There is no doubt that digitalisation is a must for the finance function. But how do you find the right balance between human and technology? Albert-Jan Kroezen, Director Finance and Control at Van Oord, will share his vision.

by Charles Sanders

The fact that the finance function needs to be transformed is crystal clear. The biggest challenge is finding the right balance between digitalization and staying human. How to find this balance was the topic of the Agium EPM & OneStream webinar Wednesday November 25th. Amongst others, Albert-Jan Kroezen told the story of Van Oord and their current transformation.

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“Digitalising finance is going fast and has quit some consequences”, says the Director of Finance and Control. “Processes become different and in the end, a big part of the human work in finance will disappear. Not only in the transaction process, but also the more complex processes and activities, such as making prognosis and scenario planning, will become more digital. Of course, this has consequences for the finance department, but this also impacts other parts of the business.”

Understanding the data

At Van Oord, digital transformation is happening. The international maritime company does this very phased. “As a family-owned company, the value of the employees is of great importance, especially during big changes. Van Oord is transforming its finance department for some time now, but there is still a long way to go. An example where digitalisation was playing an important role, and still is, was the implementation of OneStream, a platform for corporate performance management. The first phase is completed and the basic setup works to great satisfaction. In the next phase, OneStream will be expanded to a full scope CPM setup.

Transformation happens step by step, but with a clear goal: a better, smarter and more intelligence use of financial data. This means that the finance function is changing. “The more traditional financial will be replaced by someone who is a data expert, who is able to explain the use of data, in a not so nerdy way. It is about understanding the data, and not becoming overwhelmed by this data. Database analysis, for example, allows us to determine the deployment of our ships. Where, when, why and in the most intelligent way.”

‘I can coup’

If the Director of Finance and Control at Van Oord himself can coup? “I am an early adopter, curious and young at heart”, he laughs. “I think that digitalisation will become bigger and bigger and I want to play a part in that. I think the biggest challenge is the human-digital factor. And this is not only the case at Van Oord by the way”.

In doing so, Albert-Jan Kroezen realises (“I am an a-typical financial, and not at all blue”), that after a finance transformation, different competences of employees are required. “That could mean that you have to let people go”, he says. “No, that is not fun and this is a paradox. So, if necessary, we let them go nicely. But don’t forget that being too sweet or too nice is not that easy. Besides implementing new technologies and systems, we need to speed up the process of developing the competences of our financials. Some companies have taken an insufficient responsibility in this manner, I think”.

Future of employees changes

According to Kroezen, when finding that right balance between human and technology, it is important to be transparent. Why? Because we need to communicate that in time, from the seven people that work in administration, only two will be necessary in the future. And, those two will fulfill the role of advisor instead of administrator, where a scenario could be that one of them is a current employee and the other one is a new, digital native, employee. The future of the employees is changing, inside and outside the company. And those who are not willing to change, will end up on a sidetrack.

Albert-Jan Kroezen: “The digital transition asks for focus on technology and financial processes, but you should never forget the humans and their competences.

The question remains: how far can we go in terms of digitalisation? Can we plan three years ahead regarding this transition?

“It is almost philosophical, but computers can think, sometimes even better than humans,” says Albert-Jan Kroezen. “They can process gigantic amounts of data and information, are not emotional and apolitical. This means that they could replace humans on multiple levels. But, at the same time, the human factor is and will be of great importance. They have the knowledge about the market and the company, the experience, the relational aspects, internal and external and so on. Change is undeniable, but what we see now in terms of digitalisation is only the tip of the iceberg. For a family-owned company such as Van Oord, finding the symphony between human and technology is a matter of time, money and making choices.”

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