Tales of Spreadsheets Past

4-minute read

Part 2 of our Spreadsheets series. Read Part 1 here.

Molly Boyle and Thyra Williams have nearly 40 years of combined accounting experience. Before coming to BlackLine, Molly was a senior manager of corporate accounting and Thyra was an auditor for PwC.  

In the early days of their careers, they relied on spreadsheets and manual processes because there were no other options. Take a trip down memory lane as they remember what a typical month-end close looked like without a modern accounting platform in place. 

Molly Boyle: As a corporate accounting leader, I used a color-coded spreadsheet to manage the overall close process and keep track of what was happening when. This was our only way of reporting status as well.

The way I got the information to update it was even more manual than the spreadsheet itself. I’d have to pick up the phone or walk over to someone’s desk for a status update, and then manually highlight those items.

It was better than getting out a ten-key or using paper and pencil, but this was still a very painful and error-prone way to handle the critical and recurring activities throughout the accounting month.

Thyra Williams: When I see a close checklist in a spreadsheet format, it takes me back to all the time I used to spend just updating my spreadsheet during every period close.

Not only do you need phone calls and multiple meetings to highlight the status of the items on the list, but there’s also the monthly maintenance of the spreadsheet itself—adding items and taking tasks off that are not applicable for this current period.

You’d almost need another spreadsheet to track that spreadsheet, and would have to do so much leg work before you could start the real Accounting. Looking back now, I can see how inefficient spreadsheets are.

Molly Boyle: Every organization has that master checklist containing the level of detail they want to monitor or measure against. And getting to a single master checklist can be an effort, in and of itself. You said it perfectly: you’re doing all this work just to start the actual work.

I remember days when I actually had meetings about meetings, within my own organization and also with our internal and external auditors or other key stakeholders.

Thyra Williams: Absolutely.

Molly Boyle: There might have been a typical month-end close meeting that took place after the close was done. But throughout the close, we had regular calls and check-ins just to update the spreadsheet.

If we were lucky, we might have gotten the spreadsheet into a shared location where multiple people could update it at the same time. But even that process was a bit clunky, requiring constant updates and hoping no one else was making changes at the same time.

Thyra Williams: Institutional knowledge is a key piece of how spreadsheets are maintained, and this creates significant challenges when someone leaves your organization.

One of my favorite functionalities is macro. But the danger with that is whoever built the macro needed to stick around to maintain it, because when they left, so did the knowledge behind it.

Molly Boyle: One of the flaws I always knew existed but never knew how to fix without more technology in place is figuring out how to embed best practices, policies, procedures, and standardization into the process.

As a reviewer, I can remember getting reconciliations or journal entries or other key documents at month-end and spending the first part of my review just trying to figure out what I was looking at.

Who did I get this from? What was their way of performing it? Did it look different than somebody else’s?

And if that person happened to move into a new role, or even worse, leave the company, it was always a challenge to figure out how to transfer that knowledge and those processes to the next owner.

Thyra Williams: I laugh at it now because I know how far we’ve come with technology in the accounting landscape. But spreadsheets used to be our only option.

Watch our National Spreadsheet Day on-demand webinar to hear more of Molly and Thyra’s conversation, and discover how digital transformation can enable a far more strategic F&A organization.