AI is the technology buzzword on everyone’s lips, but using artificial intelligence technologies is not yet standard practice within finance functions.
To be sure, two-thirds of finance leaders surveyed by Gartner said they’re either using or actively planning to use AI or machine learning in their departments. But so far only 39% have done so, and 30% do not yet have plans to employ AI in the finance function.
Gartner suggested that CFOs have a key role to play in instilling a culture that accepts and takes advantage of AI’s capabilities.
“The most successful AI-forward finance organizations embrace and evangelize AI at the C-suite level and embed data science teams within finance departments while avoiding reliance on third parties,” said Mark McDonald, a senior director analyst for Gartner.
He stressed that maximizing the benefits of AI requires finance staff to keep an open mind about its potential impact on the workforce. “It’s only when employees embrace AI as a co-worker rather than a threat to their jobs that organizations see the highest likelihood and magnitude of success,” McDonald said.
AI Success Strategies
Gartner said it has identified some characteristics of the most successful finance organizations using AI today.
For one, short-term efforts can provide value. “Smaller and less-complex pilots built in early phases of maturity are fast to build, and their simplicity increases their chances of success,” Gartner wrote in its survey report. “Smaller efforts are also easier for employees to understand, making them easier to adopt.”
However, transformative results take time. “Only with an increased AI competency can an organization tackle complex, company-specific, and transformative use cases like forecasting, scenario planning, and complex decision support,” Gartner wrote. “Attempting use cases that exceed the available AI competency will likely fail.”
Gartner also noted that data science has emerged as a new role in finance, with a majority of finance teams using it. Where such a headcount was once seen as “risky and frivolous,” modern finance teams commonly use data scientists whether they leverage AI or not.
Gartner recommended that finance departments pursue a balanced approach of teaching basic data science to existing staff and hiring professional data scientists with formal training. “Newly hired professional data scientists deliver technical competency, while internally trained citizen data scientists ensure solutions serve specific financial requirements that fit into existing workflows,” Gartner wrote.
McDonald further advised finance functions to “put the data scientists close to the processes and people that will train AI, make sure those people understand that AI can make their jobs easier, and give them the time needed to produce transformative results.”
Gartner projected that by 2026, finance organizations with more than three years of AI skills investment will double their productivity over organizations with no AI skills.
Also by 2026, Gartner said, AI and automation will result in 50% of all new employees hired by top-performing corporate finance functions having backgrounds other than finance or accounting.