For many, and certainly for me, the first Star Wars film ever released was a game changer. Star Wars: Episode IV introduced us to a world of new technology: the dreaded Death Star, lightsabers and tons of blasters, and it was our first glimpse of the now-iconic Millenium Falcon. We witnessed dogfights in space and felt like we were there. And the sound…we could FEEL the sound. The sci-fi was novel for its time, but it bears striking similarities to new technologies we are seeing today. One of those new frontiers is among finance operations.
RPA, machine vision, and artificial intelligence all sound like features of R2-D2, yet they are now more reality than fiction. It got me thinking…what else can this iconic film teach us about finance technology adoption?
The Empire and the Rebellion
At its heart, Star Wars is a story about good versus evil. While subsequent episodes (or prequels, to be precise) twisted the plot by showing that the evil Empire had its roots in the “good side” (the Galactic Republic), things are more straightforward in Episode IV — the Empire is evil, and the Rebellion is good.
In the finance department, we might argue that manual processing is the equivalent of the evil Empire. Manual processing appears to be on a relentless quest to consume all of the time, resources, and money that it can. But, similar to the creation of the Empire, manual processing was not always evil. In the early days of finance departments, the adoption of new methods to manage and control the processing of expense claims, incoming invoices, and supplier payments was a huge step forward.
But, the universe of finance is changing. Although manual processing was fit for its purpose when introduced, it simply is not anymore. It IS time to change.
The Rebel Alliance wants to do things differently. Led by dynamic idealists, the Rebellion looks to do what is right, for the good of everyone, and is not defined by the rules of the past. This ethos and mission closely align with the introduction of technology into the finance department.
The Key Players
Let’s focus on the main characters and their parallels in finance tech.
Vader is the enforcer of all that is old and bad. A dark, brooding, power, he follows the orders of his masters without question and feeling. He refuses to enter the modern age until it’s too late, and it ultimately leads to his death.
Adopting technology will likely kill most manual processes, which is why the change is so hard, sometimes. In many cases, there is a sacrifice to move from manual to technology-enabled: change, uncertainty, discomfort. None of these are pleasant but, ultimately, all are worthwhile for the greater good of the galaxy, or your business.
Princess Leia is the shining light of the Rebellion. Yet, despite defending a good cause for years, her efforts seem only to make gradual progress. The rebellion is always one battle or poor tactical choice away from oblivion. She is the Star Wars equivalent of technologies such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Both are constantly battling to do more with less but constantly missing the goal, primarily due to less-than-adequate resources and a feeling that something is missing.
Han is a gunslinger, the smuggler who will do anything for the right price. Han’s work is rarely pretty, but it is almost always effective. Robotic process automation (RPA) fulfills a similar role in the modern finance department. Not necessarily the most elegant or long-term solution, but incredibly effective at getting things done.
Luke is the hero who ultimately becomes one of the most powerful Jedi in the universe, but it took some work to get him there. At the start, he is in need of training before reaching his full potential. In that way, Luke is like artificial intelligence (AI). AI has been around for many years but, like Luke, it requires education, experience, and development to reach “Jedi Master” status.
Good vs Evil: How to Defeat an Empire
The storyline in Star Wars: Episode IV focuses on the Death Star, an Empire-built weapon of mass destruction. During the film, it becomes clear that the Empire will stop at nothing to retain control, using the Death Star to destroy whole planets and, as we near the climax, to destroy the Rebel Alliance forever. So how can a small band of misfits possibly defeat an enemy with the power and scale of the Empire?
Whether in finance or in film, all of the technologies and actors have specific roles to play in defined use cases — it takes a team effort to deliver the goods. The consistency and tenacity of Leia (OCR), the effectiveness of Han (RPA), and the skill of Luke (AI) all came together to bring down the seemingly indestructible Darth Vader (manual processes). But none of them could have done it on their own. OCR delivers core information to RPA and AI for further automation. RPA is excellent for the speedy processing of well-defined tasks, and AI excels when a higher level of skill and decision-making is required. Each is part of the solution, part of the universe of elements that needs to act together to deliver better things. All play vital roles, but it is the combination that delivers true power.
The mystical undertone of Star Wars is the Force, an unseen power that can be used for good or bad but ultimately connects all things.
For us, technology is the Force. No one person controls it and it is the glue holding modern society together. Of course, we can all live perfectly happily without acknowledging the Force, just letting it ubiquitously influence our work and lives. Equally, those who can use the Force, and CFOs who can effectively use technology, rapidly find themselves with skills and capabilities that set them apart from the crowd.
A New Hope
So this is a call to all daring, adventurous CFOs out there. Are you ready to be the driver of technological change throughout your finance department? No pressure. But the fate of the galaxy may rest on your decision.
May the Force be with you.
To learn more about how your organization can harness the powers of the Force (modern technology), visit www.appzen.com.
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