Looking at AI adoption and the tech landscape in East Africa

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Urvi Patel, Risk Advisory Service Line Leader and the Technology, Media & Telecommunications industry leader at Deloitte East Africa, shares her views on AI adoption and the technology landscape in the region, ahead of her panel participation at the 2024 CFO East Africa Summit - Man vs Machine.

Urvi Patel, Risk Advisory Service line leader and the Technology, Media & Telecommunications industry leader at Deloitte East Africa, shares her views on AI adoption and the technology landscape in the region, ahead of her panel participation at the 2024 CFO East Africa Summit - Man vs Machine.

Tell us a little bit about your journey into the technological space and why Deloitte has been your only employer?

My dad had an engineering background, so I learned from an early age that there was no problem that you couldn’t fix on your own … from the fridge to the old school water heater systems. He was also obsessed with technology and influenced me to study IT. I interned at, and later started my career with, Deloitte in the USA before coming back home to work for Deloitte in Nairobi. I enjoy it because it gives me the platform to continuously challenge myself. I get energy out of tackling complex issues, working across multiple dimensions, dealing with multiple clients and the best part of it all is the people I get to impact on a daily basis; as clients, colleagues and teams.

You have seen the results from the CFO East Africa technology survey of 100 top CFOs in East Africa. What is your view of the results?

The responses are interesting, but not surprising. Everyone is talking about AI and the use of emerging technology within functions such as finance but, from the responses, the uptake is generally quite low. There is probably the fear of the unknown and a lack of data and process maturity and relevant skills within organisations to quickly adopt and adapt to these trends. There was a fun question in the survey asking about golf handicaps, and I was glad to see that there are many of us who don’t have the time to play!

Can you discuss the current landscape of technology risks facing businesses, particularly those related to finance and accounting?

Risk is dynamic and evolving a lot faster than it was a couple of years ago. The finance and accounting domain within organisations is seeing quite a bit of evolution with constant updates to regulatory and financial reporting standards. This calls for the introduction of new business processes, solutions and skills to address the risk of technological systems not being compliant.

Cyberattack threats such as ransomware, phishing and data breaches continue to pose a significant risk to finance and accounting operations. Businesses in East Africa face growing pressure to comply with data privacy regulations as non-compliance can lead to significant fines and legal consequences. Cloud computing migration presents benefits but also introduces risks like data security and vendor management.

Adoption of emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, and blockchain brings opportunities along with ethical and regulatory considerations. Insider threats persist despite technological advancements, posing risks to sensitive financial data. CFOs now spend more time on technology discussions, emphasising the importance of assessing cybersecurity and operational risks related to third-party vendors and technology advancements to safeguard financial data integrity.

How does Deloitte approach advising CFOs on mitigating technology-related risks in today's rapidly evolving digital environment?

Keep it simple. The starting point is awareness; CFOs need to stay informed of the changing landscape around them and understand the non-financial implications that these risks and tech trends pose. Once you have good discipline around the basics, you can formulate the right action plan to mitigate the risks, as you build capacity and capability within the teams. This is why I believe 63 percent of the CFOs said that technological aptitude is an important criterion for them in finance appointments.

What are some common challenges CFOs face when integrating new technologies into their financial systems, and how does Deloitte assist in overcoming these challenges?

In my experience, common challenges facing CFOs and finance functions include integrating new technology solutions with legacy systems, ensuring data quality and accuracy, navigating finance transformation discussions regarding cost and ROI, and assessing scalability and flexibility in a rapidly evolving tech landscape. These challenges often intersect with the need for effective programme and project management, as well as user training and change management to maximise the benefits of technology investments.

To address these challenges, it is essential to develop a comprehensive transformation strategy that considers current requirements while anticipating future scalability needs. This strategy should involve bringing in the right experts, both internally and externally, to structure and plan implementation programmes effectively. Additionally, organisations must assess their current data and process maturity levels and adopt a phased, incremental approach to technology adoption, starting with quick-win use cases and gradually scaling up to more complex implementations.

By prioritising a strategic approach to finance transformation, including robust programme management and a focus on user adoption, CFOs can mitigate risks associated with technology integration, ensure data-driven decision-making, and ultimately drive greater efficiency and effectiveness in finance operations.

Could you provide examples of successful technology implementations in financial departments that have improved risk management and operational efficiency?

The adoption of cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems has revolutionised financial management, offering centralised and automated processes for accounting, reporting, budgeting and compliance. These systems enhance operational efficiency and risk control by providing integrated modules tailored to financial departments' needs. Additionally, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has become a cornerstone for automating repetitive financial tasks like reconciliation and reporting, freeing up resources and minimising human-related errors.

In more developed markets, financial institutions are leveraging cutting-edge technologies like AI-powered fraud detection systems and advanced analytics for risk modelling. AI-driven fraud detection systems analyse transactional data in real-time, enabling early detection of fraudulent activities and reducing financial risks. Meanwhile, the integration of advanced analytics and data visualisation tools enhances risk modelling, offering deeper insights into market, credit and operational risks, thereby facilitating informed decision-making and proactive risk management strategies.

Okay, enough about technology, let’s talk about you, Urvi. Tell us more about yourself, what kind of a person are you in and out of the office?

Contrary to what you see, several personality tests have concluded that I am an introvert who likes to keep to herself. I struggle to sit still, and meditation has never worked. Recently I picked up muay-thai (Thai combat boxing) with the family, in the spirit of trying different things. Most of my time outside the office is spent with my family; my husband, our 10-year-old daughter and two dogs.

I am also a fixer, not quite a perfectionist, but I can’t let go of things until they have been made right. If a report is given to me and the logo is misplaced, I won’t be able to get past the first page. I also thrive in chaos, which I think makes me suited for my job because I often get calls from clients who are in a mad panic because things have gone wrong and I get into fixer mode to solve the issue with a calm head.

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