3 Essential Elements to Build a Foundation for Automation

3-minute read

Part 2 of our Closing Virtually with a Distributed Workforce blog series. Read Part 1 here.

Whether it’s month-end, quarter-end, or year-end, Finance and Accounting have one universal goal: to provide a timely, accurate financial close.

If your accounting department is like most, you face tight deadlines, which often promote higher stress levels and very unmotivated accountants. The idiom rings true: demands are always shifting downhill to Accounting where we have fewer resources and less time to do all this work.

The lack of resources and time has become even more evident as F&A organizations across the globe have shifted to working remotely. And this new way of working is making it even more difficult to deliver complete and accurate results during our first virtual quarter-end close.    

Many accounting teams are relying on traditional manual accounting processes, tribal knowledge, and in-person communication to close the books. This is not sustainable and introduces an even greater level of risk with our newly distributed workforce.

The good news is that with finance automation, you can continually capture, validate, and analyze your data in a timely and precise manner. Data integrity, along with real-time processing, can improve manual processes, like replacing Excel spreadsheets with automation.

While spreadsheets are a useful tool, they can be prone to errors and have no way to track changes made—thus, slowing down our close.

Automation reduces the need for manual data entry. As a result, finance and accounting teams gain time back throughout the quarter to provide unprecedented value by partnering with the business.

This means that instead of fearing that their positions will be eliminated, accountants can learn how to perform higher-level roles that provide strategic support and analysis for the business. This can give them a seat at the table early in the quarter to collaborate on closing items and become more proactive, rather than reactive accountants.

These higher-level skills can also empower accountants, allowing them to feel more valued while promoting the retention of good talent for the organization.

Start with Process Improvement

If you don’t yet have automation in place, there are out-of-the-box tools to help you begin to improve your processes. Once you decide to automate, your foundation will be set. 

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  1. Close inactive (no activity, zero ending balance) accounts in your ERP system to clean up the trial balance
  2. Consolidate miscellaneous, small write-offs to one journal, and post earlier in the month
  3. Automate recurring journal entries
  4. Move time-consuming closing tasks performed in critical close to earlier in the month
  5. Spread large volume data analysis to weekly reviews

Next, follow these best practices before you begin implementing finance automation.

Communicate to the Team

Before implementing a finance automation platform, it’s critical to get everyone in Finance and Accounting on board and emphasize the importance of each team member to this project. By doing this, you’ll find your accountants will feel personal ownership during the process and understand the importance of the outcome. 

If you are dependent on business departments and regions outside of Accounting, it is critical to develop business partnerships with them early in the process.

Revamp Your Quarter-End Checklist

Many organizations maintain their quarter-end close checklist on various Excel spreadsheets, SharePoint, or another system. This makes it difficult to know at any point in time what is still open, which is critical to the close.

The goal is to consolidate and store your closing checklist where it can be visible to everyone in your Finance and Accounting department. For example, you can easily gather all of the quarter-end closing checklists that are floating throughout your organization, and transition them to a shared folder for global visibility.  

BlackLine’s Task Management solution provides a consolidated process for all your month and quarter-end checklists with real-time status and reporting at the click of a mouse.

Read the next blog in this series to learn four more best practices that will equip your finance and accounting organization to achieve a more confident quarter-end close.