March 30, 2021

Seize the Opportunity to Transform Now

Seize the Opportunity to Transform Now Image | BlackLine Magazine

5-minute read

I recently wrote a blog post encouraging leaders to look beyond the pandemic and begin their transformation efforts now. Most organizations are adapting to a new environment, with their teams working in a more distributed fashion. Many have been forced to respond to wildly changing forecasts of demand and supply. 

Even if transaction volume is less than it was a year ago, the amount of work most finance and accounting organizations face isn’t profoundly less than it was a year ago. In fact, many are facing an increased workload.

Yet, many F&A functions are running with fewer people, either due to workforce reductions, furloughs, or voluntary separations caused by the changing work/home dynamic. On top of all this, leadership needs more information and insight from Finance, so their teams need to spend more time analyzing, forecasting, and planning. 

In short, we’re working harder than ever and there are fewer of us doing the work. That’s why it’s important to invest in automation now.

If the pundits are correct, the nature of work will never be the same, even after the pandemic ends.  More of us will work remotely—not only working from home but perhaps, from anywhere.

We know technology is a key enabler of remote work, but automation technology also acts as a buffer against disruptions. Automated work is resilient, isn’t subject to curfews or sick days, and enables us to contribute to an organization’s success in more meaningful ways. As McKinsey puts it, “the COVID-19 recovery will be digital.”

Automation Frees Humans to Deliver Greater Value

Automation comes in many forms. Robotic process automation (RPA) is a hot topic—and deservedly so.  Using RPA, organizations can automate countless repetitive, rules-based tasks that humans used to perform, freeing up time to deliver more value-added work.

And, while RPA often takes flight in the finance and accounting domain, the sky is the limit for where RPA can be applied to automate processes, including supply chain, human resources, customer service—you name it.

Analytic process automation (APA) provides similar benefits, especially with processes that have a heavy data ingestion or analysis component. Platforms such as Alteryx are not only building in workflow engines to enable process automation, but also embedding hooks to cognitive technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, which dramatically increases the number of use cases that can be tackled with APA.

But, while many tasks and processes can be automated with RPA or APA, we should ask ourselves, “Should they be automated with RPA or APA? What alternatives should be considered?” That’s where purpose-built platforms come into play.

I’m a big proponent of using modern solutions that are tailored for a specific process or outcome wherever possible. Such solutions incorporate leading practices, benefit from a broad range of users, and tend to be far superior to ad hoc solutions—when they’re well-designed.

Game-Changing Platform Enhancements Create New Opportunities

Take BlackLine, for example. Since its inception, BlackLine was built to optimize the period-end financial close process. In a unified cloud-based platform, BlackLine helps to automate significant portions of the close.

At the annual BeyondTheBlack conference, BlackLine showcased how leading organizations are using their platform to drive productivity, reduce risk, and provide transparency into their accounting operations and financial close.  You can now watch BeyondTheBlack sessions on demand.

The three-day event brought together more than 5,000 attendees from 75 countries—virtually, of course, because of the pandemic. And, while the online nature of the event may have precluded the usual intimacy of BlackLine’s annual gathering, it didn’t detract from “the star of the show:” the platform itself.

BlackLine unveiled several enhancements, including:

  • Upcoming improvements in the user interface
  • New account analysis solution to analyze unmatched transactions in high-volume, high-risk accounts
  • Google Cloud migration to enhance performance and data
  • Enhanced integration solutions that enable better connectivity to data sources (BlackLine’s “Open Platform” initiative)
  • And, perhaps the highlight: the integration of Rimilia’s AI-powered cash application solution into the 2021 product suite (renamed BlackLine Cash Application)

Innovations such as these keep BlackLine in the leadership position of Gartner’s magic quadrant for cloud financial close platforms. I am particularly excited about BlackLine Cash Application.

There are billions of dollars of working capital tied up in unapplied, unallocated cash—and thousands of hours of human effort spent reconciling the data.

For the past couple of years, I have recommended using RPA to automate the repetitive work associated with the reconciliation of inbound cash payments to outstanding accounts receivable, using banking data.

There are billions of dollars of working capital tied up in unapplied, unallocated cash—and thousands of hours of human effort spent reconciling the data. Bots can do this work easily, and BlackLine’s Cash Application solution promises to use artificial intelligence to improve and quicken the application of cash to free up working capital.

Join this upcoming webinar to learn more about our new Cash Application solution, which can equip your teams to reduce unapplied cash by up to 99%, manual activity by 85%, and days sales outstanding by 5-10 days.

Andy Jones

Digital Transformation