The role of finance is undergoing a significant shift. As businesses strive for growth and competitiveness in an increasingly complex and dynamic market, finance leaders are being challenged to add more value beyond their traditional responsibilities.

Insights from Microsoft’s Economic Guardians of the Future report show finance teams are going through an evolution and must strike the right balance between strategic innovation and protecting the long-term health of their company. 80% of finance leaders believe that they and their teams are being challenged more than ever to add value beyond their standard roles and responsibilities. This shift has been driven in part by the uncertain economic climate, marked by factors such as inflation, recession, and international conflicts.

Finance teams are being asked to provide insight into the economic future, putting a strain on their resources, and shifting their role from finance professionals to fortune tellers. Over the next few years, this evolution will take many shapes.

From gatekeeper to innovation driver

Finance teams are being pulled in two directions: they must accelerate the pace of innovation, while also ensuring brand trust and mitigating risks. They must reduce costs and increase growth to deliver short-term profit, as well as long-term vision and corporate purpose.

Despite their reputation as risk-averse, 79% of finance leaders believe that to meet future needs they must play a significant role in owning business innovation and empowering transformation across the organization. Now more than ever, finance teams are focused on transformation, innovation, and the future. Our report found that 86% of finance leaders feel it’s important for senior leadership to formalize the shift of the finance team’s role to include strategic innovations that drive company growth.

However, this shift is not without its challenges. The same study revealed that 88% of finance leaders believe that being perceived as a barrier to innovation by other parts of the organization is a significant challenge. To overcome it, finance teams must find ways to demonstrate their value and expertise, and to become more involved in the innovation process.

Empower employees with A.I. and automation

While finance teams are being asked to take on more than ever, they are not seeing incremental increases in people resourcing. Striking the balance between automation and an organization’s most important asset–its people–is key for the future of finance.​ Doing more with less isn’t about overburdening an already taxed workforce, it’s about augmenting human capabilities with automation, enabling employees to move the business forward.​

82% of finance leaders found A.I. and automation very important to helping evolve their team’s role to support their organization’s strategic goals. Empowering teams to be “citizen developers” and leveraging low- or no-code technologies can help overcome organizational barriers and expand the capabilities of finance teams. The good news is that these tools are now more affordable than ever, making it easier for finance teams to drive innovation and add value to the organization.

As finance professionals seek more ways to work smarter, not harder, low-code automation tools remove I.T. barriers. Empowered with automation and A.I., people are more connected, collaborative, and ready to tackle strategic work.

Foster employee fulfillment with innovative tools, culture, and collaboration

It comes as no surprise that employees want to spend less time on repetitive and transactional tasks, and more time working as a team to drive better business decisions. As its role evolves, finance is being called upon to play a key role in fostering a culture of innovation.

At Microsoft, we’ve been on this journey for years, transforming our finance operations using our cloud-based products–but this goes beyond technology. We are reimagining what is possible and that requires a cultural shift to reevaluate our processes, alleviate pain points, foster a culture of learning and innovation, and empower our people to do their best work. We have many citizen-developers on our finance team who are leveraging low-code technology to transform business processes. These initiatives have saved us over 977 hours of manual labor annually, with over $25 million in savings and a huge boost in productivity.

We are living through a period of historic economic, societal, and technological change, but for all the uncertainty we continue to see in the world one thing is clear: Business leaders are turning to finance and innovative technology to help them do more with less, navigate the unexpected, and emerge much stronger. By embracing technology, finance teams can demonstrate their value, drive growth, and overcome the perception of being a barrier to innovation.

Georg Glantschnig is VP of Dynamics 365 and service-centric ERP at Microsoft.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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