It’s no secret that technology has brought significant improvements to business in general, and Accounting in particular. But it can be misleading to think that implementing new technology alone is a panacea for solving the often-complex questions faced by today’s finance organizations.
“Technology can drive massive benefits, but it can’t be the only answer,” says Director Sarah Vidmar from Clearsulting, a process transformation-focused consultancy and BlackLine Platinum Partner. “It must be coupled with process improvements and change management programs for the people involved to get the most out of it.”
Accounting automation can speed up many of the more mundane aspects of reconciliations and other activities. But automation is not a simple drop-in solution to what may be larger issues. To find those issues, notes Vidmar, organizations should start by looking for bottlenecks in their accounting processes.
“A reconciliation might be getting done through automation, but there still can be ways to improve the process,” says Clearsulting Record-to-Report Lead Dillon Beard. “Are we getting all the information we need quickly enough? Are we passing the information to the next person in the most appropriate way?
“We always need to understand why there was a problem in the first place, and what was the full extent of the problem.”
Power to the People
Hand in hand with process improvements are organizations’ commitments to including accountants and other personnel in thoughtful change management.
The people running the new processes shouldn’t be taken for granted. Instead, the organization should do everything possible to make sure they are engaged, and they fully understand the reasons for—and benefits of—the new automation upgrades.
“Companies should empower their people by creating new skillsets, by giving them opportunities for improvement, and by putting feedback loops in place,” says Beard. “Management should be looking closely at the employee engagement model to see how to prevent project fatigue and how to keep momentum up.”
Vidmar and Beard recommend making employee engagement an ongoing commitment.
“Embedding innovative thinking into the culture and structure of the overall organization is key,” says Vidmar.
Beard recommends that companies create a design council for the term of implementation. Once the implementation cycle is complete, she says, “these same leaders, who defined what success looked like, should have accountability, be available for users to interact with, and drive continued optimization.”
The Governance Council
In fact, for best-practice deployments, the design council should then morph into a full-time governance council that can keep track of policies and progress to ensure goals are being met.
Such an organization might include the people “in charge of reconciliation and task governance policies as well as the administrators of the record-to-report technologies that are part of the technology stack,” notes Beard.
And while executive commitment is essential to project success, according to Beard, the council should have a representative cross-section of employees.
“It’s good to have company leaders, because they can help everyone see the bigger picture,” he says. “But you also need the people who are doing the work, because they know the reality of what’s doable and what’s being done. That makes for a healthy governance organization and a successful implementation.”
Read our latest issue of BlackLine Quarterly for more stories like this that shine a new light on technology, including why cash intelligence and accounting cloud security are vital to the Controller.