A challenge met by SAP finance process architect Rob Leesberg led to acquisition of Smart Close technology, as Ann Furlong writes.
Accounting automation is increasingly being used by organisations to help bring their financial records under control and prepare them for analysis and reporting. However, as data and accounting processes grow more complex, the challenge of making the information available to the right person at the right time becomes increasingly difficult.
The challenge is particularly acute for large multinational organisations. Juggling data from multiple locations and in different currencies can cause processing times to blow out and reporting to be delayed.
It was this challenge that faced Rob Leesberg when he was a finance process architect for SAP. Asked to consolidate the closing tasks for a large customer’s business that spanned 32 countries, he created what became a solution that standardises closing in SAP. Several years later, that solution grew to form the core of a new company and, last year, that company was acquired by BlackLine.
The product, now known as BlackLine Smart Close for SAP, succeeds by putting critical information before the eyes of finance managers in ways that deliver previously unimaginable levels of control, automation, and visibility.
A monster of a spreadsheet
The original challenge faced by Leesberg had been particularly daunting. The customer’s business entities were locally managed, and they averaged about 600 tasks each.
“That’s almost 20,000 tasks every month,” he says. “We created a monster, a monster spreadsheet, but it was way too big to produce timely and reliable information. We looked for a better way.”
Leesberg’s team then worked to create intelligent tables to connect with the relevant SAP applications and built some early-generation automated workflows. The application was thus able to deliver information in a standardised, usable form to executive management.
“We knew then that consolidating and standardising processes was essential to handling large amounts of fast-changing data, not to mention getting that data before the eyes of management while it was still fresh,” says Leesberg.
Now part of BlackLine’s product portfolio, Smart Close for SAP automates the entire close process from task and job scheduling to execution of close tasks. It performs technical reconciliations among different SAP applications and validates report accuracy – all transparently to the user.
Smart Close allows even the largest enterprises to standardise their close processes across multiple systems, business entities and countries.
KPIs for process tuning
True to its original design intent, Smart Close makes all of this activity visible to management through standard and customisable KPIs based on live, real-time data. Standard KPIs include Close Progress, Automation Rate, Automation Success Rate, Manual Overrides, Late Tasks, and Late Milestones. Custom KPIs can combine criteria to deliver volumes of drillable information, all via manager-friendly graphic displays.
“As every manager knows, getting up-to-the-minute KPIs can make a huge impact on company performance,” says Leesberg, currently BlackLine’s managing director for SAP technology and integration.
As the product evolves, Leesberg says future KPIs will make use of BlackLine’s Insights technology to help management continually fine-tune their finance processes based on real-world peer comparisons.
“But the best thing is that, to the customer, none of the underlying complexity will matter since the information will be ready, waiting, easily accessible and immediately actionable,” he concludes.
Ann Furlong, director of APAC customer team at financial automation software provider, BlackLine.