Automation Transforms Record-to-Report Processes
Shift Accounting and Financial Processes Toward Transparency and Innovation
At a Glance
• Emerging technologies drive accounting and finance transformation
• Influencers and use cases redefine the company’s change management initiative
• Transparency required for end-to-end optimization
• Source of truth lies with technology
• Digital and business competencies redefine talent for the company
By John Yuva, Editor, SAPinsider
Accounting and finance teams are under near-constant pressure to innovate their processes for greater efficiencies and a competitive edge. This has led to the integration of emerging technologies such as analytic tools and robotic process automation, allowing finance professionals to focus on broader financial strategies across the enterprise.
That drive for innovation and efficiency led a technology company’s shared services business unit (SSBU) focused on industry, infrastructure, transport, and healthcare to embark on a challenge: Manage the accounting and financial processes spanning across all of the company’s business units. The expanse of SSBU’s responsibilities and the competitive environment has required an investment in innovative automated technology to transform its record-to-report process into a seamless operation.
SSBU was automating a manual financial process that relied on spreadsheets for execution that served as a triggering event for it to digitize, automate, and streamline the financial processes and services to support the business. Today, SSBU is on a path toward becoming a best-in-class financial organization, leading the competition in its industry.
SSBU’s record-to-report optimization manager says they want to be competitive in their market and in the minds of the customers they service. “As we all know, there’s always new technologies emerging that are critical to our record-to-report world, especially for finances. What we can’t do is believe there’s a line in the sand signifying an end point, because that line keeps moving as new technologies and solutions enter the market.”
Transitioning from manual to automated processes requires significant buy-in and change management from employees who must adapt. When the company is a multinational and its financial processes are undergoing the transformation, suddenly things become more complex. However, for SSBU, leveraging SAP S/4HANA and a third-party platform enabled a successful implementation while establishing a new role for the future.
Influencers and Use Cases Support Change Management
Serving their businesses with the leanest processes is critical for customers reaching their business goals, explains the company’s manager. In an ideal scenario, a business customer would approach SSBU to address its balance sheet risk. Accessing its systems, the team would search for unsupported at-risk write offs and analyze where the risks and opportunities exist. However, delivering that value to its customers and ensuring their continued success requires adoption of new technology and change management.
“We needed to leverage system functionalities to really optimize our processes, which meant standardization and change management,” says the manager. “And that’s difficult to achieve even under ideal circumstances. You really need the right influencers in your group to help advertise and show the benefit of that change.”
When SSBU first started implementing new technology, the company’s manager says the business didn’t consider a use-case approach to find its influencers. However, SSBU quickly realized the potential of utilizing use cases as the best way to reach their end customer and demonstrate the future state of the business. The manager says after identifying the use cases — which are typically business pain points — people were excited about the possibilities of the transformation and the outcomes for the team and customer businesses.
“Once you display through the use cases the advantages of new technology and automation, then your influencers are enthusiastic and begin spreading the word. But first it’s critical to find the customer’s pain point and demonstrate how you can solve it using new technology. Your influencers will naturally surface from the effort.
“If you can demonstrate success in a use case, then you know you’re on the right path. Skipping over that part or moving through it too quickly, you risk implementing a solution that doesn’t suit the needs of the business or your customers,” says the manager.
End-to-End Transparency Opens Opportunities
Prior to the financial transformation and technology implementation, SSBU operated as a shared services organization. However, it lacked true end-to-end organizational visibility. Over the last few years, it emerged with responsibilities into record-to-report, purchase-to-pay, and other financial processes. The company’s manager says while this was a major shift for the company, it provided the big picture of the upfront and reconciliation financial processes.
“With that knowledge, you can evaluate and recognize where improvements and business process change would benefit the business. This certainly occurred in our approach to digitization and talent.”
SSBU focused on enhancing its accountants’ skill sets toward digital. The company’s manager says SSBU needed staff that understood automated, digitized financial processes and solutions platforms — a mindset for technology and process redesign.
SAP S/4HANA and the Source of Truth
An ongoing initiative for SSBU is reducing the number of SAP ERP systems. SSBU’s financial close solutions provider Trintech and its Cadency platform help support that initiative. Because all the SAP ERP systems are connected to the Cadency platform, the technology serves as a one-stop shop and central location for the overall financial closing process.
This is beneficial for executives who rely on multiple ERPs for their business reporting. SSBU also leverages data lake connections, she adds, to feed data into both Trintech and SAP S/4HANA.
“SAP S/4HANA serves as our one source of truth. We might have different tools and methods to process accounting activities into SAP S/4HANA, but it’s where everything happens,” says the company’s manager. “Our goal is to feed all the SAP S/4HANA data that we need for reconciliations into the Trintech platform. We also rely on the journal entry module to send journals to SAP S/4HANA, allowing us to set controls and improve the quality of journal entry attributes.”
Shift Toward Digital Talent With Business Acumen
Leveraging their systems from both a digital and process redesign perspective was made possible with a new defined role. Both the accountant and technology competencies were combined into one role, says the company’s manager.
“The role serves as a financial analyst responsible for reconciliations, closing, and journal entry processes, and designing them for optimization within the Trintech solution. We live and work in a digitized world, so this type of position is attracting significant interest.”
The company’s manager says that SSBU is all about the KPIs. The team is continuously monitoring KPIs and other metrics, especially those in the Trintech dashboard. KPIs such as how many reconciliations are auto-certified; how many journal entries are processed through Trintech; and what is the number being rejected and approved are critical to assure SSBU remains on its strategic path.
“It’s not enough for us to assume that what we implemented is successful. All this data is vital to ensure we’re meeting the expectations of our customers.”
What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders
• Technology is always evolving. However, don’t be complacent with your transformation initiatives waiting for the next “big thing” to hit the market. Move on your transformation milestones while remaining vigilant of emerging technologies to complement your business goals.
• The path to success in change management is demonstrating quick wins. Adoption occurs when people see the benefit of change through data or process efficiencies. Look to the early adopters as influencers who can spread the message of change acceptance.
• As companies grow and technologies emerge, new competencies are often necessary to operate advanced machinery or software the business relies upon for day-to-day functions. Anticipate the next skill sets on the horizon for your business and industry to invest proactively in training and development.