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Automation does not equal value creation

Valid financial figures and realistic forecasts are a top priority for companies. If you want to meet this demand, you have to establish end-to-end processes and ensure that everything meshes when it comes to automation.
Ralph Weiss, Blackline
31 May 2023
CFO Column
This text has been automatically translated from German to English.

By now, every CFO knows that an end-to-end closing process not only ensures maximum transparency and optimum data quality, but above all significantly reduces the workload of employees. Many companies have laid the corresponding foundations and are striving for improvements in finance and accounting through automated record-to-report processes. The aim is to significantly increase the quality of the data and eliminate manual tasks, such as reconciling tables, in order to create more capacity.

Channel improvements

But does the increase in available working time generated by automation immediately lead to employees throwing themselves into other important tasks? How can it be ensured that automating busywork and networking individual silos adds value - both for the employee and for the company balance sheet? And one more thing: In times of a shortage of skilled workers, does automation bring advantages in the competition for employees and applicants?

Companies should ask themselves these questions before they start automation projects. Why? Because automation is not synonymous with higher value creation. This is only the case if the automation strategy has the so-called end goal in mind from the very beginning. This also applies to automation projects in F&A.

The Value Chain

Added value can be generated if the automation steps are oriented to the so-called value chain. Those who define this "value chain" as the overriding goal of their automation projects are on the right track. This approach enables companies to move from being planned cost calculators to actual cost calculators. This is a paradigm shift that is taking place, especially in the SAP environment in conjunction with Q&A. It is a matter of building a bridge and relying on automation exactly where synergies can be drawn immediately from the merging of systems.

Quick wins and long-term goals

For the closing process, for example, this means that companies should rely on automation solutions that have all the relevant interfaces and functions, such as a closing calendar, automated journals, and so on. It is also important to transfer the manual processes to the automation solution while always keeping the focus on the value chain.

For this fundamental change to be implemented successfully, the employees in the finance department must be involved - right from the start. The reason: Even today, automation projects are tantamount to a cultural change. People are afraid of losing their jobs and are initially fundamentally not open to change.

The first step for anyone automating their business processes should be to gain transparency about the processes. Those who also need an overview of the processes, interfaces and systems in Q&A can help themselves by creating a process and system map. At the beginning, it is also advisable to analyze and optimize existing processes before automation. Then it's a matter of implementing a solution that elevates the closing process to a continuous-accounting operation, rather than limiting itself to selective improvements. Improvements are noticeable after only a short time, and the ROI of such a paradigm shift is also quickly realized. The bottom line: If automation projects are strategically designed with the goal of creating a continuous flow of value, they have a positive impact on a company's value creation - and quickly.
Ralph Weiss, Blackline

Ralph Weiss is Geo Vice President DACH at BlackLine.

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