Digitization continues to run amok. New business models and processes are being introduced across all industries; new competitors are emerging that can natively take advantage of these new business models and are disrupting entire industries. Continued volatility is driving the demand for real-time, detailed information. Technology innovation continues at breakneck speed. 2016 saw the application of blockchain to financial processes and the adoption of artificial intelligence to drive more automation and efficiencies in finance. What is that going to mean in 2017? Can finance organizations keep up with the technology opportunities?

Once again, we asked finance thought leaders to share their predictions for finance in a digital world. Their insights for 2017 include increased real-time insight, collaboration, automation, and partnership with the business. Take a look back at the predictions for 2016 and see how they differ from the following predictions for 2017.

1. David Axson, managing director, CFO & Enterprise Value, Accenture Strategy – @DavidAxson, @AccentureTech

2016 was the year digital finance went mainstream. Recent Accenture research shows increasing adoption rates for technologies such as cloud –76%; predictive analytics – 67%; in-memory 65%; and artificial intelligence – 62%. In 2017, CFOs will pivot to ensure that they have the right talent to fully exploit these new schools. Accountants will be less in demand, while data scientists, sociologists, and mathematicians will be joining the ranks of finance professionals.

2. Eliseo Belmonte, managing director, SAP Finance Transformation, Accenture Technology – @EliseoBelmonte, @AccentureTech

Digital technologies elevate finance to a new role in the business, disrupting traditional ways of working, demanding a change in talent and differentiation through insights. By 2022, half of the current finance functions will no longer be relevant, and half of the required capabilities are nonexistent today or are just emerging. 2017 needs to be the year for “raising the new finance talent.”

3. Thack Brown, general manager and global head, SAP’s Line of Business Finance, SAP – @thackbrown, @SAPFinance

On the upside, 2017 will see three major changes becoming mainstream for finance:

  • Financial results will become available to companies on an as-needed basis, not on the basis of month-end close.
  • Dynamic planning processes will replace the antiquated annual budget cycle.
  • Technology will drive significant automation in back-office processes, and the first solid use cases for artificial intelligence will become mainstream.

On the downside, finance organizations are facing the daunting challenges caused by accounting standard changes (IFRS 9, 15, 16); country-by-country reporting; auditor scrutiny of transfer pricing; FCPA; and other regulatory burdens that will come into effect or face heightened enforcement.

4. Gary Cokins, founder, Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC – @GaryCokins

In 2017 the finance function will realize the impact on its profession from machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), smart process automation (SPA), and cognitive software computing. The accelerating and disruptive “digital revolution” will adversely impact an organization’s competitiveness. Organizations must either “disrupt” or “be disrupted.” Companies often fail to recognize disruptive threats until it is too late. And even if they do, they fail to act boldly and quickly enough. The exponential growth of digital devices connected to the Internet creates both opportunities and challenges for enterprises. This requires a paradigm shift in thinking to embrace “digital transformation” for protection.

5. Mark Dudgeon, global SAP CTO, IBM – @MarkPDudgeon, @IBMSAPAlliance

CFOs are seeing the barriers between industries collapse and feeling increased competition from outside and within their industries. These trends will continue to challenge enterprises globally in 2017. Financial leaders can no longer afford to rely solely on traditional data sources to understand, anticipate, and communicate the state of the business. With significant advancements in technologies such as advanced analytics and cognitive computing, companies can now integrate and analyze information across and outside the enterprise in real time. Technology enablers can also improve agility by optimizing operation processes, which is critical to achieving desired business outcomes, vision, and growth.

6. Nilly Essaides, senior research director & EPM Advisory Practice, The Hackett Group

CFOs are being asked to do (a lot) more with less – for example, digitize finance quickly but without massive disruption. In parallel, CFOs’ scope is growing to include managing risk and its ultimate financial impacts, while taking on more and more – and ever-changing – compliance requirements across the entire business, not just finance. (In many businesses, we actually see IT returning to the CFO’s scope!)  Seems like the traditional Catch-22. I predict, though, that forward-thinking CFOs will see the opportunity in these mediocre economic times to consolidate gains, evolve their businesses into the digital economy, and streamline those consolidated operations by simplifying, analyzing, and automating.

7. Miles Ewing, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP – @mw_ewing@DeloitteSAP

Finance stands at a crossroads where new technology offers the chance to dramatically improve automation and efficiency, allowing finance to step forward as the analytic engine for companies. If finance fails to make this jump, other functions could increasingly take the lead role in analytics, leaving finance with a limited role as a business adviser.

8. Neil Krefsky, senior marketing director, Finance Line of Business Solutions, SAP @Krefsky

In the wake of digital everything, one of the most interesting outputs in finance is rise of the role “chief finance transformation officer.” The growing use of automation, digital disruption, and increased business partnering is driving the progression of this new executive role. CFOs and finance organizations will increasingly acknowledge the need for this leadership position requiring a transformational skill set that converges equal know-how in finance and IT. These new leaders will drive tremendous efficiencies in finance’s traditional tasks, but also be pioneers of cutting-edge technology that amplifies business foresight across the entire enterprise.

9. Chris Horak, global VP, Solution Marketing, SAP – @choirshark

The digital economy is as different from “classic” business as an Uber-summoned Tesla is from a horse-drawn buggy. 2017 will be the year when finance professionals realize that the digital revolution is not just about making fully existing systems and processes better and faster. While that is necessary in many cases, it is not sufficient to capitalize on the opportunity of digital economy. As the saying goes: “The electric lightbulb was not invented by trying to optimize the candle.” Finance teams that can draw on the power of a single source of truth for real-time reporting, governance, compliance, and predictive insight will be at the forefront of the digital frontier. They will discover that their unique value to the business is not about looking backwards, but charging forwards with innovation and new business models.

10. Rodger Howell, partner, PwC’s Strategy& – @rodger_howell@pwc_LLP

Finance is rethinking the approach to automate reporting. Many companies are skipping best-in-class software and using robotics process automation to automate their existing processes and approach, resulting in increased speed to process information, improved quality, reduced costs, and minimized human errors. It’s on fire! Once they have the processes automated, then they are looking at moving them to best-in-class software to drive additional benefit.

11. Tony Klimas, Principal, Global PI Finance Leader, EY Advisory Services – @tonyklimas, @EY_SAP

“The focus on automation, robotics, and advanced analytics will continue to drive digital disruption in the finance and accounting space. These technologies are accelerating the pace of change and will eventually become a “new normal.” At the same time, even newer technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence are starting to appear and will have significant influence on the way businesses serve their customers and stakeholders. It’s an exciting time and one in which traditional business operating models that have been with us for the last century are going to look quite different in the near future.”

12. Kevin McCollom, global VP, GRC Go-to-Market, SAP – @SAPTradeGeek

Digitalization of the finance function will speed up the synchronization of streams of financial and non-financial data. Being able to view data across functional divides will drive finance’s ability to run advanced analytics and develop a big-picture view of how changes in the business affect financial results and vice versa. Finance will need to acquire technology architectures designed to integrate multiple platforms and data types into a single repository. At the most advanced level, new integrated planning systems should be able to connect data from factory floor machines all the way to the income statement. By crossing departmental barriers, new cloud planning solutions are enabling advanced analysis. For example, finance can ask how a change in product design will cascade through the cost structure and affect margins. These new tools often come with self-service capabilities, allowing business partners to test the financial impact of multiple scenarios.

13. Richard McLean, regional CFO, Asia-Pacific and Japan, SAP

Open digital technologies will continue to support finance transformation. Transformation is accelerating in terms of companies and people needing investment decisions, as well as the development and implementation of new business models. This will require increased automation and simplification to drive process efficiencies, increased analytics to provide high-speed business insight to drive better business decision-making, and, finally, better collaboration so business connects in a much more seamless way.

14. Martin Naraschewski, VP, LOB Finance Solutions, SAP

The awareness for digital finance transformation is growing in the broader finance community, [and] 2017 will be all about making this transformation real, driven by three major adoption trends. First, finance will move to real-time analytics based on a renewal of back-end system architecture via in-memory platforms. Adoption paths will be individualized and vary from system upgrades to partial landscape harmonization to greenfield re-implementations. Finally, customers will seek rapid cost reductions via aggressive process automation. This will be through a mixture of dedicated automation solutions that leverage novel digital architectures that support robotic process automation tools that provide fast ROI at the expense of increased system complexity. In addition, 2017 will be the year for machine learning and predictive methods to make their way into finance.

15. Phuong Nguyen, SAP S/4HANA finance initiative lead, Capgemini Center of Excellence, Capgemini –@phuongnguyen_1@CapgemniConsul

2017 is the year for CFOs to take advantage of real-time insights and faster close thanks to digital finance with the capability to process information with high speed and huge [volumes] of data. The combination of both factors (high speed and Big Data) will help finance leaders operate, where accountants will be more and more supported by ERP systems that become more intelligent day after day. This change is the start of a new era where the relationship between man and machine is going to be drastically amended.

16. Colin Sampson, SVP and Ambassador for the Asia-Pacific and Japan Region, SAP

CFOs will continue to be more involved in IT decisions as they understand that technology will help them deliver on the business strategy and support innovation. It is critical that finance departments reimagine their processes to drive transformation and realize the benefits of a digital world; they cannot continue to do more of the same. Finally, adoption of cloud technologies will continue to be more ubiquitous.

17. Henner Schliebs, global VP, Audience Marketing, SAP S/4HANA and Finance, SAP – @hschliebs

2017 will be the year that finance professionals eventually understand the massive opportunity that modern technology provides. They will stop optimizing and re-engineering existing processes (a bad process quicker is still a bad process) based on old technology limitations, but rather design optimal processes that leverage the limitless possibilities available now. Accounting is becoming a continuous exercise, reporting is in the moment, forward-looking planning is nimble and supports dynamic resource allocation, fraud and risk management are embedded in all processes, and, finally, automation and robotics will find their way into the finance department more than ever. It will be a new world that uses methodologies of the personal life and brings it into the finance profession.

18. David Williams, VP, Global Product Marketing, Analytics (EPM & GRC), SAP – @daveswilliams

As finance continues to increase its focus on providing forward-looking insight to support the business, more investment will be made to automate what can be automated for greater efficiency while at the same time putting the technology in place to simulate actions and better predict future outcomes. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will be further embedded into the fabric of financial management systems, allowing finance teams to quickly sift through the increasing volume of data that the digital economy is creating, get the insights they need, and ask the questions they want in the moment without having to be a data scientist.

Do you agree? Let me know your predictions @jucubiss.

CFO Research surveyed 1,500+ finance professionals to find out how their careers are changing in the digital economy. Read the research Thriving in the Digital Economy: The Innovative Finance Function to discover nine trends shaping the future of financial management.

This blog originally appeared in the SAP D!gitalist magazine and has been republished with permission.