Accenture’s rapid growth over a 10-year period compelled it to change one of its critical accounting practices. Financial information had been segmented geographically, by business units and by internal systems. As a result, Accenture lacked a readily accessible, centralized view to provide the global financial results and business insights throughout the close process.
By making vast improvements to its close process, Accenture is today able to make faster business decisions through optimized technology and appropriate staffing levels. It has also helped improve the quality of data, reducing errors, improving efficiency and lowering costs.
Business growth, transition from a private partnership to a global public company and a changing business model drove the need for performing the monthly close process quickly to enable Accenture business leaders to report quarterly earnings results to analysts and the public on a predictable and timely basis.
The close process is an accounting procedure undertaken at the end of the month to close out the current posting period. It consists of tasks that occur on a periodic basis (every day, period or month), and is the combination of system (batch) processing and manual tasks.
In the early years Accenture faced challenges in optimizing the close process, with more than 200 different finance applications across 47 countries, managed by 40 local controllership teams.
Accenture made the strategic decision to migrate to a single global instance of SAP for its internal business functions—starting with Finance in 2004, followed by HR, Sales, Denied Party Screening and Governance, Risk and Compliance. The move to SAP set the stage for Accenture to establish a single close process, a journey that began from the ground up.
A collaborative team from the business and Accenture’s internal IT organization embarked on the journey, leveraging Accenture Delivery Methods for SAP to rethink the key components of the organization and people, processes and technology.
The first step was to strengthen the organization by creating governance around the close process. Governance started with the steering committee, including the corporate controller, IT leadership and key business stakeholders, and established direction on the close schedule and processes. A close operating committee was also established, representing Accenture’s global functional process areas, to ensure an end-to-end close process view that is integrated and owned by the business.
Processes were subsequently industrialized, particularly for schedule management, incident management and performance management. Viable technology options were implemented, including one digitization initiative that replaced a suite of Excel-based tools used to manage the thousands of system and manual steps in the close with robust, integrated and automated execution and reporting software. The solution enabled a considerable amount of automation into the close process, reduced detailed efforts of support teams for redirection to more value-added tasks and improved real-time status contributing to a faster, flexible and more reliable close.
The strong foundation the Close Team established around organization, processes and technology has allowed the team to be proactive and perform the close process faster and more predictably than in the past.
Today, Accenture is able to close its books in four days at the local level, in five days globally, and in six days to deliver final management reporting—what business leaders consider world class.
High performance in Accenture’s close process generates a number of key benefits:
Fast business decision making, optimized technology and appropriate staffing, enabling speed in closing the books while producing quality data.
Quality data available more quickly—over the past 10 years, for example, the number of critical close issues has dropped by more than 75 percent.
Higher levels of predictability through industrialized processes and governance rigor in the close schedule.
Flexibility through process rigor, identified tasks and well-defined interdependencies encompassed in a comprehensive toolset.
Scalability to address service level objectives two years out using a technology strategy supporting Accenture’s business growth direction without jeopardizing management expectations.