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Integrating BlackLine with QuickBooks to Eliminate a Paper-Based Close

Aemetis, Inc. is an advanced renewable fuels and biochemicals company focused on the production of advanced fuels and chemicals through the acquisition, development, and commercialization of innovative technologies that replace traditional petroleum-based products by conversion of first-generation ethanol and biodiesel plants into advanced biorefineries. Aemetis owns and operates facilities in California and India.

The Challenge

Competition in the renewable fuel industry is fierce, making for very thin margins. “We’re competing with 200 plants across the country, and we’re all trying to produce fuel at the lowest cost,” says Todd Waltz, CFO at Aemetis. “We have to be vigilant about our cost structure, and any new tools or processes must either make our work more efficient or more effective.”

Yet the company’s existing financial close was neither. The almost entirely paper-based process hampered efficiency, visibility, and accountability—and kept the lean team of 12 working late nights during the close, managing multiple binders and too many Excel spreadsheets.

“To close my books, it took me almost a month simply to review everything,” says Jyothi Tammineni, director of accounting at Aemetis. “There was always the chance I missed a few things. I really didn’t know what was going on with some of the balances.”

A lack of standardization also created more work for the small team. “We would receive the close package from India, but they were using a completely different ERP and close checklist than we were. That required yet another binder.”

Why BlackLine

The team began the search for a new solution, one that would both support Aemetis’ internal control program and enable a paperless close. Other selection criteria included price, implementation costs, and analytic capabilities.

“We knew we needed a tool that would be easy for our team to use and incorporate into their day-to-day work,” says Nilam Panchal, North America controller at Aemetis. “We also insisted on partnering with a vendor who would provide excellent customer service and be willing to negotiate.”

Most importantly, any new solution had to work seamlessly with QuickBooks, instead of a large enterprise ERP. “We’re not a small company—we generate 150 million in revenue each year worldwide—but we run a small finance team and rely on QuickBooks Enterprise for our accounting system.”

In the beginning, BlackLine almost wasn’t included in the team’s potential vendor list. Yet a more in-depth look, as well as attendance by the team at a BlackLine user conference, quickly changed minds.

“We thought BlackLine might not be able to solve our central issues,” says Waltz. “As we learned more about it and saw its capabilities, we gravitated toward BlackLine. I’m so happy we did.”

Aemetis implemented BlackLine Account Reconciliations, Task Management, and Journal Entry. “As we were validating potential solutions, BlackLine kept coming out on top. The vendors we first considered came out on the bottom,” says Panchal. “And BlackLine really worked with us regarding a cost strategy. We were able to implement BlackLine within our budget constraints.”

The Results

Saved 3 to 4 days every month. Previously, Aemetis’ close process required a tremendous—and ever-increasing— amount of manual effort.

“With BlackLine, I’m saving an average three to four days of tedious manual work because all the paperwork has been eliminated,” says Panchal. “In the past, I had to have my binders ready by the 15th of each month. Now, I’m done by the 10th, and everything is reviewed before I run financial statements.”

BlackLine has also helped eliminate late night work sessions during the close.

“When our close was paper-driven, I was used to going home and seeing Jyothi Tammineni working late, at her wits end,” says Waltz. “Two cycles after implementing BlackLine, I was leaving one night and she was looking too relaxed. I said, ‘It’s the middle of close.’ She said, ‘Everything’s all under control, I know where everything is.’ I take that as a real success when she’s that calm during our close.” Adds Tammineni, “Now that we have BlackLine, I don’t stay until 11 pm anymore. I go home and I don’t even open the computer most of the time.”

Streamlined third-party auditing. Aemetis’ previous paper-based close process made third-party auditing more time consuming than it needed to be.

“We use a third party for our internal control process. They would give us a long list, and we’d chase down documents and put tags in the books—and then go through the tags and the documentation,” says Waltz. “Now we just give them access to the system, and they look up whatever they need. It’s all there. We’re getting a lot fewer questions from auditors and the internal control team.”

Increased accountability of global employees. Prior to BlackLine, real-time visibility into task progress and completion simply wasn’t possible.

“We would get an Excel checklist back from our India team,” says Waltz. “But we never really knew if tasks were done or not.” Today, not only is task progress tracked in real time but also employees receive automatic reminders when tasks aren’t completed.

Unexpectedly, the team in India loves BlackLine. “It was amazing. They really embraced it. They like having an electronic tool that gamifies the whole close and gives them the opportunity to document task completion.”

Integrated BlackLine with QuickBooks. While Aemetis generates millions in revenue each year, the company runs a small, lean finance team. Yet the company didn’t have to implement a large enterprise ERP to take advantage of BlackLine’s capabilities.

“BlackLine is used by companies with large ERP systems, like SAP or Oracle. But we’re using it with QuickBooks and we’re leveraging all the tools it has to offer,” says Panchal. “I tell small companies about how they can also use BlackLine, even if they’re not using a big ERP. They could save so much time. It’s my sales pitch, even though I don’t sell for BlackLine!”

Enabled real-time analysis. With BlackLine, the Aemetis finance team no longer relies on months-old data for analysis.

“I feel so much more comfortable looking at the numbers in BlackLine, versus looking in the binder, flipping through hard copy pages,” says Tammineni. “With BlackLine, I see everything in real time.”

“I’ve been at larger companies, billion-dollar companies, that are very heavily transactional, and everything is still reviewed after the fact. That’s not how internal controls are supposed to happen,” says Panchal. “This is the way accounting is supposed to happen. BlackLine helps make it a reality.”