automating parts of procurement, logistics, and customer care? AI will likely be a part of the solution, whether or not users even perceive it.

3) AI will help answer the big question about data

Those enterprises that have already addressed data governance for one application will have a head start on the next initiative. They’ll be on their way to developing best practices for effectively leveraging their data resources and working across organizational boundaries. There’s no substitute for organizations getting their internal data ready to support AI and other innovations, but there is a supplement: Vendors are increasingly taking public sources of data, organizing it into data lakes, and preparing it for AI to use.

4) Functional specialists, not techies, will decide the AI talent race

Enterprises that intend to take full advantage of AI shouldn’t just bid for the most brilliant computer scientists. If they want to get AI up and running quickly, they should move to provide functional specialists with AI literacy. Larger organizations should prioritize by determining where AI is likely to disrupt operations first and start upskilling there.

5) Cyberattacks will be more powerful because of AI—but so will cyberdefense

In other parts of the enterprise, many organizations may choose to go slow on AI, but in cybersecurity there’s no holding back: Attackers will use AI, so defenders will have to use it too. If an organization’s IT department or cybersecurity provider isn’t already using AI, it has to start thinking immediately about AI’s short- and long-term security applications. Sample use cases include distributed denial of service (DDOS) pattern recognition, prioritization of log alerts for escalation and investigation, and risk-based authentication. Since even AI-wary organizations will have to use AI for cybersecurity, cyberdefense will be many enterprises’ first experience with AI. We see this fostering familiarity with AI and willingness to use it elsewhere. A further spur to AI acceptance will come from its hunger for data: The greater AI’s presence and access to data throughout an organization, the better it can defend against cyberthreats. Some organizations are already building out on-premise and cloud-based “threat lakes,” that will enable AI capabilities.

6) Opening AI’s black box will become a priority

We expect organizations to face growing pressure from end users and regulators to deploy AI that is explainable, transparent, and provable. That may require vendors to share some secrets. It may also require users of deep learning and other advanced AI to deploy new techniques that can explain previously incomprehensible AI. Most AI can be made explainable—but at a cost. As with any other process, if every step must be documented and explained, the process becomes slower and may be more expensive. But opening black boxes will reduce certain risks and help establish stakeholder trust.

7) Nations will spar over AI

If China starts to produce leading AI developments, the West may respond. Whether it’s a “Sputnik moment” or a more gradual realization that they’re losing their lead, policymakers may feel pressure to change regulations and provide funding for AI. More countries should issue AI strategies, with implications for companies. It wouldn’t surprise us to see Europe, which is already moving to protect individuals’ data through its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), issue policies to foster AI in the region.

8) Pressure for responsible AI won’t be on tech companies alone

As organizations face pressure to design, build, and deploy AI systems that deserve trust and inspire it, many will establish teams and processes to look for bias in data and models and closely monitor ways malicious actors could “trick” algorithms. Governance boards for AI may also be appropriate for many enterprises.

AI PWC

Click here to access PWC’s detailed predictions report

 

Technology Driven Value Generation in Insurance

The evolution of financial technology (FinTech) is reshaping the broader financial services industry. Technology is now disrupting the traditionally more conservative insurance industry, as the rise of InsurTech revolutionises how we think about insurance distribution.

Moreover, insurance companies are improving their operating models, upgrading their propositions, and developing innovative new products to reshape the insurance industry as a whole.

Five key technologies are driving the change today:

  1. Cloud computing
  2. The Internet of Things (including telematics)
  3. Big data
  4. Artificial intelligence
  5. Blockchain

This report examines these technologies’ potential to create value in the insurance industry. It also examines how technology providers could create new income streams and take advantage of economies of scale by offering their technological backbones to participants in the insurance industry and beyond.

Cloud computing refers to storing, managing, and processing data via a network of remote servers, instead of locally on a server or personal computer. Key enablers of cloud computing include the availability of high-capacity networks and service-oriented architecture. The three core characteristics of a cloud service are:

  • Virtualisation: The service is based on hardware that has been virtualised
  • Scalability: The service can scale on demand, with additional capacity brought online within minutes
  • Demand-driven: The client pays for the services as and when they are needed

cloud

Telematics is the most common form of the broader Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT refers to the combination of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these physical objects to collect and exchange data.

The IoT has evolved from the convergence of

  • wireless technologies,
  • micro-electromechanical systems,
  • and the Internet.

This convergence has helped remove the walls between operational technology and information technology, allowing unstructured, machine-generated data to be analysed for insights that will drive improvements.

IoT

Big data refers to data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing application software is insufficient to deal with them. A definition refers to the “five V” key challenges for big data in insurance:

  • Volume: As sensors cost less, the amount of information gathered will soon be measured
    in exabytes
  • Velocity: The speed at which data is collected, analysed, and presented to users
  • Variety: Data can take many forms, such as structured, unstructured, text or multimedia. It can come from internal and external systems and sources, including a variety
    of devices
  • Value: Information provided by data about aspects of the insurance business, such as customers and risks
  • Veracity: Insurance companies ensure the accuracy of their plethora of data

Modern analytical methods are required to process these sets of information. The term “big data has evolved to describe the quantity of information analysed to create better outcomes, business improvements, and opportunities that leverage all available data. As a result, big data is not limited to the challenges thrown up by the five Vs. Today there are two key aspects to big data:

  1. Data: This is more-widely available than ever because of the use of apps, social media, and the Internet of Things
  2. Analytics: Advanced analytic tools mean there are fewer restrictions to working with big data

BigData

The understanding of Artificial Intelligence AI has evolved over time. In the beginning, AI was perceived as machines mimicking the cognitive functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as learning and problem solving. Today, we rather refer to the ability of machines to mimic human activity in a broad range of circumstances. In a nutshell, artificial intelligence is the broader concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that we would consider smart or human.

Therefore, AI combines the reasoning already provided by big data capabilities such as machine learning with two additional capabilities:

  1. Imitation of human cognitive functions beyond simple reasoning, such as natural language processing and emotion sensing
  2. Orchestration of these cognitive components with data and reasoning

A third layer is pre-packaging generic orchestration capabilities for specific applications. The most prominent such application today are bots. At a minimum, bots orchestrate natural language processing, linguistic technology, and machine learning to create systems which mimic interactions with human beings in certain domains. This is done in such a way that the customer does not realise that the counterpart is not human.

Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology used to store static records and dynamic transaction data distributed across a network of synchronised, replicated databases. It establishes trust between parties without the use of a central intermediary, removing frictional costs and inefficiency.

From a technical perspective, blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of ordered records called blocks. Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. Blockchains have been designed to make it inherently difficult to modify their data: Once recorded, the data in a block cannot be altered retroactively. In addition to recording transactions, blockchains can also contain a coded set of instructions that will self-execute under a pre-specified set of conditions. These automated workflows, known as smart contracts, create trust between a set of parties, as they rely on pre-agreed data sources and and require not third-party to execute them.

Blockchain technology in its purest form has four key characteristics:

  1. Decentralisation: No single individual participant can control the ledger. The ledger
    lives on all computers in the network
  2. Transparency: Information can be viewed by all participants on the network, not just
    those involved in the transaction
  3. Immutability: Modifying a past record would require simultaneously modifying every
    other block in the chain, making the ledger virtually incorruptible
  4. Singularity: The blockchain provides a single version of a state of affairs, which is
    updated simultaneously across the network

Blockchain

Oliver Wyman, ZhongAn Insurance and ZhongAn Technology – a wholly owned subsidiary of ZhongAn insurance and China’s first online-only insurer – are jointly publishing this report to analyse the insurance technology market and answer the following questions:

  • Which technologies are shaping the future of the insurance industry? (Chapter 2)
  • What are the applications of these technologies in the insurance industry? (Chapter 3)
  • What is the potential value these applications could generate? (Chapter 3)
  • How can an insurer with strong technology capabilities monetise its technologies?
    (Chapter 4)
  • Who is benefiting from the value generated by these applications? (Chapter 5)

 

Click here to access Oliver Wyman’s detailed report

The Essential CIO Guide to Artificial Intelligence

The topic of AI has reached such a fever pitch in the media with the coverage of driverless cars, conversational bots and even movies made by AI that it’s only a matter of time before every CEO starts asking their CIO “What’s our AI strategy.

For many CIOs this will be a “deer in the headlights” moment since the topic of AI is so multi-faceted it’s hard to know where to start. We put together this e-book as a primer for CIOs wanting to get to grips with the topic of AI.
We start by giving some insight and context into why your CEO is asking this question, why now, and why you. Then, we will give you a foundational framework to think about AI so you can give your CEO a thoughtful response. Finally, we will discuss how you as CIO, can engage the business on the topic of AI and important considerations when evaluating AI vendors.
So, why is the CEO asking you this now? CEOs are humans too and they react to their environment. Their environment is often dominated by other CEOs, their board, and the outside world. AI as a topic has risen to the boardroom and the popular press with even Vanity Fair recently publishing an article titled “Suddenly Everyone is Obsessed with AI.” So if your CEO hasn’t broached the AI topic yet, they soon will.ai_breakthrough