Accenture has seen tremendous growth over the past several years, including on average, over $1 billion in acquisitions annually over the past eight years. The ability to predict cash flow is vital to secure the required funds to keep up with growth demands and to manage a business of the size of Accenture. This task is especially challenging in today’s complex and volatile financial environment.
Our corporate Treasury team faces the continual need to remain laser-focused on the global liquidity needs and the strategic capital objectives of Accenture. Optimizing liquidity for a fast-growing enterprise like Accenture is difficult enough; however, when faced with the shortcomings of traditional, largely manual and spreadsheet-based cash reporting and forecasting tools, the ability to make quality decisions becomes even tougher.
We recognized the opportunity to harness our ingenuity to critically rethink and reimagine our processes, capabilities, technologies and tools to be more digital, data driven, intelligent and automated. A new way of working would make our people and processes more efficient. It would also empower our global Treasury operations team to make better decisions to help serve Accenture in meeting its strategic objectives.
When tech meets human ingenuity
Accenture has been on a multi-year innovation journey to boldly transform our global cash optimization process. Instead of harnessing technology to fill gaps, we looked to use new technologies, including innovations with artificial intelligence in the enterprise, to transform the way we work. Recognizing that people cannot do it all, nor can artificial intelligence, our solution centered on the idea of augmenting human performance.
Human performance, for us, centered on four key elements: data gathering and validation; training of algorithms; human revision and actions; and forecast projection and visualization. It takes several ingredients to enable this approach. Among them are the provision of a single source of truth, the decoupling of data gathering and dependencies, and the design of a hybrid, human + machine model. An additional ingredient is automation—automating the visualization of data and end-to-end processes, reducing manual efforts, and generating insights and recommendations automatically.
With these elements set, our Treasury team, together with business users and our global IT organization, launched our Intelligent Cash solution.
Intelligent Cash consists of three components:
Cash Position Dashboard tool: A near real-time feed
The Cash Position Dashboard tool uses descriptive analytics not only to show real-time cash positions across the globe but also to guide the view to understand pressure points of cash in the business in an easy-to-understand visual. This tool provides our Treasury team with views, both historic and current, of our cash, credit, currency, loans and the like across Accenture's operating entities around the world.
The Cash Position Dashboard tool leverages bank connections and statements to update SAP tables four times a day to provide a current view of Accenture’s cash balances. The tool allows for drill-down by currency, country, business entity, and banking partner, as well as displays the use of credit lines and the accessibility of the cash (that is, whether the cash is readily available, subject to cost, timing or trapped due to regulations).
The tool enables Treasury individuals to have accurate information in a timely fashion with guidance around it so that they can make decisions with a greater degree of confidence. Instead of crunching data and passing information to higher levels, users are now empowered to make decisions. This shift gives the assistant treasurer the availability to set the agenda while senior leaders are better equipped to execute against it.
Cash Forecaster: A human-machine symbiosis
This predictive forecasting tool is powered by sophisticated algorithms and AI to generate a forecast for each business unit. The algorithms adapt to the behavior of cash flow items, geographical differences and data volumes. It feeds on transactional history that is categorized by a machine-learning algorithm. The tool automatically classifies and aggregates bank statements on a weekly basis to gather data on transactions, including collections and disbursements. The tool then feeds this data into a predictive cash forecast model. The SAP Analytics Cloud for Planning tool was chosen as the planning platform to integrate into Accenture’s SAP Finance ecosystems and the analytics models.
The Cash Forecaster automatically generates a forecast that is easily digestible, adjusted and validated by humans. This hybrid-harmony, or human-machine combination, combines objective forecasting with local expertise and knowledge of future events, such as an acquisition. This symbiotic relationship is considered best practice as it immensely reduces the efforts related to generating the forecast, enables expert review and adjustments, while centralizing decision-making power.
"Our cash forecasting approach leverages sophisticated technology that enables advanced analytics, Accenture's range of forecasting libraries and a diverse team from different parts of our organization."
The cash flow for Accenture’s operations in any given currency is constantly changing and as such the decisions on injecting or extracting cash need to take the future into consideration as well as both the cost and value of moving cash. The Cash Inventory Optimizer uses prescriptive analytics to consider cash balances, cash forecasts and economic factors to automatically recommend the best action for each currency to bring the highest business value.
The Cash Inventory Optimizer treats cash as if it were inventory and optimizes it. The model draws on the just-in-time concepts for managing physical inventory where the aim is to have not too much or too little inventory to meet demand and applies these concepts to a different kind of inventory—cash. Treating cash in this way enables the Treasury team to reduce idle cash, hold cash in a more centralized fashion, adjust use of credit lines and reduce transaction costs.
Based on the adjusted forecast and economic factors, the Cash Inventory Optimizer can make recommendations for a preset transaction schedule or the optimal time and amount of cash to transfer. To make its decisions and consider multiple options, such as the use of credit lines or the consideration of business constraints such as avoiding negative cash at the end of a quarter, the model uses a cutting-edge genetic algorithm as its optimization engine.
A new way of working
The new Intelligent Cash approach transforms the way Accenture Treasury makes decisions around cash on a daily basis. Treasury teams now have a comprehensive, enterprise-level visualization of cash and comprehensive, real-time forecasts. The Cash Inventory Optimizer guides a new way of working by providing recommendations that support the most efficient and cost-effective way of managing Accenture’s cash.
Our Treasury operations staff are now unilaterally empowered to vary the amount of cash held in countries in order to maximize the amount of cash centrally held based on dynamic information that is not only real-time and accurate but highly relevant to our business. Actions are transparent and extremely fluid. The pushing down of decision making frees up leadership to focus on more value-added activities such as addressing events causing financial distress.
A valuable difference
The combination of technology and human ingenuity has transformed the way that Treasury at Accenture makes decisions around cash on a daily basis, with real impact to the business. Today, Treasury is empowered with advanced tools to support daily cash decisions in near real-time and to help minimize financial risks and costs.
Ultimately, Accenture estimates freeing up 20% of its cash previously required for operational liquidity, adding additional cash to its centralized in-house bank structure.
Each of the components in the Intelligent Cash solution is powerful on its own, but their combination is the key that has had a direct impact on Accenture’s liquidity management.
Our program was made possible by the previous work Accenture did with our SAP platform—our foundation. Accenture deployed a single global SAP instance for core business functions. Our global IT organization built on that foundation with our implementation of SAP S/4HANA and moving our production SAP S/4HANA from on-premise to Microsoft Azure. Today, all our SAP applications are on the latest versions, driven by the latest database technology and fully in the cloud.
Intelligent Cash provides differentiating value in the following ways:
Significantly improved daily and monthly forecast accuracy and improved processing cycle time helps reduce cash buffers and better manage exposure
One centralized system connects various SAP solutions and end users by providing forecast and reports around it
Integrated automated treasury cash forecast system reads and writes data from SAP directly and provides the latest forecast monitoring
Uses artificial intelligence to provide 90+% accuracy in forecasting cash flow items with sensitivity to the market and one-time events
Ability to address growing business and demands for offices and operations in 200+ cities in 50 countries
Built with the ability to optimize across future modules, such as working capital analytics and credit line limit optimization
Time for insights
Frees peoples’ time to create value-adding insights; roles shift—where human touch is needed most for validation, control and insight-driven actions
Process automation reduces the cost of repetitive data moved in and out of spreadsheets, as previously used for treasury forecasting