My boss recently asked me to ignore the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel: “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history” and re-read all of the blogs we posted last year.
He asked me to consider the major business problems we addressed last year and predict if they will still be relevant in 2019.
I have picked out five of the things he obsessed over, and therefore we wrote about.
If any of the below interest you, make sure to follow us on twitter where we frequently share a broad range of third-party content about these issues!
Slow payment of suppliers
The poster child for slow payments in 2018 was Carillion, and it is hard to find someone who does not have a friend or family member who was impacted by their downfall. Will we see another case in 2019? I surely hope not, but the chances are high.
The government has developed a database through its Payment Practices Regulation (PPR) reporting requirements. Our own analysis of the data suggests there is plenty of scope for improvement in 2019.
The reporting provides a useful tool for SME’s to identify the payment practices of large companies and this may lead to more optimistic outcomes in 2019.
Late or unreliable management accounts
Whilst at one point in the year it looked like Carillion would be the poster child here too, Patisserie Valerie emerged in the end to grab the crown.
The timely recognition of liabilities was a major theme in our blogs last year and the Patisserie Valerie case that also appears to involve a fraud personifies this. How can £20m disappear in less than 6 months? We await the explanation in their year to 30 September 2018 accounts sometime in 2019.
We analysed an accounts payable fraud involving £351,000 in some detail and looked at the controls that could help prevent such events.
Our own purchasing report identified fraud as one of the major concerns amongst Finance decision makers, with only 24% of finance bosses being completely confident their current payment processes can prevent or detect fraud.
There is not much visibility of fraud, the Patisserie Valerie case may prove to be an exception. It is a taboo subject.
When data arrives in the public domain, it tends to be related to court cases that have taken several years to build and schedule. In 2019 we will no doubt hear about cases built in 2017 and 2018.
Data and information silos
The explosion in the volume of data from traditional sources and new sensors provided by the internet of things was seen as a big opportunity for 2018.
The main challenge for the majority of businesses was not big data but instead managing their own internally generated transactional data. This was made tougher by GDPR with one class of data, personal data, becoming the subject of greater scrutiny.
Never has it been more important to know what data you have, who has access to it and what is done with it. This is the core of any document management system.
Access to information stored in documents remains a major concern with hidden data in information silo’s like personal email folders also adding to the problem.
Getting the right information in front of the right people at the right time, a hot topic in 2018, remains an area ripe for improvement in 2019.
Fear of Artificial intelligence (AI)
It was a great year for companies offering Robotic Process Automation (RPA). We looked at what RPA brought to accounts payable in 2018 and concluded that unless it was used as a new term to describe the automation of accounts payable, it had little to no additional value to offer to SME’s.
AI is often feared as a replacement for humans at work. In 2018, we saw more language from Corporations like Microsoft describing it as human augmentation rather than replacement: believing that it will be disruptive but a net generator of jobs.
This has been our experience to date with accounts payable automation. Generally, staff tend to be employed in higher value-added work rather than replaced completely. This is evident at Exclusive Hotels and Venues for example.
In 2019, we expect the technology to be applied in the back office to augment rather than replace humans.
As none of these business concerns had a line drawn under them by 2019, a cynic like Hegel would conclude that we did not learn a lot in 2018.
More optimistically, you can take the view that the bar for performance is getting higher each year so progress has to be measured in absolute terms.