Starting Up with BlackLine: Let Us Count the Ways


As a CPA with an IT background, BlackLine Solutions Consultant Derek Henry is well qualified to show accountants, controllers, and CFOs how accounting automation can help reduce the risks and wasted time associated with manual processes.

Before coming to BlackLine, Henry worked for two BlackLine customers where he championed, implemented, and administered BlackLine. Today, much of his time is spent helping prospects and customers determine the best ways to migrate from spreadsheets to BlackLine’s modern accounting platform.

We sat down with Henry to talk about what Excel does well, the biggest issues it creates, and how to optimize the performance of your F&A teams with templates.


BlackLine Magazine: In conversations with accountants who use Excel, what do you hear are the major problems?

Derek Henry: First of all, let me say that I like Excel. It’s very good for certain jobs, but modern accounting isn’t one of those jobs.

We see problems all the time at customer sites. It’s easy to delete things by mistake, for one. And Excel is wide open to any and all users, so anyone can make a change, for better or worse.

And it’s easy to forget to check off tasks. A reviewer might have a team of five people, each with 50 things to do each month. That gives the reviewer 250 things to review, and in the real world there are always distractions—the team needs some guidance, or someone from a different department is asking for help. So the reviewer may become a bottleneck and forget to check off a task.

With BlackLine, everyone is working digitally. When the preparer is finished, he or she hits the certification button. This automatically marks off the preparation step on the checklist and moves the file along in the workflow. This way everybody with access rights has accurate, real-time visibility across the entire business.

BlackLine Magazine: I understand there are several ways that spreadsheet users can move to BlackLine. Can you tell us about them?

Derek Henry: Yes. For account reconciliations there are several, based on the degree of integration the user wants, and what’s most suitable for the specific application. We typically help our customers find the best combination for their particular needs.

For people who still want to use spreadsheets in some form, we offer a few levels of integration. The simplest is just to attach Excel files to BlackLine as supporting documents, like you would with an email. Now BlackLine wraps a workflow around the spreadsheet, so it can be tracked on a BlackLine dashboard.

A step up is to document your spreadsheet with a BlackLine template. That way you can use the BlackLine dashboard to see things like what’s current, what’s not current, or what’s in an asset position or a liability position.

BlackLine also offers users a template called integrated spreadsheet, for those who feel more comfortable with the Excel format. All data that’s entered goes into BlackLine, so it can be tracked through BlackLine’s workflows.

BlackLine Magazine: The next step up—and what BlackLine recommends—is using its intelligent, best-practices templates to get maximum performance. How do you transition spreadsheet users to templates?

Derek Henry: We can import files from Excel or we can help the user start from scratch. Our implementation team works with the customer to figure out the best way to start.

The templates are very powerful, and they’re typically applied to key processes in the accounting cycle.

For instance, we might set up a template for a pre-paid subscription account, where you’ve pre-paid for a year, but you want to amortize that over the monthly or quarterly filings. The customer enters the basic information: the overall amount, start date and end date, and the description, plus some other configurable fields, like group name, location, and so on.

BlackLine then automatically builds out that schedule.

With BlackLine, it’s a simple process. Spreadsheets, on the other hand, can wreak havoc, especially if the organization manages a number of processes with them.

The reason? With Excel, there might be 20 different ways to do a pre-paid, with different accountants preparing them in different ways. Lots of room for error there.

The good thing about BlackLine is that our technology can work at many levels, from simple spreadsheet referencing to full-on, template-based automation. BlackLine has some easy points of entry, and it can grow to cover the world’s largest companies. You can’t outgrow it.

Read our new issue of BlackLine Quarterly for more stories like this, including: