"We should have bought it earlier"
Sanoma is a front running media and learning company with a broad presence across multiple platforms, spanning from newspaper and magazine publishing to TV and radio, as well as educational publishing and business information. One of Sanoma’s goals is to empower teachers to develop the talents of every single child. Sanoma operates in over 10 European countries, records net sales totaling EUR 1.6 billion, and employs more than 5,000 professionals. It is the leading consumer media company in Finland and the Netherlands.
Sanoma’s size means that there is a significant volume of transactions to reconcile monthly. With an offshore partner and teams spread across different countries, this created two challenges: a slow closing process, and a lack of visibility into the status of account reconciliations and financial close tasks.
Even with 50 people working on the financial close and account reconciliation process, teams were often under pressure at month end. Reliance on Excel in the department was an additional source of difficulties. Many accountants, for example, tried to access the same files at the same time, causing them to crash on a routine basis. All in all, accounting teams spent more time on repetitive tasks—moving data from one spreadsheet to another, creating manual journal entries, checking for possible double entries, etc.—than on financial analysis and counsel. This was a source of frustration for the team, who felt that their skills were not fully utilized. The company wanted to improve processes to gain efficiencies, starting with replacing Excel spreadsheets for a more seamless way of working.
Sanoma set out to find the right automation solution that would meet its efficiency and performance goals:
• Improve the quality of account reconciliations while reducing the required workload
• Enable a smoother and more accurate close
• Improve audit results and strengthen internal controls
• Increase month-end close task automation
“Sanoma already had an accounting software in place, but its use was limited to a workflow tool. All the reconciliations were still done using Excel spreadsheets,” explains Otto Sillanpää, Manager, Finance Development at Sanoma. “Automated reconciliations presented a clear advantage for the team. Among three potential options, BlackLine significantly outperformed its competitors regarding the reconciliation software.”
While competitors offered great products for specific accounting tasks, BlackLine offered a more complete solution to cover Sanoma’s end-to-end process needs. The software platform allowed Sanoma to import data from different source systems that the company used, and implement automation rules in a consistent way. This allowed the F&A teams to have a more complete picture of the workflow, including an overview of which transactions had been already matched and the status of account certifications.
Above all, it is the quality of the partnership between BlackLine and Sanoma that made a real difference. While other solutions were focused on delivering good service, BlackLine acted as a true partner, helping Sanoma reach its specific goals. Sanoma valued BlackLine’s “hands-on” approach during the implementation phase, setting up workshops to run the team through the new software.
As with any tech implementation, factors beyond BlackLine’s and Sanoma’s control meant that there was a possibility that the implementation wouldn’t be delivered on time. To ensure this didn’t happen, a trained service consultant flew to Helsinki to deliver face-to-face workshops and help the Sanoma team roll-out the new software on the ground. This support allowed the solution to go live before the due date.
Sanoma rolled out the rest of the Smart Close package within months of its initial pilot, and confirmed the decision to adopt the Transaction Matching and Journal Entry products.
By implementing BlackLine, 87% of account reconciliations are now automated monthly. With a total of 8,850 accounts that need to be reconciled every month, this represents a significant difference in efficiency savings for the F&A teams involved.
Automation through BlackLine has helped the team achieve time savings of 83% every month.
Sanoma has also been able to fully automate 69% of their SAP financial close. This equates to a smoother and more accurate close while granting the team additional time for analysis.
For Otto Sillanää, the seamless transition for teams on the ground was a strong point. “As the solution is integrated directly into SAP, it makes no difference to the interface that they are used to working with. For them, it felt like an update to SAP and looks exactly the same.”
The most significant impact has been in the teams’ change in mindset. Colleagues feel that they can properly use the skills that they have, and make valuable use of their time. The expectation has shifted to focus performance on more analysis.
Routine in the F&A department has been turned around, leaving way to a lift in morale. While in the past teams were used to overtime going into close, they can now finish on time. Visibility into accounting processes and timeliness of reconciliations has improved dramatically. F&A experts can now focus on value-added activities, making the most of their skills. When asked if the new BlackLine users saw any downside, the reply was unequivocal: “we should have bought it earlier.”