Finance departments have the task of reflecting the variety of changes within a company but also in the markets. In order to keep up with the dynamics of companies and markets, they are required to break new ground.
This in turn means that companies have to deal with a multitude of technologies and providers. So it’s good when IT companies work together as partners and relieve their customers of the burden of having to take care of the integration of different technologies. Partnerships like those of BlackLine and SAP therefore offer great added value when it comes to meeting the needs of finance and accounting departments.
Mr. Weiss, accounting and finance sounds dry to many at first. But we know that is not the case. What are the demands placed on finance departments today and in the future?
Ralph Weiss: On the one hand, finance departments are not rigid entities, on the contrary. In many companies, the processes have to be continuously adapted to the requirements of the markets. For example, supply bottlenecks are currently causing major challenges for many companies. These lead to the search for new suppliers and the integration of these into the existing structure from an organizational and financial point of view. Increased procurement costs mean that products have to be examined more closely. It has to be decided whether their production needs to be shut down temporarily or whether a product needs to be taken off the market if it is no longer economically justifiable. A lot goes faster and unexpected events mean that financial cycles in companies have to be adjusted. This is not possible without the corresponding agility in the finance department.
BlackLine has maintained a very close partnership with SAP for years. How is this useful for finance departments and what can you do together?
Ralph Weiss: The coordinated development processes mean that the solutions from BlackLine and SAP dovetail perfectly. This reduces the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and achieves greater added value. I would describe our partnership with the claim “IT competence meets financial expertise”. Because we know where the shoe pinches the finance departments and because we develop our solution and the interfaces to SAP together with finance experts in a practical manner, there are noticeable advantages for customers and users. The integration of BlackLine in SAP S4/HANA results in an enormous plus in flexibility, transparency and automation for the company. This applies in particular between data entry and the reconciliation and control of postings, which many companies still do manually despite a powerful ERP system, since these tasks are implemented outside of the ERP system. If the upstream processes are not automated and instead processed analogously, i.e. intransparent, time-consuming and with a high risk of error, the financial statements from a modern ERP system will not deliver optimal results without great effort. This is exactly where we are an ideal complement to SAP.
It’s about harmonizing the products and processes and creating fewer media breaks and more consistency through automation.
What are the advantages of combining SAP and BlackLine for companies?
Ralph Weiss: It’s about harmonizing the products and processes and creating fewer media breaks and more consistency through automation. You get a holistic view and can better understand processes and gradually increase the degree of automation. Again and again I hear that the finance departments do not analyze the figures enough and that companies that use SAP and BlackLine not only have more valid figures and more transparency, but also more time for analyses. Because we reduce the manual effort, we create capacities for other value-adding activities. Managers depend on clear and valid numbers if they want to perform successfully in dynamic markets – and in real time. In addition, a manager develops his decisions on the basis of different scenarios. This is also much easier with the tools in our solution compared to a spreadsheet program.
Do you want to turn the accountant into an internal management consultant?
Ralph Weiss: It is not the core task of well-trained finance professionals to deal primarily with the manual comparison of Excel spreadsheets. In my opinion, that’s a waste of talent. With the right technology in place, finance professionals can spread many of the tasks they normally do in the close process throughout the month. Theoretically, you would have the option of making a “soft close” every day. And so they can provide their management with concrete, up-to-date information about the state of the company. They become much more analysts and consultants.
You initially addressed the topic of the cloud. What advantages do you see in this?
Ralph Weiss: For me, the cloud is synonymous with innovation. Cloud means that you always work with the latest technologies. With many cloud solutions, the customer receives more modern applications that can be configured to the company’s requirements and do not require any programming effort. There is less complexity and more flexibility in operation. These solutions are significantly easier to use and significantly less expensive to maintain, making them a boon for finance departments. First, a company would need an enormous budget and human resources to set up and run a remotely powerful and redundant system like the configurable cloud solutions. Second, the cloud has the advantage that updates and patches are always implemented immediately and for everyone. And because the operation of such an important department as finance must not fail due to a potential lack of resources in the company’s IT, SAP and BlackLine offer the best conditions for smooth accounting.
So a combination of digitization, automation and configurable solutions, paired with the consulting skills of the finance professionals is a crucial step for an entire company? That sounds almost too good to be true.
Ralph Weiss: That’s the way it is. We deliver solutions from finance professionals for finance professionals, and nothing extra is required to make them run. It’s about making financial processes fit for the future. In addition – and this is enormously important – the entire team supports the changes and the new tasks. Therefore, one often speaks of a transformation in this context. Because it is also about the topics of talent promotion and talent search. Incidentally, this is one of the major pain points for companies and we have conducted a global study on it. First results can be found on the BlackLine website and I can promise they are exciting.
Many thanks for these insights Mr. Weiss.