Four tips for deploying agile in the finance function

11 April 2019

The success of agile working in the IT domain has inspired other departments to adopt the approach. In finance, agile has rapidly gained ground as a key approach for making the function more responsive, forward-looking, and, most importantly, proactive towards the business. Daniela Pleiner, a consultant at Blinklane Consulting, explores how finance can embrace agile and scale the methodology across the entire function. 

Financial Agility is realised when the finance department works in an Agile mode (e.g. using Kanban methodology) and when traditional financial processes within the organisation are adapted to support the agile way of working. With agility in place, finance can enjoy the adaptability and responsiveness needed to transition into being a strategic partner to the organisation. 

Achieving a more mature level of Financial Agility – one where agile has been scaled from a pilot environment to a more enterprise level – is however no easy feat. Typically, finance functions are used to working along the lines of rigorous and demanding processes – this is to a large extent in direct conflict with agile's core values and principles aimed at removing overhead, friction, and fostering co-creation and collaboration. 

Based on Blinklane's year-long experience in agile and finance transformations, Daniela Pleiner outlines four tips for successfully deploying financial agility:

Four tips for deploying agile in the finance function

Train your people

Behind every financial system are real people. Those professionals have to be made aware of the implications of the agile transformation on the financial processes. Therefore, it is truly important to go back to the basic agile values and to openly address challenges in the context of finance. The goal is to trigger the right discussions. You will be surprised how open they are for changes once they grasp the concept! 

Show the benefits

When you want to become a truly agile organisation, relying on business as usual from the finance function is no longer viable. However, putting some pressure on finance and asking for immediate changes to cope with agile will not help. Instead, show them the benefits from their perspective. Think: might the new process simplify their administration? Can we reduce manual data processing by linking to an agile project management tool? Or what kind of new data could we use to make better investment decisions? 

Simplify and visualise

Changing accounting approaches or funding value streams can be quite big undertakings. Too often employees say, “this is not possible in our organisation”, “we are different”, or “we need to see the return on investment” and they become doubters. What helps in such situations is to simplify the complex processes and visualise alternatives. Seeing is believing here. 

As an example, what about introducing the mindsets of venture capitalists and their investment strategies? Venture capitalists aim for a diverse portfolio that fits their strategy, they mostly invest in teams they believe in and have frequent feedback loops where the start-ups can demonstrate their value. In other words, venture capitalists plant a seed, but even if they can’t harvest the fruits yet (i.e. direct revenues), they do not bail out. This is not so different from the basic strategy at the heart of the agile approach. 

Be realistic

Turning long-established financial processes around in a few weeks? Very unlikely. In a few months? Hard to achieve as well. Bravely challenging the status quo and making small steps here and there? This is the way! Most often a hybrid version is the right first step. The goal is not to disrupt all the financial processes within the company to make them fit the Agile value delivery. Rather it is vital that Finance has a constructive role to play in supporting the business to be more effective, be it in quick funding decisions or intelligent process automation. 

Make the move: a final comment

Finance should be encouraged to be a truly supportive function – a value promoter – and Financial Agility is the key word here. For a scaled agile transformation to be truly successful in finance, it is key that the function leverage the change capabilities of the organisation. There is no question that the start will be difficult, uncertain and slow. It requires a fundamental mindset change but the benefits are certainly worthwhile.

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Top digital marketing | e-business consulting firms in the Netherlands

10 April 2019

New research has identified which consulting firms in the Netherlands provide the best services in the area of e-business, e-commerce and digital marketing. A select group of thirteen consultancies lead the pack, headed by local player SparkOptimus, followed by strategy giants McKinsey and BCG, and the Big Four firms Deloitte and KPMG. 

Data sourced from Emerce, a Dutch platform which surveyed over 1,000 decision-makers that have in the past year hired consultants, outlines the consulting firms regarded as the country’s top e-business consultancies.

Amsterdam-based firm SparkOptimus, founded in 2010, received the largest number of plaudits. A rapidly growing client portfolio and stature has seen the consulting firm grow to a team of over 80 consultants, specialised in digital strategy and implementation. “The acknowledgment is further proof that our pragmatic and ‘getting it done’ approach to digital transformation and disruption is widely recognised,” said Tom Voskes, Managing Partner of SparkOptimus.

The presence of McKinsey & Company and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in shared second position is no surprise – the pair have consistently ranked in the top echelons of the list for several years now. McKinsey provides its digital marketing services through its Marketing & Sales and Retail (responsible for the firm’s e-commerce and omnichannel propositions) practices, while digital support is provided by McKinsey Digital. BCG has similar practices, with its digital capabilities bundled in the firm’s BCG Platinion (technology build and implementation) and BCG Digital Ventures (incubation and prototyping) arms.

Both Deloitte and KPMG also rank among the leaders in the Dutch consultancy space for e-commerce and digital marketing. They have similarly grown to be regular names in the ranking, with the duo of Big Four firms making the top 10 for the past three consecutive years. KPMG offers its digital marketing and e-commerce services from its Customer Advisory practice, which is part of KPMG Management Consulting, a unit within KPMG Advisory. The service line offers six main propositions, including Customer Experience, Marketing, Customer Data & Analytics, and Customer Centric Organisation. At Deloitte, the relevant services are provided by the Customer Strategy and Sales & Marketing units, both part of Deloitte Consulting. Technology and creative support falls under the responsibility of Deloitte Digital.Top digital marketing | e-business consulting firms in the NetherlandsHot on the heels of the top ranked digital marketing consultancy players is a group of six consulting firms. EY and PwC complete the presence of the Big Four, with Accenture another global giant that has made the cut. EY has several service lines that cooperate to cover its e-business portfolio, including Customer, Strategy, Program Management, People Advisory Services and Technology. At PwC, strategic work is picked up by Strategy&, while PwC Consulting houses the expertise around implementation and technology. Accenture meanwhile uses its Strategy division to provide management consultancy to its customers, while Accenture Interactive and Accenture Digital take on creative and technology work respectively.

Also on the list, Boer & Croon is a management consulting firm and provider of young executives with a track record of over four decades in the Benelux, DigitalWorks is a specialist in the field of digital marketing, branding and campaign management, while Online Dialogue specialises in conversion optimisation from digital channels and marketing campaigns.

Completing the list of the Netherlands’ top consulting firms for e-business and digital marketing are EY VODW – formed late last year when EY acquired local player VODW, a leading marketing & sales and digital consultancy – and Cognizant, a US-headquartered technology firm that has a strong presence in the digital customer experience landscape. 

The ranking comes at a time when investments in the field are booming. The rapid digitisation of business models, the rise of new consumer demands, and the emergence of online as the mainstream channel for business means that organisations face a burning need to adjust – or else risk losing their competitive edge. From the development of new online strategies and business models to the integration of e-commerce within a broader brick-and-mortar approach, or the optimisation of the customer journey to the implementation of supply chain systems to ensure on-time delivery to clients, external consultants are playing a key role in helping clients successfully navigate the challenges. 

Related: The 25 best management consulting firms in the Netherlands.