Founded in 1929, the JR Simplot Company grew from a one-man farming operation into a food and agribusiness empire with operations in the United States, China, Australia, Canada, and Mexico. The company employs 10,000 people and has revenues of over $6 billion.
A privately held company involved in a vast array of agricultural products and research initiatives, Simplot still struggled with a highly tedious, Excel-based financial close process. Various divisions of the global company relied on unique accounting practices, severely hampering big-picture visibility. The use of different accounting tools also complicated matters. According to Glenda Viste, senior director of finance optimization initiatives at Simplot, “Our entrepreneurial values created a lot of non-standard and decentralized accounting practices. Over the years, we had moved to a more consolidated model, but many accounting practices still varied by business unit.”
Simplot’s strong employee retention rate, while a boon for the company overall, also threatened business continuity. With so many different accounting processes and tools, the loss of even one employee meant also losing significant institutionalized knowledge. “Our employee longevity is very long and when transitions happen, there is simply too much information lost,” said Viste. “We knew we had to find a solution that efficiently tracked accounting purposes, procedures, documentation, and historical records.”
According to Viste, a “failure” compelled the team to implement a new close solution. “A remote location had neglected to perform reconciliations. A great deal of rework, auditing, and management time was spent recovering information and analyzing results. The wasted effort could have been prevented with better visibility,” said Viste. “The first reaction of all our managers was ‘How can I ensure this never happens on my watch?’ BlackLine was presented as a technical solution.”
Simplot partnered with BlackLine’s implementation team and KPMG to ensure a timely rollout. Users were trained over several weeks using BlackLine U. “Our IT team had no problems building the necessary interfaces,” said Viste. “We averaged about eight hours of training for each user. And proficiency was effortlessly achieved due to BlackLine’s ease of use.”
Gained real-time visibility. BlackLine’s detailed global overview of all of Simplot’s accounts enabled true visibility from day one. “The improved visibility cannot be overstated,” said Viste. “The company controller can now review accounts that were not easy to access before. In her first review, she identified an account that was the result of out-of-date accounting practices, which was immediately rectified. Both the audit committee and the external auditors now have access to information that had previously been very tedious to collect.”
Eliminated redundancies. Improved visibility also allowed the Simplot team to reexamine the purpose of certain accounts, thereby eliminating redundancies and increasing efficiencies. “We learned a great deal about our own processes,” Viste said. “BlackLine is far superior to our previous Excel solution. The visibility of the tool has exceeded management’s expectations. Cost savings and efficiency opportunities continue to be uncovered.”
Ensured process consistency through employee transitions. BlackLine has also helped Simplot ensure smooth turnovers within the company, critical as Baby Boomers retire and Millennials move into managerial positions. With a cohesive, centralized accounting system now in place, a new hire can join the Simplot team and get up to speed much faster. “BlackLine definitely gave us the tools we needed for transition-friendly processes,” said Viste.
Significantly improved completion and quality ratings. By using BlackLine, Simplot’s completion statistics increased from 30% to 80% from October 2014 to October 2015. During the same time period, the team’s quality rating rose from 22% to 83%. “We routinely perform both random and focused evaluations to measure quality,” said Viste. “Removing waste and rework, while improving quality, have become the signature justifications for BlackLine.”