AI-Powered automation for Accounts Receivable
Veolia is a global leader in optimized resource management. With over 174,000 employees worldwide, the company designs and provides water, waste, and energy management solutions that contribute to the sustainable development of communities and industries.
In 2013, Veolia North America created a shared services center for its three primary businesses: energy services, water services, and environmental services. Yet while this new approach reduced costs and streamlined workflow, it didn’t address one of the accounting group’s biggest challenges.
“We were still using Excel spreadsheets to manage reconciliations,” says Julie Egan, senior director of general ledger at Veolia North America. “We had financial analysts out in the field trying to verify reconciliations via a shared drive. They were very frustrated with the time it took to find files, as well as the lack of visibility.” In fact, visibility was so lacking that the accounting group missed an entire bank reconciliation for five months. “One person thought the other person was doing it and vice versa. It was a total miss because it simply wasn’t visible to the rest of us.”
Veolia’s continued reliance on shared drives also increased risk and left the company vulnerable to auditor inquiries. “The drives were open to such a huge group of people. We were continually worried about information being accidentally deleted or moved,” says Egan. “Plus, we were failing internal control group testing because sometimes recs couldn’t be found. It was very disorganized.”
Egan and her team knew they needed a solution that would increase visibility, improve organization and control, and enable standardization. “One of my staff had used BlackLine in a previous job. I hadn’t even heard of an automated solution for reconciliations. I did some research and says, ‘We have to have this!’ I put together a proposal, and we were able to add it to the budget.”
However, numerous delays kept Veolia North America from implementing a reconciliation solution for three long years. “In 2013, we were starting the process of switching from PeopleSoft to SAP, which changed who had control over interfaces. That was the first delay,” says Egan. “In 2014, Veolia decided they wanted to do an implementation throughout the whole company. Then someone decided they didn’t want to implement as a company-wide project. At that point, we started over.”
In 2015, Egan and her team finally received the go-ahead to implement a solution—a platform from a BlackLine competitor—but they were delayed yet again. “We were pretty far along in implementation when our SAP people said they didn’t like how the solution was connecting to SAP. When we found out BlackLine integrated automatically with SAP, we decided to switch.”
Veolia rolled out BlackLine’s finance controls and automation platform in mid 2016. “We were always convinced that BlackLine was the better platform, but we had made our original decision based on price,” says Egan. “The competitor’s solution was less expensive, yet during implementation we discovered it was just pieces slapped together. BlackLine proved to be far more integrated and intuitive.”
Freed staff to focus on improving quality. By reducing their use of spreadsheets, the team has more time to work on quality issues. “Because of the visibility within BlackLine, I’m seeing that some of our past reconciliations were basically just a listing of transactions or balances by profit center, which isn’t meaningful at all,” says Egan. “My goal now is to address our quality issues. In time, that’s going to enable us to realize even more time savings with BlackLine.”
Created one location for reconciliations and supporting documentation. Prior to BlackLine, reconciliations were stored on shared file drives, a practice that resulted in lost documentation and awkward audit inquiries. “With BlackLine, we now have a tool where everything is in one place. The supporting documentation is right there. Anyone can look at it,” says Egan. “And because approvals are systematic, we never have to ask if a reconciliation was approved. It’s all in BlackLine.”
Gained real-time visibility. BlackLine’s dashboard gives both the team and Veolia’s leadership immediate insight into the status of reconciliations. “Now that I have this awesome dashboard, I’m able to drill into any reconciliation,” says Egan. “I can also see how individuals are progressing.”
Standardized reconciliations. Previously, each group performed reconciliations a little bit differently. “The corporate office had five or six ways of reconciling an account. With BlackLine, everyone is now using the same reconciliation template,” says Egan. “We’ve already made huge strides with BlackLine. Our big things were visibility, organization, and standardization, and we’re definitely getting there.”