Live From InTheBlack 2017: Future-Proofing Accounting & Finance


ITB 2017 Customer Insights: How BlackLine Helps

For the final customer panel of ITB 2017, five different customers shared how BlackLine helped their Finance Department and company as a whole.

Here are their testimonials:

Kelly Ahrens, Project Manager Process Improvements, VWR International, “Even at the beginning, BlackLine software helped us stay organized. Now we have continuous improvement.”

Patrick Loughnane, Senior Project Manager, Unity Technologies, “Frustration with process is eliminated.”

Michelle Reynolds, Director of Reporting and Consolidations, Snap Inc, “With BlackLine, we gained stronger underlying processes. Before, a mistake could easily cost three days of work and that’s really frustrating.”

Kelly Bergstrom, NAFTA CAO, CNH Industrial, “We really leveraged BlackLine to give us visibility into accounts, workflow, and workload. From there, we can move stuff around and create efficiencies and build a better control environment.”

Otto Sillanpaa, Financial Accountant, Sanoma Group, finished the commentary on this note: “No one wants to go to university and get an education but spend their job copying and pasting excel. BlackLine lets us be exceptional accountants.”

Click here for more customer testimonials.

I’m Fit to Tell You

Curious about what Tammy Coley is fit to tell you… and why?

Let’s start with the why. Before Tammy implemented BlackLine at Cox Communications 12 years ago, this is what their days looked like:

  • Spreadsheets were their automation

  • Ownership for processes was unclear

  • Accounting was considered the bottom of the totem pole

  • Not all reconciliations were truly reconciliations

  • Mistakes impacted 3 months of analysis

  • They were unaware of the aging of required adjustments

Now, here’s the what: if your processes aren’t fully automated, things can be better when you do it with BlackLine. And the end game is Strategic Accounting:

Through a combination of technology and process optimization, the financial close and audits become controlled, predictable events accomplished with confidence. Embedding intelligent automation into accounting eliminates rote and error-prone tasks and frees your organization’s most valuable assets – your people – to expand their strategic and analytic abilities and maximize their expertise.

Machine Learning 101

"Machine learning is already in the present, and a part of our daily lives," says Sapna Nagaraj, platform architect and machine learning expert for BlackLine. Here are the examples she gave during her session at InTheBlack:

  • The new self-driving shuttle in Las Vegas

  • Mobile check deposits – machine learning analyzes your signature

  • Alexa and Google Home analyze your voice

But machine learning has been around since the 1950’s. So, what changed?

  • Data Explosion – infrastructure, hardware, cheap storage, cloud, big data

  • Computer Power

  • Machine learning algorithm improvements

Key principles about how machines learn:

  • Data is the key ingredient for machine learning

  • Machine learning is only as good as the data it trains on

  • Data is almost always messy

As a result, it’s most important to input high-quality data to enable effective machine learning.

These are just a few of the areas where you can find machine learning in accounting and finance:

  • Revenue forecasting

  • Automation of analytic processes

  • Code accounting entries

  • Generating new insights from data and support decision making

  • All BlackLine products, including Matching, Journals, Variance, Account Reconciliation, and Insights

Want to learn more? Read this blog post.

RPA: 4 Things to Know Before Implementation

With RPA as one of the hottest buzzwords in the industry, almost every company has at least created a proof of concept. Unfortunately, according to Ernst & Young, 30-50% of all initial RPA implementations fail.

Here are some things to know from EXL’s ITB 2017 presentation to help you avoid disappointment with RPA.

1.      Real-life is more complicated than a proof-of-concept

2.      RPA is viewed as a panacea for fixing inherent process and system weaknesses

3.      Applying automation to treat localized pain points only shifts the problem

4.      Often, companies underestimate the real cost and complexity of maintaining too many point solutions

Interested in RPA? Read about the top five RPA myths, how to avoid RPA implementation fails, or what RPA really means for accountants.

Fluidigm’s Accounting Revolution

Fluidigm shared how they went from a reconciliation process filled with lists of lists to having automation, metrics, and reporting at ITB 2017.

With the objectives of revolutionizing their accounting methods and automating workflows, Fluidigm turned to BlackLine for a solution.

Achieving immediate ROIs of process alignment and standardization, Fluidigm soon realized that BlackLine allowed for continuous improvement opportunities.

Evolving to use reports for deeper insights about the quality of the close and generate financial analysis, Fluidigm found themselves able to manage instead of react. Now using reports to generate immediate change and inform decisions to guide future outcomes, Fluidigm is well on its way in the Continuous Accounting journey.

Read more about other BlackLine customers.

The Power of Community & Giving Back

“Being filled with gratitude makes for a much happier life,” says Therese Tucker. “Everyone in this room has enough to eat, has a roof over their head, health insurance – more than enough in every area. And yet sometimes we start focusing on things that are really small in the overall perspective.”

Therese comes from humble roots. She grew up on a farm, she was the youngest of four girls – and she understands that money is not something that makes you happy. It’s giving that can make you happy.

“There are people on the fringes who are not well taken care of. And it’s your responsibility to give back,” she says.

Therese interviewed two women who embody the power of giving back: Ann Sewill. Vice President, Health & Housing, California Community Foundation (CCF) and Ana Guerrero, Chief of Staff to Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Ann Sewill reports that our housing crisis is driving our homeless crisis, and more and more people are facing homelessness because of economic disasters. There has also been an increase in invisible homelessness – people who can only afford to live so far outside of LA that they sleep in their cars during the week so they can work.

The CCF is focused on permanent supportive housing with intensive case management services, which has a 92% success rate.

Ana Guerrero describes some of the strides that the mayor’s office has made under Mario Garcetti: the unemployment rate has been reduced from 12% to 5.5%, and 185,000 new jobs have been created. But so much more still needs to be done. With 58,000 homeless people in LA, this is the biggest crisis this city has ever faced.

The mayor’s office is moving toward solving this by focusing on three pillars:

  1. Prevention – increasing the minimum wage, expanding our workforce programs, and creating more revenue to build more affordable housing

  2. Street Strategy – making sure that we’re tackling the encampments in LA; Hope teams talk to the homeless to encourage them to take advantage of the services available to them

  3. Building more permanent housing

Therese pointed out the importance of a deeper level of empathy for those who have experienced difficult situations like abuse and economic crisis.

Here are three ways that you can invest in your city with these volunteer opportunities:

What comes after Continuous Accounting? An on-demand close.

At InTheBlack, Genpact gave insights into the future of the month-end close process.

According to Genpact, 76% of financial professionals agree that the new wave of digital technologies is fundamentally changing the way finance operates.

What does that change look like?

For years, companies pursued a reduction in the close cycle. Then BlackLine introduced Continuous Accounting (CA), which reduces the amount of work that goes into the financial close and delivers a more balanced, distributed close. As companies achieve CA, accountants are able thrive, becoming exceptional accountants.

But in an era of continuous change, we must make continuous improvement. While many companies are still focusing on reducing the close and achieving Continuous Accounting, the time has come to define the next stage in the Digital Transformation journey and progress toward it, and that next step is an on-demand close.

Tweet us where your company is in the progression from shorter close cycle to Continuous Accounting to on-demand close, #ITB17.

Learn more about how BlackLine can help prepare your company for the changes to come.

Purpose of Finance – Presented by EY

Bill Thomas, Principal at EY Advisory, understands the power of using purpose to overcome politics and transform your organization. During his keynote, he emphasized the importance of having a single mind and purpose, a goal to rally around and achieve.

He reported that 48% of executives believe their organization is only somewhat or not at all prepared to successfully execute a business transformation today. And he believes that it all comes down to two things: silos and politics.

Silos are fiercely defended, and politics are all about “what’s in it for me?”

Here’s how to combat both with purpose:

  • The internal purpose for finance is to measure and drive company performance

  • The external purpose is to protect and promote your company’s brand

Results show that organizations that embody purpose see significant, measureable results:

  • 1.4 times more engaged and 1.7 times more satisfied

  • 3 times more likely to stay with the company

  • 89% of clients believe a purpose-driven company will deliver the highest quality products and services

  • 72% of global consumers would recommend a company with a purpose, a 39% increase from 2008

  • 84% of emerging market consumers make cause related purchases at least annually

In uncertain times we need the certainty of purpose. To follow EY’s example, start within to activate yours.

Future-Proofing Accounting & Finance: Insights from Under Armour, American Express Global Business Travel, & Xero

What will the future of Finance and Accounting look like? According to Under Armour, American Express Global Business Travel, and Xero, it’s going to look a lot different.

According to this morning’s industry-leader panel, to thrive in an age of change, Finance and Accounting (F&A) need to align and partner with the business.

Manny Korakis, Global Corporate Controller at American Express Global Business Travel, offered some tough advice to the audience with how traditional roles in F&A are evolving, “You should be a little bit uncomfortable because doing the same thing every day is not going to work.”

Expanding on that idea, Molly Boyle, Senior Manager Corporate Accounting at Under Armour, shared “Accountants get pegged as black and white thinkers all the time, but one of the most important things is to be creative thinkers. If we are not prepared as financial professionals to think outside the box, to be forward thinking, and to constantly learn, we will get passed by not only by the business but by other accountants. Continuous learning and continuous improvement are so important.”

As traditional roles change, the people companies are hiring are also changing. Giving insights into how to be the type of person Xero is interested in hiring, Kristy Godfrey-Billy, Chief Accounting Officer at Xero, said, “Ensure that you’re becoming key to the business. We need people who are going to come in and already be able to talk to the business.”

On a lighthearted, final note, Mark Patin, CFO at BlackLine, was brave enough to make a 10 year prediction, “Fincountant might emerge. You heard it here first. Fincountant.”