Case study – Adrian van der Merwe, ACMA, CGMA
Background: Adrian van der Merwe, ACMA, CGMA, is CEO of North Wind Digital, a boutique consulting firm focused on implementing automation, machine learning, and AI for corporate finance functions. It has 23 people across four geographies: Australia, India, the UK and South Africa.
Problem: Wrong focus
One mistake we’ve seen clients make is taking what I’d call a dictatorial approach to transformation. They have focused entirely on cutting full-time equivalents, or FTEs, with no thought to the consequences it might have. That's a fundamental mistake. If all you do is make cuts you will see some change at first, but then the process will grind to a halt as soon as the message gets out to the rest of the organization that you may lose your job because of the change.
In one case, the company had acquired the software and had a global vendor implementing the system, but there was no buy-in. At first there was some enthusiasm, but after two years the transformation wasn’t working successfully because people weren’t engaged and weren’t implementing the change the company had envisioned. They had to go back to the drawing board to determine what to do next. In cases like this, clients often struggle with next steps. Do they even try and adopt the technology again? Or should they just set it aside and go back to business as usual?
Solution: Consider the message and your goals
We try to convince these clients that their fundamental mistake was not having a candid conversation with their team about the organization’s goals.
Why it works
Our approach has been successful for several reasons:
Perhaps the company wants to use its digital transformation to reduce areas such as accounts receivable, accounts payable or whatever else by 40%. It’s important to let people know what you have in mind but also to reassure them about what it will mean to them. Let them know that they will have the opportunity for retraining or to move to another area of the organization. Once our clients adopt that approach, they have been more successful in terms of their outcomes.
Clients have also been very successful when they stepped back and got a holistic view. In one case, people were working very long hours. Before simply seeking a digital fix for this problem, the company considered how they could use digital transformation to change the way the organization operated. As a result, they found ways to make their teams’ lives easier and gave them more hours in the day.
As part of that process, the organization asked people what they struggled with. The team was encouraged to engage with our firm directly and share their problems with us. They told us what they would need to do their jobs better. We’re 18 months into the engagement and it has changed how they work as a company.
Visit www.aicpa.org/digitalforward for additional resources.