Last week, on August 26, 2014, Gartner published their 2014 IT Market Clock for Financial Management Applications, a comprehensive report that provides actionable insight for companies as they plan for and prioritize their IT investments in the year ahead.
The report renames the Close/Reconciliation Management category —Enhanced Finance Controls and Automation, which according to the report, “These solutions cover many of the functions required to automate the "last mile of finance," that is, the processes required to finalize period-end accounts.” This is an arena in which BlackLine Systems has traditionally dominated. But then the report takes an interesting turn, stating, “The close/reconciliation management asset class has expanded over the last year to include a wider range of functionality that extends beyond the month-end close into a broader solution that can enhance the management and control of any finance process throughout the accounting cycle_.”_
Here at BlackLine, we take pains not to boast, but our longstanding leadership position in this industry affords us a unique perspective on the way this market segment has developed. We agree with Gartner’s segmentation analysis and are gratified that a firm of Gartner’s caliber and reputation recognized Blackline as a sample vendor. In announcing the renamed category, we believe Gartner has validated not only BlackLine’s vision for financial control and automation technology, but our decision to collaborate closely with customers and partners to bring innovation to market in a timely fashion.
Nine years ago, BlackLine launched a new category of business technology—a software tool that delivered new levels of visibility and automation around the account reconciliation process. Our novel solution erased the drudgery, inefficiency and compliance risk that were inherent in these manual spreadsheet-based processes, liberating our customers in Finance & Accounting to put their time and brains to more strategic endeavors.
In the intervening years, we listened closely to our customers’ needs, continually adding more functionality to our platform and inventing new modules to create the robust financial close suite we sell today:
Our clients needed a way to monitor their financial close checklists, so we created our Task Module. Our clients have creatively expanded the use of this module to SOX Compliance, departmental checklists, PBC list management and many other task workflows.
Our clients needed financial statement integrity, so we created the Variance Analysis Module, eliminating the spreadsheet driven approach to re-keying and classifying thousands of numbers. The automation of variance rules and tolerances allows companies to proactively monitor variance fluctuations in real time.
We created the Matching Module to provide relief to the painstaking task of manual “tick and tie” related to bank reconciliations. The powerful matching engine combined with extremely flexible rule configuration has allowed our end users to create a wide variety of use cases including credit card reconciliations, intercompany reconciliations, inventory matching, wheelchair transit matching, cost category analysis, fraud detection and many other types of reconciliations and analyses.
Clients asked if we could track and provide workflow around the manual journal entry process, hence the creation of the Journal Entry Module. In line with BlackLine’s focus on automation, additional functionality was added that allowed manual journals to be created and allocated automatically from imported data sources, substantially reducing manual labor and costs for many companies.
And finally, after talking to many of our clients about how they reconcile their system of record to their reported “to the street” financials, we developed the Consolidation Integrity Manager (CIM) Module. Not only did this module eliminate manual processes, but it also provided a level of control that many companies were not used to having in a manual world.
From the creation of these modules, the BlackLine Finance Controls and Automation Platform was born, and while many of our clients use our modules in highly-creative ways, the core benefits remain the same – visibility, automation and compliance.
Together with our customers, we forged a unique partnership where we learned from each other to mutual benefit. We believe the fruits of this collaboration have now been recognized as an entirely new category of financial automation.
“These applications reduce the time and resources required to execute the month-end closing and other finance processes. Many of these solutions can be deployed across multiple core financial and financial value chain applications, enabling organizations with a heterogeneous financial application landscape to improve and better control their finance processes without major investments in the underlying applications,” the report states.
Our unique partnership with customers is the foundation of these solutions, evidenced in the BlackLine Finance Controls and Automation Platform. We extended our applications for an important reason—the growing need for Finance & Accounting to extract greater efficiencies and insight from their companies’ business performance data to improve strategic and tactical decision-making, not to mention assure regulatory compliance under Sarbanes-Oxley and the COSO Framework. Such insight is impossible if Finance & Accounting cannot access and capture accurate financial data. Features such as real time reporting, auditable workflow, auto-certification and complete visibility are critical in a successful close. And without this ability, there can be no confidence in the company’s financials.
We feel the renamed category also underscores the complementary role that our solutions play as a necessary adjunct to traditional ERP and GRC systems. While ERP systems are a superb means of handling the basics of accounting, doing such things as verifying the journal entries and sub-ledger tie outs, they don’t specifically validate this data. They cannot bring the financial close process to a confident conclusion.
This broader solution is BlackLine, the only provider today offering a true cloud-based platform in the new Enhanced Finance Controls and Automation category. Our longstanding mission is to offer our customers unparalleled visibility into their financial data to ensure utmost accuracy. We’ve helped more than 900 global companies accomplish this, by automating and simplifying their financial close processes. Our customers trust in the integrity of our applications, giving them the confidence they require. They benefit by our Big Data capabilities to benchmark their Finance & Accounting metrics against peer organizations. And they achieve an efficient month-end close at less cost in a reduced time-frame, while eliminating compliance risk.
We’ve been on this journey for a long while now, extending our value proposition to address the evolving needs of Finance & Accounting. Stay tuned for even more innovation from BlackLine, including a lot more in the way of analytics and advanced reporting, the increased use of metrics for real-time benchmarking, and new technology for intercompany transaction support.
By automating rote, manual, recurring processes, accountants and finance professionals can focus on activities that add greater value to the overall business, such as financial analysis and reconciliation evaluation, and enable the C-suite to be more effective. Our future functionality will not come out of thin air; as before, it will spring from our customers’ needs and challenges, as well as their own innovative uses of our software.
Thank you all for your continued trust in what we do.