Patrick Villanova has seen plenty of changes taking place since he entered the accounting profession with PwC in 1999. He joined BlackLine in 2015 and became BlackLine’s Chief Accounting Officer in 2019.
Today, with all the industry talk about digital transformation, it hasn’t escaped him that it takes many smaller transformations to create the higher-level transformation that business leaders are striving to achieve.
BlackLine Magazine: Everyone talks about digital transformation, finance transformation, and other types of quantum leaps and changes. How do you see these things playing out in Accounting and Finance?
Patrick Villanova: For one thing, the accounting landscape is getting more complex. Regulators from the SEC and PCAOB, as well as internal and external auditors, are becoming increasingly more stringent. Maintaining compliance can consume the majority of your time if you don’t have thoroughly-vetted processes and internal controls in place.
Of course, process automation is a substantial ingredient in establishing effective and efficient internal controls. In fact, it’s become a necessity because the systems landscape is more complex across the entire business.
Without process automation, it would not be possible to provide timely and accurate financial information to the key decision-makers within the company.
BlackLine Magazine: What’s an example of how greater system complexity has impacted internal behavior?
Patrick Villanova: Well, it’s safe to say that the days of IT performing an ERP or another financial system upgrade in isolation are long gone. Today, there’s so much interdepartmental system dependency that you need representation from a range of disciplines—Accounting, Finance, sales operations, IT, etc.—to ensure the ultimate system upgrade is not only technologically viable but also meets the business’ needs.
BlackLine Magazine: What about IT? How has the relationship between IT and Accounting and Finance changed?
Patrick Villanova: It’s changed in a couple of ways. Thanks to cloud-based automation platforms like BlackLine, Accounting can design or modify processes without requiring direct assistance from IT. This helps with overall efficiency and it relieves some of the technical pressure on IT as compared to traditional on-premise accounting software.
But at the same time, Accounting and IT are cooperating on a higher level now. Historically, Accounting would confirm with IT that the system was secure, firewalls were in place, and data was not corrupted—the basic InfoSec concerns. There was minimal dialogue about actual system design, functionality, and outputs.
Now we’re evaluating systems, processes, and tools together, working on requests for proposals, and partnering with IT on broader technology roadmaps.
BlackLine Magazine: How do these changes—greater system complexities and interdepartmental collaboration—reflect on the evolution of accountants’ own skill sets?
Patrick Villanova: Accounting and Finance groups are now seeing and looking for people with skills that go beyond pure Accounting.
We look for people with systems knowledge, analytical skills, good communication, and a genuine desire to systematically minimize the mundane manual aspects of their daily routine.
Professionals who know Accounting—and, more importantly, comprehend how financial systems can serve as the backbone for strategic decision making—realize that interdepartmental communication and collaboration are critical for their own success.
Accountants with that vision and skillset are in high demand today, and will be for the foreseeable future.
Read our latest issue of BlackLine Quarterly for more stories like this, including tips on effective change management and how to hire for key accounting roles.