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Digital change: it’s time for finance professionals to lead the way

All colleagues in the public sector need to get involved in harnessing the benefits technology for a positive change, says CIPFA’s president Andrew Burns.

When it comes to deploying technology to improve the way we deliver public services, there is still a default assumption in most organisations that any new initiative will be led and delivered by the IT team.

Although that’s the way things were in the past, this way of thinking isn’t fit for today’s digital world.

In our lives outside work, most of us have become expert at adapting to and using technology to make our lives more convenient.

We now bank online or through phone apps, use smart technology to keep our homes warm when we need to, or simply turn to Netflix if we want to watch a film at a time that suits us, without a second thought.

Within our organisations, technology is as much an integral part of everyone’s role now as it was in the past for the people in the IT department.

And to use our resources as effectively as possible in a digital world, every public sector organisation has the obligation to improve the pace at which it deploys technology.

However, there is still a gap between the opportunities offered by technology to the public sector and the ability of professionals to identify them and then put them to work in creating better public services.

With an overarching perspective on, and understanding of, the fundamentals of business, finance professionals are well placed to change that.

Based on the conversations I have had in the past year as president of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, there is a lot of work we need to do if we are to lead the charge.

The starting point must be to accept that technology is force for positive change, better for the public purse and better for the services we have to deliver.

Rather than a threat to finance jobs, it will change what we do.

As routine tasks and some decision-making are automated, our knowledge will be in greater demand.

New roles will emerge which will require the of skills finance professionals.

We will retain an important role as business partner and adviser.

This change will be mirrored in virtually every function across our organisations.

There are a number of progressive finance professionals who understand how different our organisations have to be.

They are already leading their organisations on their digital journey.

However, more of us need to join their number as champions for and drivers of this change.

In order to help finance professionals understand what they need to do, CIPFA is partnering with Eduserv to find out the extent to which we are involved in digital change today and what support we need, so that we can ensure our organisations get more out of technology in the future.

The views shared through this research will help shape new resources and tools which will help public sector finance professionals maximise their contribution to the future of their organisations.

On behalf of CIPFA, I would like to urge you and any fellow professionals to get involved.