Silver linings: how cloud systems have delivered during COVID

August 7, 2020

First published on Accountancy Today, by Andromeda Wood, Senior Director of Data Modeling at Workiva.


The cloud system is certainly having a heyday in recent months as all organisations are looking for quick and efficient ways to add value and adapt to new, remote ways of working. 

This is so much the case, in fact, that Gartner recently reported that financial leaders continuing to invest in digital transformation were 1.4x more likely to have an advantage over those that didn’t, coming out of the COVID-crisis. Now that we’ve hopefully come through the initial panic and lockdown phases of COVID-19, the pressure is on for senior management teams to continue the digital transformation to enable new ways of working. 

As much of the global workforce continues to work remotely, businesses are now settling into the long-term ramifications of COVID-19 fallout. McKinsey has outlined five stages of COVID-recovery, which I’ve written about previously. We’ve now come through the first two stages – resolve and resilience – and are moving (albeit at different paces) through to return, reimagination and reform. How businesses approach these final three stages will be critical for setting up for resilient, sustainable, long-term success. 

Resilience will require continued investment into cloud platforms that boost flexibility, connection and accountability for everyone within a business. 

As we see companies coming through COVID-19, we’ve started to see innovation in ways we hadn’t imagined. Canalys recently reported that spending on cloud solutions hit an all-time record high in Q1 – up 34% to a total of $31bn (£24.7bn) – despite businesses halting a large proportion of their IT investment in light of COVID-19. No longer are companies relying on outdated solutions, but rather they’re looking at how they can better decentralise information and processes across departments to drive efficiency and results. In order to achieve the rapid innovation to current practices required by a crisis as well as those dramatic, long-term results, the cloud holds the key. 

According to research from Morgan Stanley, a shocking minority of workloads are currently on the cloud (20%) – which is at stark odds considering that finance teams are hoping that by the end of next year, we’ll be over double that (44%). So how do we get there? 

The solution lies within cloud integration – specifically connected reporting solutions designed to create efficiencies and transparencies in complex business and reporting processes. 

Connected reporting platforms like ours will be the next in the evolution of legacy technologies. If we look at the tech that have been so critical to powering connectivity during the pandemic – such as cloud, 5G, and WiFi more generally – they’ve really revolutionised the way people interact, whether that’s within or across businesses. While many have integrated some cloud functions, this has often been limited to particular use cases as opposed to across entire businesses. We need to think bigger. The cloud is often thought of as a place to store data or files, something the pandemic has really forced companies to rethink. The cloud is also somewhere to work, have meetings, produce collaborative documents (like this one), and manage control and changes connecting that cloud stored data directly with the final reports and presentations. 

Connecting – with co-workers, with customers, and with other external stakeholders – has become increasingly vital during the pandemic, which has forced people to work out better ways of operating across businesses, locations and time zones. Management teams looking to implement smart solutions across departments should start by addressing a few questions: How will this support the ways we work? What isn’t working? How do we fix that? Once those questions have been answered, teams will be better able to implement cloud technologies to best address company pain points quickly and efficiently, to circumvent any underinvestment or neglect of other IT systems or solutions. 

Platform solutions – particularly across financial functions – have been a gamechanger for those looking for holistic business solutions, as they provide a set framework that can be customised to reporting, regulatory, or operational needs, and allow for simultaneous collaboration while implementing controlled changes for accountability.

The cloud means businesses and their employees can move faster, work smarter and be more targeted and agile in workflows. When something needs to change quickly, the data is there, the people are there and the platform is easy to customise.

COVID-19 hasn’t just pointed out where IT can streamline, it’s also highlighted where other departments can work better together to create smoother workflow processes that will add value as businesses start to emerge from lockdown, and improve the return on technological investment sooner rather than later. Investing in solutions that empower employees to remain agile and resilient will be key to setting up for future success.

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