AI-Powered automation for Accounts Receivable
Jacobs Engineering Group (NYSE: JEC) is one of the world’s premier design, engineering, construction, and technical services firms. Rapid growth, business transformation, and aggressive financial targets have put a premium on Jacobs’ ability to modernize its global accounting processes.
Jacobs began its BlackLine journey after detecting anomalies in its U.S. employee benefit plans that were costing the company approximately $2.5 million a year. Manual account reconciliations failed to flag the discrepancies, in part because they involved very small amounts of money that multiplied over 20,000 employees, with numerous pay runs and over a dozen benefit plans.
When aggregated, the discrepancies that were previously overlooked as minor variances added up to a significant sum.
That prompted Trevor Cameron, Jacobs’ director of finance to assess global reconciliations practices, covering 40 countries and 25,000 accounts. In-country reconciliation work was manual, slow, and erratic, with local accounting managers communicating via email and spreadsheets with the corporate accounting team. This approach yielded very inconsistent results.
“If you don’t have a platform like BlackLine to manage and automate your account reconciliations, it’s hard to tell if problems exist in the first place,” Cameron says. Their goal became moving to an automated system and following a three-phase roadmap:
1. Identify the issue
2. Standardize processes
3. Automate reconciliations and related activities
BlackLine has enabled Jacobs to move from an environment of uncertainty around the account reconciliation process, to a place where they can rely on the status and accuracy of balance sheet accounts in real time.
“This allows Jacobs to take advantage of further standardization and other efficiencies coming from the system, such as variance analysis automation and internal audit compliance,” says Cameron.
Jacobs evaluated BlackLine and the Oracle Account Reconciliation Cloud Service. The latter was favored by the IT team because Jacobs’ ERP is Oracle.
The finance team, however, found that BlackLine Account Reconciliations offers superior functionality and flexibility. Plus, it integrates with other products in the BlackLine suite, including Task Management, Transaction Matching, Variance Analysis, and Journal Entry.
“Account reconciliations for Oracle is not their business, not their main space, not their bread and butter—it’s an add-on,” Cameron says. “Working with BlackLine, we found better knowledge, functionality, response, and commitment. And we’ve been able to do a lot of things with BlackLine that we never could have done with Oracle.”
To assist with its BlackLine evaluation and implementation, Jacobs engaged Riveron, a BlackLine partner and business advisory firm headquartered in Dallas. Riveron’s technology and finance experts helped Jacobs implement and rapidly scale its use of BlackLine, accelerating the business impact when the solution went live.
“Riveron brought a lot of knowledge, expertise, and collaboration to the table,” Cameron says. “Every member of the team had the attitude, ‘I love what I do, I know what I’m doing, and I’m going to make your life better.’ I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Reconciliations cut from 60 to 35 days. Jacobs has reduced the time to complete reconciliations on a global basis from 60 to 35 days, with Account Reconciliations used by approximately 300 accounting professionals across 50 countries—including a 12-person accounting team based in Dallas. It’s auto-certifying 63% of reconciliations, up from zero in the days before BlackLine.
The company now has an efficient and centralized reconciliations process that builds confidence in financial data and supports Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance, with reconciliations fully accounted for in quarterly reports.
Plus, Cameron has driven improved accounting performance across the globe with weekly reports that rank countries by key performance indicators, including reconciliation completion, auto-certification percentage, task performance, and other measures.
“BlackLine makes account reconciliations simple because of its streamlined workflows and the standardization of formats and processes,” Cameron says. “BlackLine data lets us report on performance on a weekly basis, and that allows us to get ahead of potential problems before they become real problems.”
What’s next? Dramatic efficiency gains have allowed Jacobs to find process efficiencies and expand shared services usage. The company also rolled out BlackLine Task Management on a global basis for month-end processes, quarterly SOX signoffs, and global treasury department reporting—nearly 500 tasks in total.
The company is also exploring the use of Transaction Matching, Variance Analysis, Journal Entry, and Compliance, which will help the organization continue to expand its shared services model. “We’ve had a greater ability to utilize shared services more effectively because we’re more consistent since we put BlackLine into place,” Cameron says.