September 18, 2019

Live From InTheBlack 2019: Rethinking the Accounting Experience

Join Us for the Fun Kind of Close… & Give Back Tomorrow Image | BlackLine Magazine

Join Us for the Fun Kind of Close… & Give Back Tomorrow

It's almost time to continue the fun we started last night. The BlackLine Close Party begins at 6:00 pm at the Grammy Museum and The Novo. Help us close out InTheBlack as you enjoy stunning views of Downtown LA, check out the rich history of the Grammy Museum, and then enjoy an exclusive performance by KC & the Sunshine Band. 

Tomorrow is Giving Back Day, and it's one of our favorite parts of the conference each year. We have partnered with Hollenbeck Middle School in downtown Los Angeles to beautify the school. We will be painting rooms and murals, doing some light construction, and landscaping the area to provide something special for the students at the school.

This is a great opportunity to give back to InTheBlack's host city and we hope you will join us. For those attending, we will be providing breakfast, lunch, a special t-shirt, and transportation to and from the JW Marriott Los Angeles

InTheBlack 2019 Cinemark Image | BlackLine Magazine

Before BlackLine, Cinemark faced many challenges that may sound very familiar: their account recs weren’t standardized, they had limited visibility into the status of recons or tasks during the close, and were dealing with numerous Excel-based checklists.

They’re accounting and finance department looks very different now that they’ve implemented BlackLine. They’ve set consistent due dates, and account recs follow a formal policy.

Segregation of duties was huge for them, and so was setting up teams. Whenever someone needs help or is out of the office, anyone on their team can pick up the work.

They started with a 10-day close, and now they’re averaging 6-7 days: 6 during the regular month, and 7 for quarter-end. 

Transaction Matching: Domino's Plans the Project Image |  BlackLine Magazine

Transaction Matching: Domino's Plans the Project

Dominos processes a lot of transactions every month. 40 million, to be exact, and it took a significant amount of time to match these transactions manually.

With BlackLine, Dominos’ 40 million monthly transactions are now 99.9% matched. This has helped handle the rush and provided visibility into patterns. They’ve gained time savings from quick investigations, detailed data for audits, and accurate reporting.

Sarah emphasized the importance of putting together the right project team, with an Implementation Lead, Technical Resources, a Project Manager, and a VP Sponsor. You need some muscle and someone who can say, “This is really important from a high level,” and make things come into alignment.

Define Your Scope & Know Your Objectives

  • Current Process
  • Be optimistic and realistic
  • Crawl, walk, and then run

In-Depth Discovery

  • Investigate: Who does it? Who knows it? Can it be simplified?
  • Diagram: How long does it take? How often is it performed? Related to other processes?
  • Document: What is the logic? What current human intervention is needed?
Domino's InTheBlack 2019 Image | BlackLine Magazine

Lessons Learned: What Went Well

  • Management buy in
  • Structured plan
  • Committed resources
  • Budget and timeline checkpoints
  • Documentation
  1. Data dictionary: keep details behind contents of all fields added, especially company-specific fields
  2. Reports list: Document reports created for users and what they provide within BlackLine in a separate document for end users
  3. Match set and pass rule documentation: Document within BlackLine and keep a separate design document
  4. Training materials: Provide training session with takeaway desk for training new hires added to the team later
SiriusXM's Continuous Accounting Journey: The Power of Process Integration Image | BlackLine Magazine

SiriusXM's Continuous Accounting Journey: The Power of Process Integration

Speakers: Mike Gruehl, SiriusXM

Mike Gruehl says, “If you take the stress and anxiety out of the close, it’s like magic.”

Mike views Continuous Accounting as more about how to free up time than the actual processes, and he pointed out the fact that the benefits do not come overnight. For SiriusXM, they were the result of multiple light bulb moments that have occurred throughout their journey.

Further, the benefits typically come in layers. You save a little time, and reinvest it in additional process improvements to save a little more time. And then repeat that cycle as the saved time continually compounds.

Mike’s key measurement of success is how many people he sees in the office after 5:30 pm—how late are people working and how stressed do they look? The quantification comes afterwards, when you reduce the time it takes to close and increase the quality of the close.

Mike defines Continuous Accounting as an approach to how and when we account for transactions and events. It’s a merging of the real-time transaction-based operations of the business and the post-event, reporting-based accounting functions.

It is not a specific process, method, or system.

Mike named BlackLine’s built-in data sources and matching data sources as the default preferred methods and tools, and said (quite emphatically) that Excel should be eliminated as a source.

SiriusXM implemented Account Reconciliations and Tasks first, followed by Journal Masters, Matching, and Automated Journals.

Big data can be imported to BlackLine at a detailed or summary level to perform many of the traditional accounting tasks associated with large data-based expenses.  

The goal is not to reduce the close time. The goal is to create a simple, effective, efficient process that accounts for transactions at the earliest known point, at the most granular level available.

An effective, efficient process will allow for multiple soft close cycles within a given calendar month while reducing the manual effort and time when compared to the traditional monthly close.

In closing, Mike talked about the benefits of BlackLine. “Things that used to take a day or two now take an hour. We were struggling to fill time, so we kept making improvements, which expanded the problem because then we had even more time.

“If I had implemented BlackLine sooner, we could have saved a lot of time. We also may have saved a lot of people from leaving.”

InTheBlack Machine Learning for Accounting Image | BlackLine Magazine

Speaker: Sapna Nagaraj, Director, Data & Machine Learning, BlackLine

Sapna believes there’s something fundamentally wrong with the phrase ‘work like a machine’.

A machine is the ideal worker—predictable, fast, accurate, never takes a break, is never sick. But it’s not healthy when humans are asked or expected to work like a machine.

Machines can begin performing executional tasks, but they cannot learn the creative work. As a result, the aspects of your job that a machine can’t learn are going to become increasingly important.

Fortunately, machines can’t learn creative tasks like complex problem solving, critical thinking, judgment and decision making, and cognitive flexibility.

Better suited for machine learning are executional tasks like data entry, processing, collection, and validation. These tasks are time-consuming, rule based, repeatable, complex, and high volume, and machines can learn how to perform these tasks in a fraction of the time humans can.

BlackLine Intelligent Matching

This provides a small set of data to match using one to one or many to one matching. Each match comes with a confidence score that indicates how likely it is that this is a match. As you accept or dismiss each match, the machine receives feedback, learns, and can do better next time.

Read this blog to learn more about BlackLine’s work around machine learning.

A Fireside Chat with Billie Jean King Image | BlackLine Magazine

A Fireside Chat with Billie Jean King

Speakers: Billie Jean King, Legend and Susan Otto, BlackLine

Today’s last keynote is one that speaks to the values that BlackLine was founded upon—great leadership, universal equity, and playing to our strengths.

Joining BlackLine’s Chief People Officer Susan Otto is Billie Jean King, tennis legend, LGBTQ+ icon, and longtime champion of social change and gender equity in the workplace.

She is the founder of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative and the co-founder of World Team Tennis. King has created new inroads for both women and men in sports and beyond during her legendary career, and she continues to make her mark today.

Their conversation kicks off with a discussion about how King got her start in the tennis world.

Born in Long Beach, California, she first played tennis at the age of 11 in the public parks of Southern California. King won her first of a record 20 Wimbledon titles when she captured the 1961 Wimbledon Ladies’ Doubles Championship with Karen Hantze in 1961. She went on to win 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles during her career.

On September 20, 1973, she empowered women and educated men when she defeated Bobby Riggs in one of the greatest moments in sports history—the Battle of the Sexes. This match is remembered for its effect on society and its contribution to the women’s movement.

While she does value her accolades, King makes it clear that she couldn’t have done it alone. She prompts the audience to recognize the “sheros and heros” in our lives—many times they’re the people in the trenches with us, not necessarily celebrities and professional athletes.

People touch our lives, “everyone has a story to tell, [and] everyone matters. Give people credit.” King muses that this is what makes great leaders.

In the past, King has said that men are just as important in the fight for gender equity. When Susan asks her to elaborate, King responds that historically, men have been the people in power, and have acclimated themselves to an “old boys club” culture. As they’re the people still most likely to be at the table of power, it’s their ethical imperative to foster inclusion and give credit where credit is due.

She says “this is not about rocket science. It’s about making it right.”

When discussing the current negotiations between the National Women’s Soccer League and its players, King calls for more shark-like tactics on the part of the players. She notes that she and the other women who participated in founding the Women’s Tennis Association were willing to never play tennis again to achieve just outcomes.

King is candid in her societal critique, unafraid of correcting misinformation and eager to expand the conversation past the predictable line of inquiry about gender and pay equity—environmental justice, younger generations’ social movements—it’s all on the table.

The takeaway from this fireside chat? Identify your dreams and nurture the dreams of new generations of children. That’s how we’ll tackle all of the social challenges we’re facing today. 

Transforming the Financial Close at Kimberly-Clark (Presented by Genpact) Image | BlackLine Magazine

Transforming the Financial Close at Kimberly-Clark (Presented by Genpact)

Speakers: Jonna Denton, Kimberly-Clark; Katie Vanpelt Stein and Vivek Saxena, Genpact

After experiencing audit findings in the reconciliation space, Kimberly-Clark’s controller received this message: if you can’t get the account recs right, what does that say about your global accounting?

Kimberly-Clark’s finance automation journey started over 10 years ago after they implemented SAP, but this was an invitation to focus on quality and accelerate their close. And it led them to BlackLine.

Now, once a year, all of their account recs are quality assessed. Their initial goal was to reach 85%, and they’ve hit that number the past three years.

For Kimberly-Clark, change management started with getting sponsorship at the top, and their sponsors communicated the new rules.

Genpact is their partner for North America and EMEA, and helped their accounting and finance teams centralize 90% of their reconciliations.

They’re working toward standardization by utilizing the BlackLine templates. There’s room for growth here, and this will be a focus over the next 15 months.

Finally, Jonna talked about risk and control, and the importance of asking the question, “How much risk am I willing accept on this account? Is it low or high?”

Katie asked Jonna what she would choose, given the choice between BlackLine and RPA. Her response? “BlackLine. BlackLine is automation on steroids.”

And when asked about where she thinks accounting will be in 2030, she responded, “If I’m still working on a financial close in 2030, Genpact hasn’t done their job in standardizing their processes!”

Celebrate Your Wins Along Your Finance & Accounting Innovation Journey Image | BlackLine Magazine

Celebrate Your Wins Along Your Finance & Accounting Innovation Journey

Speaker: Tammy Coley – BlackLine Chief Transformation Officer

Tammy Coley is sort of like our own internal BlackLine champion. Her energy is contagious as she steps onto the stage, ready to talk about finance and accounting innovation.

She started her career as a CPA and worked to implement BlackLine and transform the accounting processes at Cox Communications. Later, she joined BlackLine to help other organizations do the same.

Her goal is to bring finance transformation and digital progress to the masses, one step at a time.

In today’s keynote, Tammy—who might be an equally gifted orator—quotes President Barack Obama: “If you’re walking down the right path, and you’re willing to keep walking, you’re making progress”

And Tammy urges you to celebrate that progress because celebrating small wins is important for your success for three reasons:

1.      Both psychologically and physiologically, it feels good

2.      Celebrating with colleagues and business partners tightens your network

3.      Celebration correctly positions you as a winner and attracts even more success

Tammy gives us a few ideas for how to celebrate our successes, straight from her own bag of tricks—chocolate cake and a little dance are sure to give you those triumphant endorphins.

No matter where you are on your finance transformation journey, you should be proud of yourselves, and willing to keep walking down that path to success.

Using a poll in our InTheBlack mobile app, Tammy asks the audience to answer several questions about where they are in their journey. She asks people to indicate where their processes fall on a scale from “getting started” to “almost there” in terms of the clarity, control, and efficiency of several critical accounting processes. There are no wrong answers, and BlackLine wants to meet you where you are.

To do this, Tammy and her team have created a framework to guide your finance and accounting transformation journey—a blueprint to measure your current state, prioritize goals, and build out a roadmap of targeted, quick, medium and long-term activities for a successful journey to your end game.

This Finance & Accounting Innovation Journey Framework focuses on 5 key areas:

1.      Define and prioritize your goals (end game)

2.      Identify the KPIs to track progress

3.      Assess the 5 Core Finance & Accounting Processes

4.      Design a roadmap

5.      Monitor progress

Duracell: A Giant Leap Into the Digital Era with EY Accounting Performance Acceleration Image | BlackLine Magazine

Duracell: A Giant Leap Into the Digital Era with EY Accounting Performance Acceleration

Speakers: Eloise Wagner, Global BlackLine Assurance/FAAS Leader, EY; Jane Saunders, North America Accounting Controller and Joe Saviano, North America Accounting Manager, Duracell

When Jane came on board with Duracell, their accounting and finance processes were 100% manual. Four years later, 50% of their 10,000 global reconciliations are automated, they have visibility into the completeness of their recs, and they’re saving a ton of time—10 hours a week, to be exact—because they’re no longer printing out manual Excel recs.

Wondering how they did it?

Maintaining an environment with strong internal controls was a top priority for Jane, so she quickly began looking into finance automation solutions.

Duracell’s tagline is Trust is Power, so when she found BlackLine and discovered that their tagline is Trust is in the Balance, she was drawn to that alignment.

Jane attended a Best Practices Summit to talk to F&A professionals from other companies who were in the early or fully developmental stages of BlackLine, and also talked to them about their implementation process—whether they did it themselves or worked with a partner.

Finally, they met with BlackLine customers one-on-one, outside of the Summit, to ask questions and discuss their experiences.

They ultimately chose BlackLine and decided to partner with EY for their implementation. EY has been working with BlackLine since the beginning, and Jane says, “EY is a partner that’s not just an expert in Accounting and Finance—they’re also an expert in BlackLine."

Duracell took a thoughtful, intentional approach to rolling out BlackLine. Jane’s goal was to lay the foundation and build the global design in North America first, to ensure a smoother transition for other regions, and it worked.

They implemented Account Reconciliations first. Task Management was next, and then Transaction Matching. They’re currently starting to do the design work on Journals and hope to go live with this fourth solution in the next couple of months.

Joe spoke to the value of multiple BlackLine solutions working together. Although they experienced immediate benefits with each solution, he said, “You don’t see the time savings until the integration happens.”

Jane also spoke to the importance of addressing the change management aspect at the beginning of every finance automation journey, saying, “convince your team that BlackLine will truly make a difference in their lives, in the day to day.”

Jane and Joe shared four key takeaways that they learned throughout this process:

  1. Understand the extent of the risk of your manual processes.
  2. Think big, even if you’re starting small, keeping the greater vision in mind.
  3. Don’t be afraid to take a phased approach.
  4. Consider an experienced advisor. 
Mistaking Chaos for Complexity: Rethinking the Accounting Experience Image | BlackLine Magazine

Mistaking Chaos for Complexity: Rethinking the Accounting Experience

Speakers: Pete Hirsch, Fred Li, Stephen Wolfman, & Brandon Seip - BlackLine

BlackLine’s Chief Technology Officer, Pete Hirsch, kicked off today’s keynotes talking about what BlackLine means for you.

Accountants have a very difficult job and they manage a huge level of complexity, and the business expects it to run smoothly. Technology can help.

What we may see as complex is often surprisingly simple for machines. We used to remember phone numbers by either memorizing them or keeping them in a rolodex, but today we just keep them in our phone. Machines free humans so we don’t have to remember what or where the phone number is, and can instead focus on the phone call.

Technology can do the same for Accounting.

But what does that transformation look like?

It looks like accessible information, eliminated repetition, and increased focus on what’s important. It lets accountants use their judgement and experience to drive the business forward.

Pete conducted a real time poll that revealed that 59% of accountants at InTheBlack started their career using Excel. It also showed that 12% started with paper ledgers! Spreadsheets, beginning with VisiCalc, were the first killer applications on the PC, and helped create a demand for PCs. Before then it was paper, blackboards, and manual work. But, change helps everything move forward.

BlackLine is investing in that change. We’re investing in technology, machine learning, openness, and you as accounting and finance professionals.

Next, Pete brought Fred Li, VP of Product Management out on stage to go more in depth into what that all means.

“You are important,” Fred began.

You’re part of the change, no matter your role. And as a change agent, you can go back to your company and help lead the way.

Certain jobs are great for robots, but that doesn’t mean your job is obsolete. Fred displayed a slide to help illustrate this point: your time is better spent on third-order decisions to make the business better. The robots can take care of base-level decisions, while you do the real work.

Fred then introduced Stephen Wolfman, Director of Product Management.

“It’s all about that data.”

“That data” is used by so many different parts of your organization. So, you need to have the utmost confidence in it. 71% of the C-Suite trust their data, but only 38% of finance professionals share that trust. How can we elevate trust in the numbers?

Stephen noted that data needs to be accurate, timely, and comprehensive. Getting quality data can take time, but that doesn’t fit the speed of modern business.

You need to have visibility into the workflows that produce your data. Which means, you need data about your data. If there’s a gap here, it can cause problems and prohibit you from getting where you want to go. BlackLine can help streamline that flow.

If you have the right data and are measuring the right processes, you are working toward continuous improvement. Quality numbers and manageable flows of data help propel us to greater connectivity and visibility.

Fred came back out to talk about making it easier to implement and use BlackLine. We want your data to be readily available, so you don’t have to worry about it.

If there’s less friction in the day-to-day of your work, it’s easier to create change. Fred told a story about wanting to hang a picture with a nail. First, he needed to find a Home Depot, then find the right aisle, and then find the right box of nails.

For this metaphor, navigating to the BlackLine platform equates to finding a Home Depot. Finding the right aisle is about how you move through the application. And searching through the interface of the application will hopefully reveal the nail you’re looking for. Once you’re in the right place in the application, we want it to be effortless to do what you need to do.

We’re committed to providing consistent, intuitive elements so BlackLine reacts in the way you think it should, no matter where you are in the application.

When things are easy, you can spend less time searching and more time doing. And that means:

Faster results.

Less stress.

And more value.

For you. Because you are important.

Shannon Maynard,

Modern Accounting