Stepping Up: Making the Business Case for Accounting Automation

The COVID-19 crisis is making it more difficult than ever before for accounting and finance organizations to justify the continued use of spreadsheets and dispersed documentation.

The degree of manual effort has always plagued spreadsheet accounting. Today’s crisis, with accounting groups forced to work remotely, adds even more pressure—to make sure accounting professionals are working with consistent, reliable numbers and with seamless process handoffs.

Accounting automation delivers these benefits, giving finance groups consistency of data and supporting collaboration with rules-driven processes.

In fact, accounting automation allows accountants to focus on high-risk areas and higher-value activities. More than that, automation also tracks process performance and lets managers track and adjust Finance-related KPIs.

Even before COVID-19 struck, it wasn’t unusual for companies across all industries to report significant ROI numbers after evaluating improvements over spreadsheet-based manual processes.

“But while ROI is important, it shouldn’t be the only consideration when selling the concept of an automation upgrade to CFOs, CIOs, CEOs and other senior executives,” says Molly Boyle, director of solutions marketing at BlackLine.

Building Your Case for Automation

Boyle would know, because she spends a good deal of time helping prospects identify benefits when selling to management. There’s never a one-size-fits-all approach to positioning a technology upgrade, but she does point to some best practices for building a compelling business case for accounting automation.

Focus on What Matters Most to Leadership

ROI may convince accounting and finance managers of the effectiveness of an automation upgrade, but top executives want to see the strategic benefits to the business. So, the accounting team should be forward-looking, going beyond ROI to determine the upper-level needs of the business.

To do this, consider your organization’s maturity, structure, and corporate personality, or what Boyle calls its “business identity.”

Seek Feedback

Sending emails is not enough, says Boyle. “Advocates should schedule in-person meetings to present their case, review, and follow up with revisions.”

They should also seek out constant feedback on their proposals before presenting to key stakeholders. This way, they’ll be able to identify flaws in their assumptions and anticipate questions from upper management.

Don’t Overcomplicate

Good positioning is concise and clear, and creates an effective proposal to upper management, says Boyle.

“Don’t over-complicate. Business cases should be multi-faceted but not overly complex. Multi-tabbed spreadsheets full of formulas and assumptions are not always the best approach. In fact, qualitative factors and tying the software to the company’s strategic objectives are equally important.”

Finding the Business Value

For some accounting groups, putting together a robust business case may be daunting. Accountants are comfortable working with details in spreadsheets, after all, and not so used to presenting strategic initiatives to the executive team.

“They may be thinking, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this done so we can get the sign-off,’” says Boyle. “So they use a standard, formula-driven spreadsheet or template and expect that to be enough.”

Instead, the project team should see their business case as an exercise in project planning. The team should involve as many stakeholders as possible and endeavor to understand the organization’s strategic needs.

As an example, Boyle recalls a BlackLine customer who was able to demonstrate how improved accounting processes would affect the company’s most important strategic objective: improving customer relations.

“The team leader was able to tie accounting automation to improved customer satisfaction,” says Boyle. “She showed how better accounting controls and tighter on-time performance would reduce customer frustrations with billings and other processes. That’s how she sold the project to the business, and how every project team should think if they want to be successful.”

Read our latest issue of BlackLine Quarterly for more stories like this, including how to lead during this time of uncertainty and how to navigate this new reality with our Virtual Close Resources Hub.