Optimizing a Creative Structure in BlackLine
This article first appeared in BlackLine Magazine.
Finance automation is transforming the way companies do business by streamlining day-to-day tasks, eliminating errors, and empowering employees to focus on more strategic initiatives.
For many companies, putting finance functions on autopilot is the solution for fixing inefficient or even broken processes. But for a company to truly maximize its automation journey, it‘s important to begin by critically assessing existing processes and functions to identify areas for improvement that address its unique and evolving needs.
At this year’s InTheBlack event, we will share why robust accounting processes are the foundation for optimized system implementation. By taking a step back and looking for creative opportunities to improve existing functions, companies can maximize their use of automation technology and achieve the greatest return on their system investment.
We witnessed this firsthand during a recent partnership with BlackLine to transform the finance function at Jacobs Engineering Group, a global design, engineering, construction, and technical services firm. During our initial design discussions, it became clear that making key changes to several of the company’s foundational accounting processes would lead to a more successful technology implementation.
For instance, Jacobs historically reconciled most accounts at the entity and account level but needed to reconcile accounts receivable (A/R) at the individual project level. Reconciling the project’s A/R was a manual process that took two to three days each close cycle.
To remedy this, Jacobs wanted to leverage BlackLine to reconcile at the project level by adding the project code to all accounts. This was also ineffective, however, as it created more than 100,000 accounts that would have to be grouped together to form reconciliations for everything outside of the project A/R accounts.
Additionally, manual and disparate processes across the company’s global month-end close meant that each country had its own monthly close checklist and reconciliation process. With little to no insight into the format of a country’s reconciliations—or whether they were being completed at all—corporate visibility into the accounting practices of its many global offices was murky.
At the same time, an inefficient variance process meant that the company’s Controller ran analysis from HFM—a system for reporting and integrating financial reports—at a high level, sending emails to gather explanations for variances. Inevitably, these emails became difficult to track and often went unanswered.
The company wanted to perform variance analysis by business unit, which did not always align with the entity and account levels.
With these challenges in mind, we worked with Jacobs to identify ways to use Transaction Matching and transform its BlackLine organizational structure—which determines the levels at which reconciliations are performed and the additional levels needed for reporting purposes—to standardize processes across locations and promote greater visibility and transparency.
The goal was to establish a creative organizational structure and account segment combination that could uniquely capture the structure needed for both account reconciliations and variance analysis.
From there, Jacobs was able to better deploy reconciliation and variance analysis technology, which streamlined, standardized, and improved its monthly close process. This enabled its teams to complete reconciliations quickly—with evidence of reviews and approvals—rather than through a time-consuming series of manual activities.
The result was a rigorous system of internal controls, driven by formulas, templates, and other capabilities that allowed Jacobs to reach a higher level of auto-reconciliation certifications.
By making key changes to its finance and accounting processes, Jacobs could better leverage BlackLine technology to meet its organizational goals. With the right processes in place, Jacobs was auto-certifying 60% of reconciliations within two months of implementation go-live (up from zero in the days before BlackLine).
The company was also able to reduce the time to complete reconciliations on a global basis from 60 to 35 days, with Account Reconciliations used by approximately 300 accounting professionals across 40 countries.
With any finance automation project, the key to success is ensuring a company’s existing structures and processes are optimized to best accommodate the new technology. By refining an organization’s foundational processes, companies can make the most of their automation software and prepare for long-term success.