Management can\u2019t make informed decisions without financial clarity. To deliver financial clarity, serve investors, manage taxes and fulfill other requirements, large organizations employ armies of financial analysts and accountants. Too often, those professionals struggle with aging applications that deliver inadequate data and reports. IT leaders have the opportunity to support controllers, CFOs and other finance leaders with better technology.\nUnderstanding what finance departments want from ERP\nFinance managers require up-to-date systems and technologies to perform several aspects of their jobs, and IT must understand finance\u2019s needs in order to choose the right ERP system. Here are three priorities that the finance department will likely expect ERP systems to address.\n1. Keeping pace with enterprise growth. \nAs organizations grow in complexity, ERP systems and the finance function need to keep pace. For example, if the organization has recently gone through a major acquisition or business change, an older ERP system may not be equipped to adjust to the new reality. \u201cThe early approach to ERP was to bake process into the software. That worked well for many years. Now the world has changed and those fixed processes no longer work without supplemental processes,\u201d says Keith Mattioli, principal in KPMG\u2019s Enterprise Solutions practice.\n2. Minimizing reliance on error-prone spreadsheets. \nDespite the large sums spent on ERP systems and other types of business software each year, many critical finance functions are still completed with bespoke Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. These files frequently lack traditional IT or project management controls to ensure quality, and that can lead to problems. In 2013, The Telegraph reported that \u201cpoor spreadsheet protocols\u201d were primarily to blame for estimated $5.8 billion in trading losses that JP Morgan racked up in 2012 from credit default swaps. And according to CNBC, a study by U.K. financial advisory firm F1F9 found that 88 percent of all spreadsheets have errors in them \u2014 including many spreadsheets used by large organizations that ought to know better.\n\u201cCFOs are starting to realize that manual processes and spreadsheets simply do not scale to meet new business challenges,\u201d says Mattioli. \u201cManual processes also pose risk and governance challenges for finance.\u201d\n[Related: 8 ways to get the most out of your ERP system]\n3. Improving analytics and business intelligence. \nThe CFO and the finance department are expected to produce business cases, budgets and other reports that are based on high-quality data and solid information processing. Unfortunately, the data often comes from a variety of sources that vary considerably in quality. New ERP software may improve the finance department\u2019s analytics and business intelligence capabilities.\nBut before you initiate a discussion about an ERP upgrade, remember that finance departments tend to have risk-adverse cultures that prize accuracy and timely production. In that spirit, it is important to engage with finance at the right time. Avoid starting discussions about significant improvements or changes during quarter- or year-end cycles. Asking for a big picture conversation with a finance professional working to meet a deadline will undermine the connection.\nEvaluating new ERP options: Price, flexibility and BI \nCloud-based ERP systems and software-as-a-service offerings can be good options if you\u2019re concerned about price, or if you want a flexible system that can provide business intelligence (BI) capabilities.\n\u201cThe low initial investment is a key benefit of [SaaS-based] ERP products,\u201d says Eric Kimberling, managing partner at Panorama Consulting, an ERP consulting firm based in Denver. \u201cI see a large number of small organizations adopt cloud-based ERP solutions, and a small number of large organizations.\u201d\nHowever, perceived security risks prevent some large companies from moving financial systems to the cloud. \u201cFinance is a core company function that cannot fail \u2014 that\u2019s one of the reasons why finance has been slow to adopt cloud services,\u201d says Mattioli. Lost or corrupted financial data may expose a company to tax and regulatory sanctions. And under the Sarbanes-Oxley law, executives of public companies face potential prison time if financial statements are incorrect.\nBut providers of hosted ERP tools are themselves to make the security of their customers\u2019 data a priority. \u201cSaaS providers can go out of business if they fail to deliver, so they have strong incentives to deliver a secure and reliable service,\u201d Kimberling says.\nFlexibility and BI capabilities are other important features to look for in a new ERP system. \u201cA growing number of cloud-based ERP systems enable business transformation and business intelligence,\u201d says Mattioli. IT has an important role in evaluating these suppliers and determining if their offerings will fit with existing technology. \u201cThese benefits are important because there are limits to what can be achieved with cost reduction,\u201d he adds.\nHow to add value to finance with technology\nData quality is absolutely essential with financial systems. And processes and training \u2014 both of which likely fall under IT\u2019s purview \u2014 are as important as the technical capabilities of the software itself when it comes to ensuring data quality. Making sure that best practices are in place may be a new challenge for \u00ccT groups that have traditionally built one-off solutions in response to requests from business users, according to Mattioli. \u201cIt is important to have difficult discussions about simplification and look at the bigger picture,\u201d he says.\n[Related: ERP software gets a makeover]\nUse the following three approaches to help the finance division get the most out of its ERP technology:\n1. Data quality management\nTake the time to assess how well the company is organizing and carrying out data management. A visualization tool such as Tableau is often useful to identify anomalies. \u201cHyperion is a popular business intelligence tool, and IT can facilitate configuring it effectively,\u201d says Kimberling.\n2. Business process improvement\nIT\u2019s traditional strength in business process mapping and improvement should come into play when supporting the finance department. \u201cIneffective or outdated charts of accounts drive major problems for finance departments: IT may be able to help implement solutions to these problems,\u201d says Kimberling. Modelling how finance produces a quarterly forecast or annual budget is an excellent starting point.\n3. Audit support and tracking\nMaintaining accurate records regarding financial transactions is important. IT can add value to this process by maintaining robust identity and access management controls. Budgets and other financial documents are frequently subject change over the course of ongoing business activities, so tracking how decisions are made is important.\nRemember that auditors are rarely impressed if a company responds to their queries by saying, \u201cOur system does not track that.\u201d Controls make a difference in achieving \u201cclean\u201d audit results. Finance needs to be able to withstand audits and audit-like inquiries from internal auditors, external auditors and management.\nThe way forward for finance and IT\nSenior executives rely on financial data to make effective decisions. Supporting finance leaders starts by understanding their world and their needs: the pain of manual processes, the need to deliver accurate reports to critical audiences and the importance of enabling managers to make smart decisions. Current and aspiring IT leaders can also learn from their peers in finance who have developed robust reporting and analytical skills. Building these relationships will ensure that IT is at the table and taken seriously when decisions about ERP systems and other financial technologies are contemplated.