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Closing the books in an unpredictable world


BlackLine VP Andy Bottril explains why, with sustained social and economic repercussions of lockdown despite restrictions continuing to ease, now is the time to unify processes.

27th Aug 2020
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With the easing of lockdown, many of us have been looking forward to resuming some form of normality. But as restrictions slowly lift, companies have discovered the benefits to remote working, and are considering how to implement more flexible, hybrid working arrangements going forward. 

Regardless of what these models will ultimately look like, there is no doubt that the pandemic has created additional pressure for businesses and their employees. Beyond the normal headaches that come with day-to-day operations, the economic outlook is heightening C-Suite and investor scrutiny of company performance. 

In fact, research conducted amongst the investor community earlier this year showed that concern over the accuracy of financial data was growing, and that investors were holding those at the top responsible. With the social and economic repercussions of the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, finance and accounting (F&A) teams now have an important role to play in reassuring investors and other stakeholders that standards at their company have not slipped. 

On a positive note, thanks to technology, F&A departments are in a good position to do just that – and to help their organisation mitigate some of the risks associated with the fallout of this global crisis. Thanks to automation platforms and cloud-based software, businesses can reduce the strain their teams are facing, freeing up valuable time and resources. 

If companies are yet to do so, now is undoubtedly the time to look at unifying processes and enhancing efficiency.

Access to real-time data is crucial

Having a real-time overview of business cashflow and financial status is critical. It’s estimated that in the UK, GDP dropped by 20% in April alone. This unprecedented drop means businesses need to have a clear understanding of net income, expenditures, investments and more, while also opting for solutions that save valuable time and create efficiencies across the board. With so many moving parts of a business vulnerable to disruption – whether it’s closed offices, slowed manufacturing, or delayed payments – it can be difficult to keep track of everything, let alone make important purchasing or budgeting decisions. 

At the moment, many businesses are assessing whether they can continue to operate remotely longer-term. But despite the many benefits of working from home, organisations of all sizes are still facing challenges that threaten the quality and timely delivery of financial data and reports. 

Recent research from BlackLine suggests that among these challenges are communication, collaboration, legacy technology and outdated infrastructure; as well as visibility and transparency. However, by implementing the right technology and applications, F&A teams will be able to work with confidence during the coronavirus crisis and beyond. 

Enhancing communication and collaboration

Good communication and collaboration often rely on the ability of multiple parties to share their knowledge and updates in a timely and efficient manner. With the right software, accountants can provide real-time visibility into status, progress, exceptions, and risk points, improving visibility over progress and workloads. As an added bonus, using technology to collect, manage and store data also increases its quality and can equip internal and external auditors with the information they need to make decisions quickly. 

During lockdown, it is more vital than ever to maintain motivation. Reducing unnecessary, labour-intensive work that leaves F&A teams buried under vast Excel sheets, will help to ensure teams don’t become burned out with manual, repetitive tasks. To achieve this, F&A teams should consider migrating any on-premise applications to the cloud; unifying processes and integrating applications to function as one whole system that communicates with all necessary business departments. 

Doing this will not only improve visibility and increase transparency, but also reduce the number of man-hours spent on identifying and correcting errors. This will ultimately increase the overall trust in the quality of reports. Furthermore, by modernising and unifying finance applications that have better reporting capabilities, F&A teams can spend more time interpreting data, and less time extracting and converting it for analysis.

Using data to your advantage

The ability to analyse and extract insights from data will give companies a much needed competitive edge in the coming months. Using purpose-built robotic process automation (RPA) and specially designed financial close workflows enables accountants to streamline their work and automate certain tasks. With confidence that the numbers are accurate and with the additional freed-up time, businesses can focus more on what their data is telling them. With a clearer picture of what’s going on, companies will be better able to identify risks and provide projections that can be factored into important decision making.

This is a challenging time for businesses across the board. However, it has never been easier to make a business case for technology that reduces manual processes, automates key deliverables, simplifies administrative tasks and allows people to seamlessly access systems remotely. Finance should be used as an opportunity to unify disparate processes and promote the value of technology investments that reinforce their organisation’s operational efficiency.

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