In April, Singapore allowed more of its workforce to return to offices, and split-team arrangements were no longer mandatory. However, the workplace is far from returning to the pre-pandemic norm — many companies are planning a permanent shift to remote working or a hybrid work arrangement.

At the onset of Covid-19, finance divisions had to work around the clock to accommodate for the more flexible workforce. Now, what started off as a temporary measure seems here to stay.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In an increasingly tech-powered world, organisations will need to pivot to meet changes as they come, with minimal disruptions to operations. How can the financial teams of large government agencies respond quickly?

Reimagining finance

The scale and operations of many large organisations often make streamlining processes difficult. Likewise public sector agencies may need more coordinated effort to adapt to changes such as alternate work structures, notes Lee Thong Tan, CFO Practice Lead, Asia at Workday.

Compounding the issue, many government agencies currently remain on legacy finance and accounting systems. Changing these systems entail “costly customisations, integrations, or bolted-on applications”. This makes “continuous recalibration” extremely difficult, he explains.

Public agencies will need to reimagine every part of their operations to respond quickly to pressing needs. Take Clark County’s example.

The major US County cut 10,000 general ledgers down to 400 and onboards new hires twice as fast with Workday’s cloud-based solutions. Its financial reporting software integrates with existing systems, so officers don’t have to struggle with siloed data or cumbersome steps.

With renewed insights from an optimised budget report, the County cut 15 per cent of its unapproved spend. Greater automation & efficiency has also allowed the County to save US$1.6 million annually.

As Singapore progresses towards its ambitious Smart Nation goals, a more efficient enterprise management cloud system will be helpful. Here are three key features agencies should prioritise as they upgrade their finance tools.

Seamless, user-friendly integration

Public sector finance systems must be integrated. Agencies should make use of a single repository of data, synchronised across departments, Tan notes.

By merging duplicate datasets and streamlining information flows, such a system can greatly increase manpower efficiency. Finance managers can spend less time on chasing paper trails.

User friendly enterprise management cloud applications that don’t need programming knowledge to operate can help too. This means any employee can easily reconfigure the system to adapt to new demands without unnecessary back-and-forth with IT teams or engaging external consultants, enabling them to respond to the unexpected much more efficiently.

An eye on security

Governments are entrusted with troves of private data and cannot forget their duty towards compliance and risk management, Tan says. They need to work with partners that can provide them with a “holistic, real-time overview of how their data systems are running”, he advises.

For instance, employees should only be able to access information they are authorised to view. Any system access and change should be tracked and auditable.

Additionally, compliance tools should come with analytics to help agencies “monitor for any discrepancies and proactively detect and remedy any hiccups in real-time”, Tan adds. This would eradicate manual compliance, which is time-consuming and less effective.

Analytics for agility and foresight

Beyond securely storing and processing data, governments need to transform information into concrete steps. Data is the new cash that needs to be mined. With analytics tools, governments can learn to make sense of current data and project future revenues and expenses.

Advanced analytics will also help governments to account for both near- and long-term changes, to help with business continuity, Tan says. This ability to budget and forecast will allow agencies to continuously recalibrate their plans as situations change.

Forecasting is increasingly important as Covid-19 triggers mounting budget uncertainty. When governments have “complete oversight on all major systems and processes”, they can “mitigate long-term financial sustainability risks”, Tan points out.

We live in a volatile world, but technology is evolving to the functions and capabilities to meet new challenges head-on. In response, governments have to embrace digital transformation to keep pace with these changes and deliver the best for citizens.