Business resiliency in Finance
Accenture Finance outmaneuvers uncertainty with a robust business resiliency plan, critical to delivering financial commitments to the company
Business resilience is the ability of an organization to recover from difficulty, adapt to change and persevere with the occurrence of unexpected disruption. Making an enterprise resilient is an ongoing journey of continuous improvement. It involves governance, strategy, business services, information security, change management, run processes and disaster recovery, all of which depend on people that understand, adapt to and prioritize operational resilience.
Accenture Finance set out to ensure that critical finance operations run continuously during business disruptions given a critical dependency on activities performed extensively across Accenture’s shared services and office locations around the world. Seventy percent of Finance’s services are performed in these shared services centers and many involve complex accounting, business and tax advisory activities, making business continuity a priority. Accenture Finance has always had a disaster recovery plan in place, but in recent years wanted to create a formal business resiliency strategy and plan to enhance the protection of our people, clients and operations.
The Accenture Controllership organization, which includes nine shared services centers, led the business resiliency plan and implementation effort by collaborating with the Risk Management and Compliance team under Accenture’s Global Business Services Network group. From the outset, the project team designed a rigorous business resiliency plan with the realistic view that such a plan for an organization of 7,000 people would take time to shape, implement and test.
The plan took shape in five stages:
Organization and governance
The team used the ISO 22301 Business Continuity Planning Framework to structure the capability, drawing also on the experience and knowledge of the Global Risk Management and Compliance group. A governance model was established along with leadership commitment. The team defined roles and responsibilities that spanned locations globally. These initial steps helped embed a business resilience mindset in Controllership, which fosters a “One Controllership” culture of working as one unit, using common language and driving the same objectives and goals.
The team proceeded to work through an information gathering exercise. Team members reviewed every Controllership activity, identifying which were critical and at what point in the month they were critical—and which activities to put on hold in the event of having to execute to the plan. The activities went through a business impact analysis and a threat and risks assessment. The results of this analysis were used to determine how to provide the fail-over support. In parallel, the team identified the need to develop incident response documentation for the teams.
Incident response planning
To help respond to the most common scenarios, the team prepared an extensive location and recovery strategy. The strategy focused not only on a few locations, but on all shared services center locations along with connections to other key Accenture functions. During this stage, Controllership teams put in place cross-training and transferred knowledge. A very important step was establishing accelerated access management rights for critical systems during an incident when work is shifted to another team in another geography. Throughout this stage, Controllership sent out communications to inform and educate all impacted employees and stakeholders on implementing business resiliency actions should an incident arise.
The team conducted several waves of rigorous testing and retesting between different sending and receiving shared services centers for up to 12 critical financial processes. Initially, participants were aware, but subsequent tests were surprise simulations. All were executed in a controlled manner and tactically covered critical close days where key employees who would normally undertake activities were restricted during the test period.
This left teams in the failover location to be fully responsible to ensure the accuracy of the financial processing both for their existing and temporary customers. Testing revealed areas for improvement and lessons learned, which was to be expected. The testing and retesting are what help teams to ultimately be prepared in the event of a real incident. It also made the program real and a success.
Results analysis and actions
After each wave of testing, the project team analyzed the results, performed quality assurance reviews and audited transactions for accuracy. They shared test outcomes with stakeholders. Learnings were documented and plans were made to make improvements where needed. On an ongoing basis, Controllership plans to periodically test for existing scope of the plan. For new scope, the plan is to actively create job aids at the time new work is received.
Make cross-training a top priority
Conduct rigorous testing
Articulate preparedness among groups and educate on timely actions
After 18 months of rigorous planning, implementing and testing, Controllership reached a point of achieving its objectives and elevating the state of its business resiliency capability. In keeping with Accenture Finance’s focus on developing a world-class business resiliency approach, other teams, including Client Financial Management and Treasury, are also leading the charge in honing their business resiliency capabilities. Next steps are to implement the business resiliency capability across all of Accenture Finance.
Business resiliency for Controllership and all of Accenture Finance was put to a real-life test when the COVID-19 pandemic set in. A robust capability contributed to Accenture Finance’s ability to carry out business as usual without delays. Controllership, Client Financial Management and Treasury teams facilitated continued quality and accuracy of financial information and data, ultimately addressing Accenture’s commitments to its stakeholders.
A snapshot of business as usual outcomes during this time included:
Virtual earnings call and preparation
Commercial finance—clients, payments, new work
To provide real-time data on cash collection and liquidity health
Finance people enabled to work from home
Time reports processed—online or via the mobile app
New laptops purchased for Accenture Operations and Technology people who shifted to work from home