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Perspectives

Achieving Real-time Intelligence in Finance Operations

2021-02-02


Timely and accurate financial information drives critical decision-making that keeps organizations competitive.

Finance organizations provide critical insight into organizational performance that goes well beyond general month- or quarter-end reporting and adds true value when delivered nearer to real time. Yet many are too reliant on historical data pulled from disparate, legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and lack the ability to analyze and inform the business using information captured, analyzed and presented instantly. Through continuous analysis of financial performance, businesses can gain valuable information such as abnormal expenditures in a business unit or expense code, sales dips or revenue booked on a product or service. This can support strategic decisions like cost compliance or adjusting sales channels based on market demand.

Access to real-time intelligence is essential for organizations to derive the right level of business value from their finance function.

To achieve real-time intelligence, finance organization must standardize processes and digitize their operations, specifically for receivables, payables and management reporting. To help CFOs adopt real-time intelligence, we recommend the following four actions:

Identify activities that may be executed in real time.

Review the entire period-close activity cycle to identify activities that may be executed in real time, estimated more accurately or resolved continuously. Identify these areas by scrutinizing input and output feeds and dependencies for the sub processes. We explain later the six key activities and related approach for such purpose.

Assess technical capabilities and limitations.

Determine if the finance technology system is equipped to generate or facilitate real-time views and analyses of financial performance by evaluating the quality, readiness or availability and timing of output from existing enterprise systems and transactional applications vis-a-vis that of market-leading systems.

Adopt intelligent robotics and advanced analytics.

Apply artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled robotics (intelligent process automation) at appropriate points in the finance processes, using advanced analytics with predictive insights on the right set of connected data based on digital roadmaps and automation strategies for individual finance areas.

Use an integration layer to integrate and standardize data.

Standardization and integration of data across disparate ERP systems, including legacy systems, is key to robust control of the underlying data for such intelligence. Many organizations may choose to migrate multiple ERP systems to a single ERP instance, which can be an elaborate, lengthy and costly initiative. Instead, establish a cloud-based integration layer that consolidates and unifies all transactions from multiple ERP systems.

For a global water technology company that sought a consolidated view of its finance function, we applied a cloud-based integration layer to control the data exchange among more than 80 ERP instances and orchestrated it with a system of engagement (SOE)-based transaction layer. A dashboard enabled the CFO to drill down into the data, providing real-time visibility across more than 20 countries and five business units.

The solution delivered dynamic and controlled data exchange, real-time visibility and a reported 50% savings in total cost of operations.

Harmonized, real-time processes speed period closures

Prepare accruals and estimates

Drive faster ledger entries by setting up auto extraction and data preparation from sub systems or third-party systems and workflows for review and approvals and auto postings. The application of AI can result in more accurate predictions of accruals and provisions, so there are fewer adjustments required to finalize numbers at period end.

Take, for example, a global financial services client that sought to centralize and standardize its finance and accounting operations. We integrated end-to-end product- and cost-control processes and delivered an intelligent profit and loss (P&L) automation tool for the company’s trading desks. This allowed the company to automatically produce P&L accounts daily with first-level commentary on variances and a workflow for review, exceptions and finalization, which was not previously possible through manual processes.

We also applied robotics and AI to enable daily preparation of balance sheet packs with substantiation and commentaries to speed certification. Additionally, machine learning improved coding and matching of invoices to cost accruals and helped further accelerate the close. This implementation resulted in seamless reconciliation across products and lines of business, reduced the close-cycle time by 40% and improved the finance team’s productivity by 40%.

Achieve dynamic intercompany settlements

Automate intercompany transactions by re-setting the ERP for auto generation of counter-party payables against receivables and workflow-based approvals. Establish a unified hub applying the enterprise system or financial control platform to enable continuous netting or settlement and to increase visibility into underlying movements with greater control over accounting and risk exposure.

One example is a state-owned mail and logistics company that sought to harmonize operations across its shared service operations and integrate the finance and accounting operations from multiple acquisitions. The company relied on manual processes, which made intercompany and period-close processes challenging.

We helped the company migrate to electronic invoicing, SAP workflows and timely cash application for intercompany management. In addition, we implemented a platform that automated the management of journals, accruals, reconciliations, variances and close tasks. We also implemented an automated bridge for consolidation reporting. The company improved the month-end close cycle from six days to four days and now seamlessly absorbs finance and accounting functions from continuing business acquisitions.

Set up to consolidate anytime

Consolidate entities faster by enabling automated uploads from ledgers and source systems to the consolidation system using auto schedulers or robotic automation. Also, set up automatic notifications for any mismatch in balances with a trail to underlying reconciliations on the financial control platform. Leverage real-time dashboards on the platform for visibility into and control over the status and progress of the consolidated numbers.

As an example, a Nordic insurance company needed to consolidate the financials of its multiple entities. However, each entity used its own templates for capturing financial data, which required extraction through time-consuming, manual efforts. To speed the process, we applied standardized templates, eliminated those that were redundant, developed a data warehouse and instated robotics to automate and consolidate data from multiple processes that were managed using manual spreadsheets.

In addition, there was limited visibility into and an inadequate structure for the preparation of reconciliations. By implementing a financial-close automation platform, including a reconciliation module and task scheduler, we were able to reconcile the general ledger to the subsystem for premiums and claims on a regular, twice-daily frequency and provide views into status. This reduced open items that needed to be addressed at period-end close and lowered related financial risks.

Overall, the transformed approach improved resolution time for premiums and claims and shortened the close-cycle time by three days.

Automate reconciliations

Set up reconciliations on a cloud-based platform and apply intelligent robotics to automate data feeds at defined intervals. Also leverage the platform to apply auto match of high-volume transactions and generate open items for resolution in compliance with related policies. Improve visibility and resolution times by identifying and clearing transactions, automatically generating exceptions and setting up rule-driven match sets using an AI application within the matching engine.

For example, a Swedish media group with 120 entities needed to standardize its financial accounting operations. The company had relied on manual processes to pull reports, extract numbers and review variances. We applied robotic process automation (RPA) with AI interventions to the intercompany accounting and reconciliation process. The new standard practice captured numbers and identified variances faster and automated matches for customer invoicing and vendor credit-note offsets. The processes and insights gained from automation reduced deviations in the close by 60% and contributed to accounting standardization across entities.

Automate reporting

Leverage a cloud-based web portal and intelligent robotics to develop intuitive reports and dashboards with drilldowns available in real time, on demand or scheduled for auto generation and distribution. This can improve tracking and visibility into sales, purchases and expenditures and drive more accurate projections and decision-making.

For example, a multinational biopharmaceutical company sought to eliminate its practice of generating disparate management reporting packs for its multiple business units using highly manual and error-prone processes. After standardizing reports across entities in 50 countries, we built a reporting platform with embedded analytics to enable automated preparation of management reports with formatting, validation and consolidation for its P&L, sales, costs and headcount. In addition, the platform provided auto scheduling, publishing and drilldown capabilities. Global standardization and intelligent platform-based automation helped the company deliver real-time management reporting packs with 100% accuracy.

Forward-thinking businesses recognize the critical importance of timely and accurate financial data. Finance and accounting can demonstrate greater value as a true business partner by driving real-time intelligence to arm management with the insights and visibility they need for strategic decision-making that will help them take the business to the next level.

For more information, visit the Finance and Accounting page of our website or contact us.

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