Finance transformation is a hot topic - but what does it really look like? And, given the near-universal spreadsheet addiction, is it achievable?
Count Sage Intacct as one vendor with a bold stance. At the 2018 Sage Intacct Advantage user event, CTO Aaron Harris jolted the crowd with talk of "eliminating the close" and "continuous audits". During our interview, Sage Intacct Managing Director and EVP Rob Reid made the case for AI's impact. But it's not about tech for its own sake.
As Reid told me, CFOs want to spend 80 percent of their time on finance – and only 20 percent on accounting. If that's going to happen, something has to change. Reid:
What they’ve been telling us is we want to reverse that: “We want 80 percent on finance and only 20 percent on accounting.” As we go in and solve and automate the accounting areas, now we’re providing them with the capabilities to be wizards on the financial side.
Bold assertions - but what's happening in the field? During Sage Intacct Advantage 2018, three customers spoke about their projects and the results achieved to date. The presentation by Lisa Schulz, Controller at Jobvite, stood out:
We are shifting effort from 80 percent bookkeeping/transactional focus to 80 percent analytics and business-focused.
I recently mocked Powerpoint-drenched events. But even a slide grouch like me can't argue with a slide like this one:
We don't see quantifiable project results often enough in this industry:
- Automation of contracts - 2%, on the way to 5%, billing increase as result of Contracts-based Quote-to Bill process improvements.
- Grown revenue 75% while only growing G&A 5%.
- High-confidence/earlier available rporting and insights contributing 1% Gross Margin impact.
Getting strategic - the Jobvite story
During a sit down with Schulz, she told me when she joined Jobvite in 2015, they were already running Intacct, but they weren't necessarily getting the most out of it.
That needed to change: Jobvite's SaaS-based social recruiting platform is in growth mode, and moving upmarket. Their accounting system must keep pace. Fortunately, Schulz already had six years of Intacct experience to draw on:
I was excited about that, because it was technology that I had used. I also knew they hadn't optimized it, so there was an opportunity to really bring my experience in there. And implement some of the functionality that Jobvite needed as they were really investing, and going upmarket.
Sometimes the big payoffs are deceptively simple - just knowing your way around the software. Schulz shared the example of enabling multi-currency in the system, which led to increased invoice accuracy. And when your invoices are accurate, you get paid faster:
We save internal billing time because we were literally having to generate an invoice in USD in the system, and then generate a PDF in the local currency to send to the customer. So that just created lot of inefficiencies.
We also opened up to subsidiaries, and so the ability to do global consolidations was very important. We can report our financials in local currency for different reporting regulations and compliance, but then we can report at the consolidated level in the US currency.
With three and a half years at Jobvite, Schulz and her team have come a long way. The latest push? Activating the Contracts module:
The latest thing we enabled was Contracts, which is a lot of the focus of this conference. For us, it's not only streamlined the billing process. The technology is just more up to date and easier to use than Intacct's prior order entry module. It really does give you that full visibility into your entire customer life cycle. And it also complies with ASC 606, which is a box you need to check.
Finance transformation and the Excel predicament
Prior to this, the Jobvite team was manually tracking orders and renewals in Excel. That doesn't sound like much fun.
No, and it's obviously prone to a lot of error, right? And then as you're growing a business, you'll just exceed Excel's capabilities, right? So it's just not scalable.
How does Schulz handle it? By winning users over with better tech and better processes. And: building a team that's committed to a push to a strategic role. Schulz:
Folks that don't like change, right? It's hard. I'm lucky that I built the team that I have today. I do try to find folks that really look at their job on a regular basis and try to optimize it, streamline it, make efficiencies where they can. And I do believe we have to rely a lot on technology to help us do that.
At first, the billing team was a little apprehensive about having to change their process. But now that they're up and running on it, they love it.
No complacency about data entry allowed:
It's a lot less work on their end. A lot less data entry. We're trying to streamline and implement as much technology as we can, so that we can focus more on the actual data that will help hopefully drive these business decisions over the transactional side.
Schulz hires team members with this mentality:
I think accounting folks, no matter where you're at in your career - at least the types of folks that I like to hire - are not folks that want to stay on the transactional side. They may come into a job at an early stage startup and know, "Okay, I'm gonna have to get my hands dirty."
It's like myself. I worked my way up, so I could go back to being an AP clerk. Or an AR clerk. I will get into the weeds sometimes. And so I expect everyone to be able to do that. But then I also want them to be able to see how they can get to the next level by optimizing the transactional side.
Back to Schulz's stated goal of shifting effort from 80 percent bookkeeping/transactional focus to 80 percent analytics and business-focused. I wanted to know: just how dreamy is this? How far away? Is this a three to five year goal? Schulz believes they can achieve that 80 percent strategic level much sooner than that.
In the meantime, Jobvite now has a five day close which brings accurate numbers to management (before Intacct, they had no formalized monthly close). And: Schulz has been able to support Jobvite’s growth without increasing her finance staff.
When I think back to the Sage Intacct vision of the continuous audit and eliminating the close, that's really about how culture and technology intersect. So-called "intelligent" applications are a long ways off by my standard. But as these use cases show, we don't have to wait for robotic promises. Automation of processes is achievable now.
Schulz's Jobvite story is about a gradual push, fine tuning and improving until the gains are measurable. So what's next? Salesforce - Sage Intacct process integration. That means updating their Salesforce software, using the Salesforce-Intacct integration to pull sales quotes into Intacct.
Eventually, that gets Jobvite to book-to-bill automation. Schulz's team is also looking at Sage Intacct's new planning functionality. If they keep this up, those spreadsheets really will become an endangered species:
Right now, all of our FP&A's done in Excel sheets. To your point, it's hard to get some folks to stop using Excel workbooks. But that will be the next thing I tackle.
I'm not betting against her.