Like all enterprises, Dun & Bradstreet is focused on growing its own business. In this regard, it found that it was challenged to execute its financial close with the most efficient processes and assured controls. “We wanted to do more with less,” says Gretchen Sikora, Dun & Bradstreet’s senior finance leader.
Complicating this ambition was the company’s rapid geographic expansion over the past two years. Finance/accounting team members and processes were all over the world, making each local market’s financial close an independent and separate exercise. “We have over 70 operating entities worldwide, and at any one time we never knew the true status of key financial processes,” she says. “It was a challenge to ensure our controls were consistently improving.”
The challenge was significant. The control organization had no way of knowing if account reconciliations were properly completed, documented and reviewed. There also was no mechanism to capture risks and opportunities in a methodical way. As a result, it was not uncommon to worry about possible “surprises” during the financial close process, creating a reactive control organization instead of a proactive one, Sikora says.
From a compliance standpoint, there also was no knowledge of how Dun & Bradstreet’s Sarbanes-Oxley-mandated controls were being executed across the business. “Due dates and delivery of quality data were questionable and always a challenge for our controller organization,” she says.
The need for transformation was acute. To kick things off, the control organization in 2012 created a Center of Excellence to support the standardization and centralization of key financial and accounting functions worldwide. Everyone in Dun & Bradstreet’s control organization, no matter where they were located, would execute the financial close processes using similar formats and following best practices to ensure a timely close.
Strategic objectives were established. The company wanted to standardize and improve the control environment; improve organizational depth; implement best practices; eliminate redundancies; and create career opportunities.
As part of this ambitious agenda, Sikora was tasked with overseeing transactional accounting on a global basis. Her obligation was to find a way to better track and monitor key functions like account reconciliations. To do this, she evaluated different providers of best-in-class finance controls and automation technology. The criteria in choosing the provider were whether or not their software tools would accelerate the financial close, provide process automation, improve the control environment, and centralize the preparation, review and monitoring of financial data.
IN THE BAG
In BlackLine, Sikora found what she sought. “To me it was all in one bag,” she says. “I now had a tool to meet our key strategies.”
Aside from the quality of BlackLine’s products, Sikora was impressed by the sales support she and her product review team received during the vetting period. Other factors included the tools’ reporting and monitoring capabilities, ease of use, and the end results of this use.
Adoption of the tools was straightforward, she explains, as the company had already created the structure for the Center of Excellence (CoE). Sikora and her team nonetheless worked closely with the CoE’s accounting team to train them in the tools’ use. Once they had become experts, they endeavored to train global colleagues, until the effort “ramped up like a virus,” Sikora says.
She remembers several team members commenting on how the tools saved substantial time and eliminated much of their non-value-added work, especially with auditors. The control organization had similar positive comments, with Dun & Bradstreet’s audit and Sarbanes-Oxley managers “entirely comfortable” in stating that the company now has sufficient controls in place and all supporting documentation.
“As leaders, we now have a tool that globally provides transparencies and insight 24/7 from the preparer standpoint up to the Corporate Controller,” Sikora says.
The irony in this story is that five years earlier a Sarbanes-Oxley manager had introduced Sikora to BlackLine, but it was premature at the time for Dun & Bradstreet to consider its implementation.
“I will always tell someone, `I wish I would have engaged BlackLine years ago,’” she says. “BlackLine has become the central and most important tool we use in accounting. The automation, improvement in controls and, most importantly, the peace of mind that BlackLine brings is more than enough to share (its value) with others.”
She adds, “And I can sleep at night now.”