Standardizing the Close across 20 Countries while Increasing Transparency and Efficiency
Aker Solutions is a global provider of products, systems, and services to the energy and raw materials industry. Its engineering, design, and technology bring discoveries into production and maximize recovery. The company employs 17,000 people in 20 countries and has an annual revenue of 33 billion Norwegian Kroner.
When Aker Solutions created a new global finance operating model to get more out of existing finance resources, the improved use of technology was a key enabler. A benchmark of the finance function showed that the company’s cost of finance as a percentage of revenue was higher when compared to that of its peers. Aker Solutions was relying on approximately three times as many full-time employees (FTEs), per billion, of revenue to manage the record-to-report process.
The benchmark confirmed that the company’s manual, spreadsheet-based financial close was consuming too many people resources. “Our close was inefficient, and there were quality issues. As a consequence of the move from a decentralized to a more centralized business model, there was very little standardization,” said Anniken Røssing, Manager Finance Process Improvements at Aker Solutions.
For Røssing and her team, the use of spreadsheets made tracking and reporting on individual close tasks difficult. The ongoing need for follow-up and task reminders also meant staff had less time to spend on analysis and testing, true value added work. “We wanted one streamlined, simplified, standardized, fully automated, efficient, and transparent financial close process, including complete monitoring, workflow, and view into the whole process at any stage.”
To address the close challenges—and to begin reducing the cost of finance overall—Aker Solutions conducted a maturity assessment. Staff reviewed leading finance practices and compared those to existing ones. Ten improvements were identified as critical, including increasing automation and integration, standardizing processes, enabling financial reporting, and improving the process and timeliness of the close.
To address the close specifically, the finance organization evaluated solutions designed to automate and standardize reconciliations, including SAP, BlackLine, Trintech, and Runbook. When BlackLine and SAP presented a joint offer, Aker Solutions saw an opportunity to increase its return on investment on its existing SAP system. BlackLine itself was also a strategic fit with OneAker, the company’s solutions and business model. Finally, online training via BlackLine U ensured everyone in the finance organization could easily access training as needed.
Standardized both the close process and close terminology. Previously, employees in the finance organization did not share the same understanding of the closing terminology. Today, with both the company’s Smart Close Project and BlackLine, Aker Solutions has established a common understanding of reconciliation definitions, objectives, balance composition categories, and requirements for documentation and support. As a result, the finance organization is improving the quality of reporting and internal controls.
Accelerated the close process. Reducing manual work and automating a portion of reconciliations via BlackLine will translate to efficiency gains during the close. “Speed is a game changer,” said Røssing. “With BlackLine, we’re aiming at creating a faster and more standardized record-to-report process.”
Increased transparency. The BlackLine platform has helped Aker Solutions improve the transparency of the close. Process owners and auditors have real-time visibility of data, timelines, and potential discrepancies. “With BlackLine, we’ve improved internal control and reduced our risk of fraud,” said Røssing. “And because there’s both increased transparency and instant access to data, we’ve enhanced our audit trails.”