AI-Powered automation for Accounts Receivable
A leader in the housing market, Saint-Gobain designs, manufactures, and distributes high-performance construction materials that address the challenges of sustainability, resource efficiency, and climate change. The company has a rich, 350-year history, and has grown to more than 170,000 employees in 66 countries and approximately €40 billion in annual revenue.
The Saint-Gobain Group is comprised of nearly 900 subsidiaries and three business divisions: Innovative Materials, Products for Construction, and Building Distribution. In 2008, the company created Shared Services Centers (SSC) to centralize, standardize, and simplify the accounting processes globally. These SSC’s span 25 countries and 629 legal entities.
Previously, each SSC prepared account reconciliations in its own way and then submitted them for review. This process, largely manual and still paper-based, was very time-consuming. It also hampered the traceability and accuracy requirements of the internal accounting teams, and both the internal and external auditors.
“After setting up our shared service network in 2010, we shifted our focus to improving and maximizing efficiency. Several parts were identified, including streamlining and consolidating accounts payables and automating customer and general accounting. Overall, we wanted to improve and standardize all our reconciliations and internal control operations,” says Pascal Perrier-Gustin, director of shared service centers and financial organization projects at Saint-Gobain Group.
“In other words, our goals were to standardize our accounting processes through automation, strengthen internal controls, accelerate the monthly close, and ultimately, improve the relationship between the SSC’s and our customers.”
The search for a solution that would allow the SSCs to achieve these goals continued.
“Finally, our U.S. SSC chose BlackLine’s Finance Controls and Automation platform to achieve its initial streamlining and automation goals. After considerable research, it soon became clear to us that BlackLine could help our entire SSC network to achieve a flawless level of internal controls. After analyzing the other options on the market, we validated the U.S. entity’s choice. BlackLine’s functional coverage, modularity, and cloud/SaaS deployment met all of our needs, and we adopted it in our SSCs worldwide,” explains Perrier-Gustin.
Today, nearly 2,000 company employees are using the BlackLine platform—accountants, CFOs, and entity controllers—as well as external auditors. GL balances are automatically loaded into BlackLine monthly, increasing automation. Users can prepare and approve reconciliations more efficiently, and leadership and auditors have the visibility they need.
“The implementation of BlackLine was very fast. In about 15 days, we deployed BlackLine to the first SSC (approximately 15 users) via two WebEx training sessions. Our users can also do online training courses, conveniently accessible through BlackLine U, or if necessary, we contact our customer success manger directly.
“On average, the full deployment of a SSC network took about six months,” says Perrier-Gustin.
Perrier-Gustin continues, “BlackLine not only makes it possible to standardize and automate accounting process, but also provides a level of full traceability that helps us meet the demands of internal and external audits. BlackLine offers quick access to information, allowing you to follow the reconciliation process and evaluate its progress.”
At the same time, BlackLine helps auditors work faster and more efficiently, which has a definitive impact on managing accounting costs. “Even if, at the onset of the project, our objective was not necessarily to reduce costs, but this naturally happened with BlackLine. Paper printing and information storage costs have also decreased.
“But overall, BlackLine’s main contribution has been to help us adopt a “lean” attitude to our general accounting. Additionally, we can ensure that the processes carried out by each of our SSC’s are as fluid as possible, with minimal associated tasks, and in a timely manner,” says Perrier-Gustin.
It’s difficult for Perrier-Gustin to quantify the gains generated by BlackLine’s fast implementation, but he is pleased with the positive return on investment.
“The SSC directors are satisfied because they are now able to standardize the methods of account reconciliation and better prepare their financial close. In the same way, client CFO’s appreciate the solution because it helps them carry out their task of monitoring and controlling account reconciliations while also facilitating balance sheet review.
“Additionally, both internal and external auditors benefit from the homogenization of processes. A BlackLine-equipped SSC network means easier audits and improved process quality.”
Finally, our other main objectives, to attain better accuracy and increased efficiency for the financial close, were achieved.
“That’s what matters most to us. Account reconciliation is a primary exercise in accounting processes and should be done with the utmost care. Thanks to BlackLine, we have been able to automate and streamline the reconciliation of our accounts, and we have a clear view of the progress of our close process at all times,” concludes Perrier-Gustin.