Machine-to-machine Communication: What’s Science Fiction? What’s Fact?

In the original Star Trek television programme 40 years ago, Captain Kirk’s crew communicated with a single, overarching ship computer. That was quite a feat back then, but what about today? Just how close are we to the science fiction of 1966 as 2011 dawns?

In today’s world, technology is integral to all treasury departments. Many different systems are in use and technological advances are achieved in steps, with each step bringing us closer to walking into work and saying: “Computer, position my cash”.

Step one in corporate treasury’s technology evolution phased out rekeying numbers between different systems. The days of receiving printed or faxed bank reports and retyping numbers are long gone – or should be. Faster, less error-prone solutions are in use every day. Subscribing to your bank’s balance and transaction reporting services removes the human step – and the associated human error – of rekeying bank data into internal corporate systems. Whether it’s a spreadsheet or treasury management system (TMS), bank data no longer needs to be rekeyed.

Step two in the evolution involved humans moving data from one system to another. Even though people were not the ones actually keying in data, they were still exporting and importing data. This is common even today. Every time anyone goes to their bank’s website, downloads a file, opens Excel, and brings in the file, a person is still making the transfer from point A to point B.

Today’s most advanced technological step has the buzz phrase straight-through processing (STP), which means moving data around, without human intervention. From bank reporting to accounting with email, accounts payable (A/P), accounts receivable (A/R), and more in-between, it is a world in which one system ‘talks’ to another and data is exchanged. There’s no human touch, no click of a mouse, just data flowing everywhere. Humans become involved only in the exceptions, not the normal daily processing.

Automation, however, can be expensive, so be sure to weigh up whether removing the human step is worth the cost – particularly in cases of low volume, non-essential accounts.

When automation is the cost-effective choice, just how far can machine-to-machine communications take us in treasury today? Using the right technology, designed and implemented with business results in mind, you can ask these questions of your computer and expect an answer:

“Computer, what are my bank balances to start the day?”

With a TMS, Blackberry, and your banks’ previous-day balance and reporting services, this could be the very first question you ask every day when you roll out of bed.

“Computer, does this balance include all the cash we have today at all eight banks?”

With an automated balance report mailed directly to you daily, you will know which banks are late in reporting and can deal with exceptions right away.

“Computer, did I receive the US$5m payment I expected yesterday?”

With automated matching between actual and forecasted cash flows for the prior day, this question is answered in a glance. No matching up numbers on two papers – just ask the question and your TMS answers.

“Computer, do I have any payments to approve today?”

With a TMS using built-in payment approval rules, you can automate and/or delegate approvals at the levels you need and become involved only in the high-value, ad-hoc payments each day.

“Computer, can you update the signatory on all accounts globally, since we have a new treasurer?”

With automated bank account management, updating signatories, opening/closing accounts, preparing for an audit, and querying who can sign for which accounts are accomplished electronically in a paperless way as opposed to a world filled with filing cabinets and overnight shipping charges.

“Computer, can you sell US$1m Swiss francs and buy US dollars at spot?”

With a TMS that connects to your banks’ online trading portal, this can be done with just one click. Or, if you prefer, you can configure it to require two clicks instead to prevent a mis-click.

“Computer, will I be eating at home or in the office at month end?”

With automated accounting entry creation sourced directly from bank transactions on a daily basis, you don’t need to ask your computer this one; you know you’ll be eating at home (or in your favourite restaurant) instead of manually fixing data entry errors.

Conclusion

All of the above are realities in our life today – fact, not science fiction. Ask anyone who was in treasury even 10 years ago, and they’ll tell you that today’s treasury technology has advanced light years just since the start of the 21st century. This fast pace of technological change will only continue as new e-services are rolled out in corporate treasury, and the science fiction of computer systems ‘talking’ to each another becomes more and more of a reality. If you want science fiction, just go back to 1966 and imagine yourself in 2010 walking through a world of automatic doors while carrying a wireless device.

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