Note: The following was written by Susan Parcells, CPA, CGMA (pictured at right), senior director of finance transformation for BlackLine, a provider of cloud-based solutions that transform finance and accounting by automating, centralizing and streamlining financial close operations, intercompany accounting processes and other key finance and accounting processes for large and midsize organizations. Blackline is a strategic partner of the MACPA.
In every sector across the globe, change is the new normal. And while change always brings new opportunities, it also creates tremendous uncertainty.
The normal human response to uncertainty is avoidance or a cautious “wait and see” attitude. Yet in a fast-paced, frenetic business world where upstarts can disrupt established industries in mere months, “wait and see” is no longer a viable business strategy.
Only those who bravely move forward — in spite of the unknown and armed with information, new tools, and a strategic plan — will reap the rewards.
While those reluctant to change will cling to the old “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality, wise and visionary accounting teams are already recognizing the need to step up and into their new role as a strategic business partner.
Acknowledging that uncertainty is the new normal is a critical first step for accounting. Yet forward-thinking organizations aren’t just acknowledging uncertainty—or even merely adapting to it.
Instead, they’re proactively leveraging what seems like chaos to others into a strategic advantage. And they’re doing so by engaging in three key practices.
1. Using new technology: Accounting has evolved, like the rest of the world, and is in the middle of a digital transformation. Yet while marketing, logistics, and sales have made the transition from paper-based systems to automated ones, accounting still relies on manual tools, such as spreadsheets, Word documents, and binders, to manage much of the close.
These tools prohibit access to real-time data, and there is little to no reporting happening until the books are already closed — and the new month has begun.
Heavy overtime is expected during the financial close, along with heavy reliance on manual, detective controls rather than automated, preventive controls. Spreadsheets alone reduce efficiency while simultaneously increasing the likelihood of errors.
For accounting teams, managing uncertainty starts with eliminating the use of tools that cause it. This means integrating more automation into every process. Automating repetitive, tedious, and manual tasks not only increases efficiency and accuracy but enables accountants to become less reactive and more visionary.
2. Driving the evolution of the accountant: New possibilities to create competitive advantage present themselves all the time. This may seem overwhelming, but technology can lead to opportunities for accountants to evolve and add an even higher level of value to their organization.
Automation streamlines the most routine, manual work, and opens the door to continuous accounting, an approach that ultimately results in better-utilized resources.
Continuous accounting transforms the way accounting and finance teams work by embedding automation, control, and period-end tasks within daily activities. This gives accountants the visibility they need to provide reporting at any time during the month and help drive more informed decisions for the organization.
Because accountants aren’t trying to cram weeks of work into one and no longer need to perform rote tasks, accuracy improves, and valuable employees are better utilized. Tasks that were reserved for the end of the period are embedded within daily activities, which means the pace of accounting finally aligns with the pace of business.
3. Transforming accounting’s role from a back-office function to business partner: With continuous accounting, certain close tasks are spread throughout the entire month instead of relegated to the end. As a result, accountants are far less frenzied and able to address issues and exceptions proactively.
When meaningful accounting activities occur every day, accountants and decision makers always have access to real-time data. This immediate insight, instead of months-old data, enables leadership to pivot quickly to meet customer and stakeholder demands and seize new opportunities before the competition.
And this transforms the role of the accountant from a back-office function to strategic business partner.
Better information isn’t the only driver in this transformation. Leveraging uncertainty into a strategic advantage also requires transforming people and processes.
More automated, streamlined processes unleash accountants to focus on strategy creation and predictive and prescriptive analysis, work that enables finance to step into a true partnership role.
Process automation provides one of the greatest opportunities for competitive advantage and waiting to adopt the right technology heightens the risk of being left behind—in your industry and in your profession.
If you decide to do nothing “for now,” but your competitors and peers choose to innovate, adopting automation and a Continuous Accounting model, they will quickly set themselves apart, becoming more efficient and controlled.
They will have access to the financial information needed to inform better decision-making and gain insight into bottlenecks.
Accelerating change will continue to generate only fear and uncertainty for accountants who still believe that their job is to deliver months-old information via an onerous monthly close process. But for those who are ready to embrace change as the new normal, opportunities abound.
Instead of shrinking from uncertainty, you can now leverage it to drive improvement in every accounting process. This means taking advantage of new technology solutions that are designed to streamline and automate repetitive tasks, elevating the role of the accountant.
As a result, finance will finally have the opportunity to evolve from a back office function to a business partner, an efficiently run and strategic function that reduces costs, provides strategic value, and delivers insight crucial to ensuring the organization is poised to thrive.
Join this March 22 webinar to learn how to lead the accounting and finance evolution at your organization, and set your teams up to thrive.