AI-Powered automation for Accounts Receivable
Founded in 1966, Saddle Creek is a family-owned company offering comprehensive logistics services. The company has more than 16 million square feet of warehouse space, 37 locations nationwide, and experience in food and beverage, electronics, recreation, and more. The company’s motto, “Whatever It Takes” exemplifies the their commitment to ensuring the complete satisfaction of every customer.
Saddle Creek has experienced tremendous growth for several years. While this success has translated into increased profits and market share, for the accounting department it also meant more GL accounts—and a more time-consuming month-end close. Yet the department was still stuck using a paper-based reconciliation process that only increased in complexity as the company expanded.
According to Paige Williamson, assistant controller at Saddle Creek, “We kept all of our reconciliations in a manila folder for each fiscal year. There was one folder for each GL account, so the volume of folders was very difficult to move around for approvals,” says Williamson. “It was also challenging to keep track of who had the reconciliations, which ones had been approved, or who had a folder. Plus, attachments that backed up the reconciliations weren’t always included, due to the lack of room.”
The paper-based system also meant audit preparation was more time consuming than it needed to be: “It took us two to three hours to get all the reconciliations into the conference room, put them in order, and make sure they were complete.”
The accounting department’s ability to keep up with the company’s growth necessitated a more automated, efficient reconciliation process. “Our main goals were to improve efficiency and free up our accountants to focus on analysis and reporting,” says Williamson. “We wanted a system that would create a single, online location for all of our recs, as well as offer tracking capabilities and different templates for different types of accounts. We also wanted to enable auditors to log in on their own. And we needed to be able to auto-certify accounts with zero balances or no activity.”
After Williamson found BlackLine via an online search, she and her team promptly did due diligence on numerous other vendors. Yet no other reconciliation solution met all of Saddle Creek’s requirements. “We discovered there just aren’t that many solutions out there that have the functionality of BlackLine.”
The department was up and running with BlackLine much faster than anticipated (“BlackLine is unbelievably easy to rollout”), enabling leadership to focus instead on a strong change management strategy. Williamson and her team first emphasized how BlackLine would save accountants time and effort. Staff were also given access to BlackLine U, BlackLine’s free online training. “Accountants love Excel, so hesitation is natural,” says Williamson. “But after using BlackLine for a month, everyone experienced how much it improves efficiency. Now it’s difficult to imagine ever going back to spreadsheet reconciliations.”
Freed accountants for value-added work, including critical research. Saddle Creek’s prior use of paper and manila folders to prepare, track, and review reconciliations took a tremendous amount of time away from truly valuable work, that of analysis and research. According to Williamson, accountants no longer waste hours—or days—finding and aggregating paperwork. “With BlackLine, the majority of time spent on account reconciliations has moved from creating spreadsheets and formatting to actually being able to research and correct items.” Saddle Creek has also improved business continuity, amid changes in staff schedules. Access is no longer dependent on a physical location, and staff don’t have to find or transfer physical files from one office to another. “There are three approvers in our department, and when one is out, the other two are able to ‘fill-in’ with approvals very easily,” says Williamson.
Increased accuracy. Because BlackLine automates much of the manual process of reconciliations and the close, Saddle Creek can reduce the incidence of human error. “The accuracy of our balances is ensured. They are locked down and not subject to an accidental mis-key,” says Williamson. “Our auditors love that!”
Shortened new hire time to productivity. New employees found the paper-based reconciliation process difficult to learn. Today, new hires are up to speed—and productive—much faster, as all reconciliations take place within BlackLine. “Previously, new hires didn’t have access to consistent references to enable quick learning,” says Williamson. “One of my favorite things is the training offered in BlackLine. Instead of having to sit down with each new person and explain how everything works, I can direct them to go online and learn about the process. We’ve been able to compress the training process into one day.”
Improved visibility and access. Prior to BlackLine, Saddle Creek’s reliance on spreadsheets meant accountants couldn’t efficiently access the big picture of the entire close. “With BlackLine, everything is in one place and can be visible to the whole department,” says Williamson. “And we don’t have to be on the company’s Internet. We can work on, review, and approve recs off-site through a regular Internet portal.”
The increased transparency has also been beneficial to the quality of analysis, as preparers have more time to spend on identifying discrepancies. “The preparers ability to view different months simultaneously aids analyzing and problem solving.”
Reduced prep time for audits from 3 hours to a few minutes. Instead of taking hours to locate and aggregate paper files for audits, the team can give auditors access to BlackLine, anywhere, anytime. “It used to take three hours just to get reconciliations ready for auditors,” says Williamson. “Now we just have to set up the auditor log in, which takes minutes.”