AI-Powered automation for Accounts Receivable
Headquartered in Miami with nearly $40 billion in revenue, World Fuel has charted a strategic roadmap to accounting transformation that’s extending competitive advantage in an industry that’s been traditionally conservative.
The Fortune 500 company (NYSE: INT) provides fuel, logistics, and technology solutions to aviation, marine, and land customers at 8,000 locations across 200 countries and territories.
Over time, global expansion resulted in disparate systems and disjointed accounting practices around the world. An Oracle system serves as World Fuel’s primary ERP and general ledger, but the company also has about a dozen non-Oracle ERPs in place, including Microsoft Dynamics GP, NAV, and AX, and DM2 software geared for the energy industry.
To address the complexity, they’re striving to bring Accounting under a single umbrella.
“We had a lot of silos to organize, and started talking about technology solutions that could bring us the visibility we needed around global account reconciliations, number one, and then ultimately get us to automation,” says Mayra Herrera, VP, core accounting at World Fuel. “Our goals in Accounting and Finance are to be more timely and more accurate, and at less cost.”
Backing from executive management gave Herrera and other finance professionals support to pursue accounting transformation. On top of that, recent turnover and reorganization opened opportunities to trigger change.
“The company has been very focused on being more agile and introducing new technology tools such as Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and other elements of digital transformation. We have full support from executive management,” Herrera says.
“We are challenging our current team to look for ways to improve current processes and bring in the right type of accountants who can think in terms of modernization, innovation, automation—not ‘no, no, no, this is the way I’ve always done it.’”
World Fuel recognized that its visibility and automation objectives couldn’t be realized with a single solution. Instead, the company is taking a best-of-breed approach.
Selected over Oracle and other competitors, BlackLine is the solution of choice to meet World Fuel’s need to bring automation to cash account reconciliations and high-volume transaction matching—for both the finance and vendor reconciliations teams.
BlackLine’s ability to bring in data from multiple ERP systems and other data sources was a differentiator for World Fuel. So was the speed and ease of implementation, and the capacity of BlackLine Account Reconciliations and Transaction Matching to work in tandem to achieve higher degrees of automation.
“BlackLine is a piece of the puzzle that will eventually get us to full automation,” Herrera says. “You might never be 100% automated, but our vision is to automate as much as we can, simplify our processes, and standardize across our entities and segments. Then you can become that analytical accountant that people don’t have the time to be right now.”
Another key to World Fuel’s success with BlackLine was the selection of a proven consulting partner for an on-time, on-budget implementation. The company chose Vaco, a Nashville, Tennessee-based Professional Services firm that has implemented and optimized BlackLine at nearly 200 companies around the world.
“Vaco was heavily involved in getting us live with BlackLine, ensuring that it all went very smoothly, and helping us with on-site training at our shared services centers in Miami and Costa Rica,” Herrera says. “The Vaco team was really great at being very responsive and has deep expertise beyond just account
After the initial implementation, World Fuel expanded both its BlackLine user base and solutions usage, from what was once Oracle ERP entities only to non-Oracle entities as well. It’s part of an iterative strategy for continuous optimization based on sound processes.
“When we first went live, we were looking to stabilize, and now there’s an opportunity to take a deeper dive and see if additional matching can be done,” Herrera says. “Even within account recs and matching, I’d say we’re kind of scraping the surface.”
To date, World Fuel has achieved a 79% increase in auto-certified reconciliations, from 1,767 in October 2017 to 3,162 in August 2018, with additional gains in the pipeline. It also significantly increased its transaction matching percentage for cash reconciliations to 75%. And with access to BlackLine, internal auditors spent fewer than 150 hours on annual cash reconciliations testing—half the time needed in the past.
“Our BlackLine project standardized our data and gave us visibility to do more timely reconciliations,” says Herrera. “In the past, we only reconciled cash at month end—now we’re doing it twice a month and have cut 40 to 50% of time from monthly auditing of cash reconciliations.” As Herrera notes, modern platforms like BlackLine have enabled World Fuel to energize their teams to pursue innovations and new value.
With BlackLine and other technologies, Herrera and her team can conduct a holistic analysis of processes and technology solutions to fine tune their approach. “We don’t want to automate something for the sake of automating it,” Herrera says. “The question is, what’s the ROI? Is the process stable, or do we need to fix the process first?”
Herrera also champions benchmarking and networking with other leading companies, throughout the year and at events such as BlackLine’s annual InTheBlack user conference, to learn and share best practices.
In addition to BlackLine, World Fuel is now exploring how other BlackLine solutions, including Intercompany Hub and Variance Analysis, might fit into its landscape.